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On a dusty road lined with trees, in Lewes, Delaware the moon’s glow permitted thirty-three-year-old Phillips Colby an added amount of light that his smartphone provided. His skin looked like coffee grounds. He looked for a ride sharing service vehicle that had been running late. He walked with his head in the screen. Just as he picked up his face there stood before him four white men, one with a noose. The three others held a camera with a light affixed to it, a laptop and a microphone, respectively.
“Today’s your lucky day, fellow,” Wilkens Wheaton said. He held the noose. “You’re going to be put on our website for the entire world to see. We’re definitely going to get some Ultra Chat donations and subscribers off of this one,” Wheaton continued.
The four men encroached on Colby’s space. He never feared. He made no sudden moves. He just made a motion for his smartwatch to his mouth.
“Sussex County Emergency, how may I assist your call?”
“Yes, I’ve got three men who are trying to accost me.”
“Where is your location, sir?”
“I’m a few hundred yards away from the Zwaanendael Museum. In the woods.”
The whole time, the white men just stood there with their arms folded. They didn’t even try to attack or strike Colby in any way.
“We’ll have a patrol car out there in a few minutes, okay?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The cameraman, Felix Opp, and the microphone man Sam Yellin and the laptop carrier Arthur Gaskins looked perplexed.
“Why would you call the cops on us?” Wheaton asked.
“You’ve got the noose!”
“What, this? We’re filming a documentary series based on the record of lynchings that have occurred in Delaware. It’s just a prop for the movie. In no way do we intend to cause you any harm. They were only a few lynchings compared to places like Mississippi and other places but the fact that black people were burned, beaten, shot, stabbed, and strung up in the America still resonates.”
Colby stared down a choice. He wanted to believe their story. So he called the emergency line.
“Sussex County Emergency, how may I assist you?”
“Yes, I’m the young man who just called in about the group trying to attack me. Hold off on sending any patrol cars. I’ll just wait for my ride.”
“Okay, sir. If you do have any issues in the future please call again.”
“See, that’s it. We just happened to see you walking,” Wheaton said. “And we figured that you’d be a great candidate for our film. It’s tentatively titled ‘Delalynch,’” Wheaton said.
“Look, we even have a script and release papers on our tablet for you to sign,” Opp said.
Colby reviewed the digital documents. It all looked legitimate.
“If you would just jot down your signature, we can be in business with this whole visual,” Gaskins said.
“I’m not too sure about this. I mean people died horrible deaths in the past. I don’t want to be a part of that legacy.”
“And you won’t be,” Wheaton said.
Where is that ride? Colby thought.
“Look,” Opp said. “You can appear in this visual and we’ll split the profits with you. You can get up to a quarter of what we get. Split four ways.”
Colby didn’t pray or consider society saving his tail, he just stood there and looked at each and every one of the filmmakers in the eye.
“There’s no way that I can be a part of this thing,” Colby said. “Bodies all chopped up and the rest swinging from the trees….”
“But that’s just it, mate. We’re going to have a real live African American star in this documentary that will feature re-enactments from talent such as yourself,” Wheaton said.
“We’re really looking forward to you being a part of this picture.”
“And I’m looking forward to living the rest of the night. Four white boys roll up on me in the middle of Sussex County. And it’s ironic because some of the more famous lynchings in Delaware took place in New Castle County. I’m from Wilmington. I just came down here to visit my niece. Whatever it is that you all want to do, do it without me. I don’t want a cut of the profits from this weird movie nor do I want to be brought into a high-tech lynching.”
“It’s your choice,” Opp said. “We’re just trying to get an Internet video on the Web to help pay off our film school bills.”
“Yes,” Yellin said. “We’ve been trying to secure the rights to music, permits to shoot in certain locations, and put our message out there to an audience hungry for credible content. We went to Delaware Academy of Film and Television Arts. It’s rather pricey once you get through all four years. DAFTA certainly is not for the faint of pocket.”
Colby looked down and then back up again with a grin on his face.
“I know...I can film you all with the noose around your necks. We’ll do it one at a time with each of you rotating the camera and the microphone.”
The trio looked about each other.
“I don’t know about that,” Wheaton said. “We’re trying to keep to the essence of the true to life happenings that went on with your people.”
“My people? No, that’s a tribalist error. I don’t consider myself to be black. I have no ‘people.’ I’m a man of color who happens to live in America. I am not bound by any edict stating that I’m a black man. My skin’s dark...that’s all. I don’t subscribe to the same ideas, mores, or customs as my fellow melanin rich human beings. That’s one of the biggest lies that has ever been perpetrated against people all around the globe. That because you have a certain hue, you’re automatically connected to the people who look like you. There’s no way that I will accept being a black man. I’m just a proud man. ”
“Okay, okay. Look, we’ll do this. Maybe it will get us some more money. We’ll try your idea out but you’ll have to sign this digital document,” Gaskins said.
Colby took the stylus and sketched his name on the line.
The three white men looked like prisoners with the noose wrapped around each of their necks, one at a time. The expressions on their faces told a tale of discomfort and disgust as each one passed the noose to the other. Colby held the camera steady. “That’s it, now. Hold that pose just like this,” Colby said.
“Okay, you’ve got your shot. Hand the camera back,” Wheaton said.
Colby abided. “When and where will this be posted?”
“We have our own site. Along with the Ultra Chats, we also get paid through advertising revenue.”
“You know that I think that I just made a monumental piece of history. Instead of the man of color being castrated, shot, stabbed, burned and strung up on a tree, I’ve made a portrait of men who happen to be lighter complexion experiencing what it’s like to have that rope slide around your necks. You have made history for your actions today, guys,” Colby said.
The three of them looked about each other. “We’re just trying to pay down student loan debt. We never wanted any trouble. There’s no way that we would hurt you in anyway.”
“Any trouble? Like the kind that thousands of black people faced in the Jim Crow South? Trouble like over two centuries of bondage? Trouble like that? I’ve never been hurt in my life. Sure, I’ve had some low points but never to the point of depression. And I’ve never let anyone rob me of the splendor of living life.”
“We didn’t commit any of those atrocities. That’s why we’re out here. We wish to depict the cruelty of some white people.”
Colby nodded. “And I agree with you. White guilt has more power than black unity. No white person today should be held responsible for the ghosts of their forefathers. It’s simply not their fault. Like all of you. Those ill treatments which took place in Delaware or from wherever the hell does not include the descendants. Your grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather is not you.”
Wheaton, Yellin, Gaskin and Opp began to smile. They weren’t smarmy smiles but of men redeemed of the fact that they were honest men doing a service that some black people would reject. They took in the reality of the entire evening. They accepted their position as filmmakers with the camera turned on them.
Colby squared up with the four of them. “This could’ve been an ugly night. It could’ve been a bloody scene throughout the evening. Just because your chemical makeup is different than mine, we could’ve had a real fisticuffs...or worse. There’s no telling what could’ve happened. I could’ve been found dead and my body bloated in the air, swinging from left to right. All three of you could have been clobbered and left for dead. But our thinking minds prevailed. I know that that sounds like a redundancy but in today’s world, you’ve got to point out that their are idle minds like a tractor’s engine running in the field with no driver. Instead, I meet you all and connect with your story. I see through your eyes. With you all posing like that, it will make a definite indentation in the minds of all those who view your documentary.”
“I think that we can certainly turn a penny with this portion of the film. We’re turning our camera lens on something that few people know and some would care to not know. But we’re going to show it anyway. We can include your section of the piece and use it as the poster and in the trailer. It should be a surprise moment to see the three of us with the noose around our neck. It will show the wickedness of the time period following slavery. Jim Crow’s claws snatched at the state of Delaware. That’s why we’re going to allow you to be one of the first to screen the movie,” Opp said.
“We’re going to definitely keep the footage that you shot of us. It should change minds. With this scene, we will be able to incorporate the sight of white men being subject to the perversity of all of those years of injustice. It’s the juxtaposition of the goriness of history with our live selves tied not to a tree but to history. The flip side of the image of the white men wearing a noose will shock some and mollify others. This may be our big break and you have been apart of it. I’m not saying that racism will end tonight with this footage, but I do think that we will make headway with the theme that we have portrayed, ” Wheaton said.
“Precisely. Show that portion of the film and you’ll get a hundred thousand subscribers,” Colby said.
“We have your signature and your name and we’ll be able to drop you a percentage of the proceeds,” Wheaton said.
“I appreciate that. The real lesson that should be learned here is the fact that racism is stupid. From every angle, it is a brutish practice. It is a vicious theory that persists because of irrationalism. The weaker the mind, the more inclined it is to accept the ogreish nature of racism. The history of it would make for a raucous novel or film but it is marred by the blood of millions who experienced its vicious hand. The idea that someone’s genes could determine their intelligence or personality is laughable. In a scientific way, it would be thrown out of the room. But as a social construct, racism has permeated every facet of American culture and extends throughout the world. What we ought to do is consider the idea that your skin does not determine who you are.”
A car pulled up to the five men standing in the dark.
“My ride has arrived,” Colby said. “I’ll see you guys on the Internet.”