Race and Technology

A blog about the intersection of race and technology.

The "Willie Lynch Letter"--A Hoax?

A letter I cite in Think Black, known as the "Willie Lynch Letter," may, in fact, be a hoax. The screed, supposedly written in the eighteenth century, is a racist rant exhorting slave holders to use various means to break and control their slaves, among these methods: to set at each other slaves of different skin colors. The letter's been around since the 1970s, and it's long been considered evidence of mistreatment of, and cruelty toward slaves.

Scholarly research into the letter points at it being a hoax. It joins the ranks of Chief Seattle's Letter and the Desiderata as well-crafted hoaxes and I am happy to disavow the letter's lunatic ravings and to admit my error in citing it.

Truth is, I did not need this letter to demonstrate the use of race and skin color to impugn the self-worth and intelligence of African Americans. There is ample factual evidence of this in the writings and speech of Thomas von Sömmerring, Charles Murray, Arthur Jensen, and James D. Watson, all of whom I also cite, along with references, in the book. I standby these other references even as I disavow the veracity of the Lynch letter. But I did cite the Lynch letter in my book and I'm thrilled that further scholarship has proven the letter is most likely a hoax.

One of the principal points I make in Think Black is the need for "digital literacy" and citing this letter is a great example of how even a careful researcher can be fooled. It was never my intention to perpetuate a hoax, or to mislead readers, which is why, now that I know, I'm happy to disavow the "Willie Lynch Letter." I have asked my publisher to delete that letter in any further editions of THINK BLACK.

A Twitter user pointed out this error in a Tweet that I have been unable to find since then, but one reference to the scholarly research on the letter is at:

https://longreads.com/2018/05/02/the-enduring-legacy-of-the-willie-lynch-hoax/

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Friday, 15 November 2019