This particular American strain of palilalia is not new. It stretches back before the establishment of the Republic unto the present. But from the Stono Uprising of 1739, to the American Revolution of 1776, to Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831, to John Brown’s crusade at Harpers Ferry in 1859, to the Civil Rights movements from the 1860s through the 1960s, to the revulsion against black killings of 2020, Americans have always sought to free themselves from oppression. We have constantly fought against yokes, bars, chains, handcuffs, or disposable zip ties. Our love of freedom runs deep and counter to the virus of racism bequeathed to us before the nation was even born. Notwithstanding, too often and seemingly at the ready are old tropes and race-baiting incantations that awaken and activate race hatreds. And too often, our leaders repeat (palilalia-like) these tropes and incantations.
Surnames become verbs and symbols of racial abuse – Scott, Korematsu, Till, King, Rice, Taylor, Arbery, and Floyd. Just as the televised news revealed the brutality towards civil rights activists seeking redress in the 1960s, cellular telephones have laid bare the present savagery and racial unfairness. Dred Scott thought he had escaped to freedom; Fred Korematsu thought he could live where he wanted; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. thought nonviolence was the answer; Breonna Taylor thought she was safe in her own home; Ahmaud Arbery thought he could go for a jog; and George Floyd thought he could buy a pack of cigarettes. And maybe Emmett Till could have grown up to be a Central Park ornithologist? Or maybe Tamir Rice could have grown up to serve and protect as a cop?