Speaking with Bob Zellner, veteran organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, I asked, “What drove White people to fight to the death to maintain White supremacy?”
He shared with me his theory of the shrunken heart.
“First of all, slavery was an act of war,” he said. “It had to be carried out every day against Black people. In order to maintain the kind of plantation systems that we had under slavery, you had to commit acts of war and violence every day against Black people.”
Slavers used frightful iron shackles, dehumanizing torture masks, branding irons, and they cut off ears and limbs for obstinate behavior and committed serial rape – beacuse this was war.
“For centuries,” Zellner said, “through slavery and later through Jim Crow and the sharecropper economic system in the South, White southerners had to constantly suppress their own feelings of sympathy and empathy for another human being… In the same way that farm children had to steel themselves when the chicken had its neck wrung or the calf was killed or the rabbit was knocked on the head so you could have it for supper, they had to have no feelings for that animal. In the same way, they had to have no feelings for that animal. In the same way, they had to have no feelings for that enslaved person or that person of color. For centuries, White people have shrunken their own hearts.
From “Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World–and How to Repair It All” by Lisa Sharon Harper