Monday, October 29, 2007

The Noose and Racial Terrorism

This is from The Curvature: A Feminist Perspective on Politics and Culture

On nooses and white reactions
I haven’t yet written about the recent string of noose incidents. I don’t have a good excuse for that.

Today, though, the Times has an article about those instances which have taken place in NY, and I’m using it as a reason to get up of my ass and open my mouth. Over the past few weeks, seven nooses have been found, left for blacks to find as obvious attempts at intimidation and threats of violence.

Three noose episodes took place on Long Island in three days. On Wednesday, two were found at a sanitation garage in the Town of Hempstead — one of them looped around the neck of a stuffed animal with its face blackened. On Thursday, a noose was discovered hanging in a Nassau County highway department yard in Baldwin. On Friday, a worker at the Green Acres shopping mall in Valley Stream found one slung over a door at a construction site.

Public officials said they were outraged, determined to catch the culprits — and stumped.

“It would diminish the seriousness of these events to call any of them copycat situations,” said Kate Murray, the supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, a sprawling township of 750,000 residents, about 15 percent of them black, where all of last week’s incidents occurred. “But I’m not a sociologist. I am surprised by it.”

. . . “I don’t know what the pattern is, if there is one,” said Thomas R. Suozzi, the county executive of Nassau County, which includes Hempstead. “Are people more hateful than they have been? I just don’t know.”

I think that the last question is a legitimate one worth considering. Are white people becoming more racist? You could be forgiven for thinking so, lately. Though institutional racism has always been there and supported by whites, it lately seems like loud, overt racism is somehow becoming more acceptable. There’s the recent string of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Michael Richards) using the N-word. There’s the overtly racist response to the Jena 6, and there are all of the blackface parties being held as a “joke” by young whites.

Though I don’t have an explanation for it, I don’t think that more white people are suddenly more racist. For the most part, I’m not really sure how unacceptable racism has been in America against groups other than African Americans. A look at our discussions over immigration tell us that prejudice against Latino/as is considered mostly okay, our discussions over terrorism tell us that prejudice against Muslims, and really people of any other ethnicity that might bear some faint resemblance in skin color to Arabs, is just fine, everyone likes to try to forget that Native Americans even exist, and when has prejudice against Asians really been taken seriously? Racism against blacks has been the main issue for whites. No, I don’t think that racism is getting worse. I think that racism has always been there, and yes, it has been this bad. I do think that somehow the white community has gotten a cue that this overt racism against blacks is acceptable again.

I can’t explain why. Yes, I do think that Jena has played a huge role. How could it not have? Nooses aren’t just suddenly popping up everywhere out of coincidence. Jena has forced many white people who try to never think about, let alone talk about, issues of race to actually do so. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it hasn’t exactly gone well. I’m not sure that “copycat” is the right word to describe the instances, but they all seem to be committed by different individuals. And they certainly are all related. And while with each one the outrage grows, so does the level of desensitization and acceptance. It’s getting to the point where whites are saying “oh, gee, another noose?” Firstly, those words should never have to be spoken. Secondly, the apathy with which their spoken is telling.

“In the context of today, the noose means, ‘There is still a racial hierarchy in this country, and you better not overstep your bounds,’” said Carmen Van Kerckhove, the founder of a New York consulting firm, New Demographic, that specializes in workplace problems, including racial tension.

. . . Willie Warren, an equipment operator at the Nassau County Public Works yard here, was among three workers in the garage on Thursday when an employee ran in to tell them he had found a noose hanging from a fence outside. Mr. Warren, 41, who has been with the department for 20 years, filed a racial discrimination suit in 2004, producing tape recordings of a supervisor referring to him with racial epithets. He won the case, got a promotion, still works for one of the supervisors named in his suit, and considers himself unflappable on the job.

The noose shook him. “It’s hard to explain, but it made me upset the whole day,” Mr. Warren said. One white co-worker was as upset as he was, he said. Another said, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a noose.”

This attitude is not only frightening, it’s also frighteningly common. The fact is, most white people don’t get it. Many don’t even realize that hanging a noose is a concrete threat of violence. It’s extreme ignorance and extreme stupidity, it boggles the mind, but it’s true. There’s a “sticks and stones” mentality from all of those who have never had to think about race, or how they will be discriminated against today, or whether they face institutionalized violence because of their skin color.

Because as one professor points out, this is about institutions:

Rachel E. Sullivan, an assistant professor of sociology at Long Island University’s C. W. Post College, said most people do not understand what lynchings were. “They think it was a few guys coming in the night, in their hooded sheets, taking you away,” she said.

She teaches a course on African-American history, including the killings of thousands by lynching in the United States between the end of the Civil War and the end of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“But in reality these were whole, big community events,” she said. “Children and families would come to watch. Hundreds of people attended. They would watch a man being burned and mutilated before he was hung. They would pose for pictures with the body.

“If people had a grasp of what really happened at these things,” Professor Sullivan continued, “they would understand the power of the symbol of a noose.”

I don’t know if it’s true that white people don’t know this. I mean, I was certainly taught this in schools. Maybe everyone else wasn’t. Or maybe they just never paid attention enough to remember. Maybe it’s easier to dismiss if you lie about it.

But the fact that this view is held so widely needs to be acknowledged. The most striking case of this that I’ve seen comes from a post by Magniloquence about an NPR segment that she caught on the radio:

I’ve started listening to NPR in the morning, in between songs and snippets of useful information (like, say, the traffic reports) on other stations. And lo and behold, one day I hear the following: “Ignore the Nooses.”

Yes, that’s right. From the little summary at their webpage:

All Things Considered, October 16, 2007 · In light of the resurgence of nooses appearing in places like Jena, La., and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, here’s a modest proposal: The next time somebody plants a noose, let’s just ignore it. Perhaps paying less attention to these acts will take away their racist power.

I heard that, verbatim, and then several minutes of different people commending the logic and telling us to man up and stop being so sensitive. Stop giving the bullies what they want.
This kind of groupthink from white people, though I am white, never ceases to amaze me. I’m sure that it’s really easy to “ignore” violence when you are not the one facing the threat.
For those of you who still don’t get it, think about when men don’t “get” why women/feminists get so riled up about a little old rape threat. Because it’s not like they’re actually going to rape you. They’re just trying to get a rise! Whereas we know that there a chance of the threat actually being followed through on, and we also know that rape is not a game.

Lynching is not a game, either. Nooses aren’t funny or trivial. They’re not only as bad as racial slurs, but actually a lot worse. Ignoring threats of violence is never an appropriate response.
I will admit that I have been guilty of this “ignore it and it will go away” line of thinking. One example is my reaction to Ann Coulter. I think that we’ve given her far too much attention for far too many years. I think that not only are all of the media outlets who keep giving her a microphone responsible for the hatred that she spews and that they need to stop giving her the microphone, but that covering what she says has stopped serving a point. I think that continuing to talk about her gives her exactly what she wants and will only delay her crawling back into the dark hole from which she came.

Maybe I’m wrong about that. I don’t know. Since she talks an awful lot of shit about white women, too, I think that I have a bit more perspective on the issue. But I could still be wrong. I could also be right. Maybe there is in fact a difference. Coulter, though she can be perceived as encouraging violence, is not actually committing a crime. Hanging nooses, thankfully, is. We’ve also tried everything else we could with Coulter. We’ve denounced her and exposed her and she’s as popular as ever.

The problem is that we haven’t tried something different with racism. We’ve been going about this “let’s not talk about it and it will go away” mentality for a long time. We’ve been doing the “black people are making a big deal out of nothing” thing for a long time. When, exactly, have we tried talking about it honestly — not in a “is racism good or bad?” sort of way, but a “why are we racist and what can we do?” sort of way — on a wide-scale? I’m struggling to remember a time.

So maybe I’m wrong about Ann Coulter. Maybe I’m not. But I do know that NPR is wrong about the noose, as is everyone else who holds the “ho-hum” point of view. They’re more than just some kind of sick and twisted fad. They’re a part of a trend. And yeah, if we don’t deal with it and talk about it, I am quite terrified of where it’s going to take us next.


wolfgang amadeus said...

First thing I'd like to say about this article is what!!! Okay the crime is very racially powered and I could see why the African American community think that white Americans could be becoming more racist. The next comment about how whites have become more racist in institutions is absolutely without evidence or merit.

I have to ask who does anyone know on campus ours for example that knowingly admits to being a racist. The numbers should be possibley and I mean very possibly 1% of the total campus's population. In a southern/northern battleground state but these crimes occured in a Northern State. Malcom X writes that "The social philosophy of black nationalism only means that we have to get together and remove the evils, the vices, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other evils that are destroying the moral fiber of our commmunity." So Long Island should find the culprit punish the cuplrit and quit wasting time blaming it on increasing white racism that probabley doesn't even exist in a large enough amount to constitute this sort of crime.

GueveraGurl_But_Soldier'sSweetie said...

In response to the article and to Woflgang's comment...

"Long Island should...quit wasting time blaiming it on increasing white racism that probably doesn't even exist in a large enough amount to constitute this sort of crime."

Well, what then, did this crime stem from? Obviously, there must still be a widespread aura of racism running free in not only "southern/northern battleground states" but in ALL states, including the northern states.
We need to wake up. There IS such a thing as racism, and it IS increasing daily. Maybe not in always in such flambouyant displays as the nooses, (althought this apparenlty happens as well), but also in subtle words and suggestive actions.
Jack Dovido, a professor at the University of Conneticut recently stated this about what could be called "new wave" racism: "We've reached a point where racism is like a virus that has mutated into a new form that we don't recognize. Contemporary racism is not conscious, and is not accompanied by dislke, so it gets expressed in indirect, subtle ways."

Dovido estimaes that 80 percent of Americans have racist feelings that they do not even recognize, because racist trends and stereotypes are so integrated in American life that they have become unrecognizable to the people who spew them out.

People with authority and publicity who could do something to help turn the tide have been of little help in the past. (Cosmo Kramer's outcries of the N word and Senator George Allen's use of the phrase "Macara" come to mind).

In this sense, I applaud Long Island's in-depth self examination of the real problem with the City. Instead of ending the ordeal quickly and painlessly by simply finding and punishing the culprits, Long Island is taking a good hard look at the real issues behind the actions.

Malcolm B said...

The statement that racism is on the rise again is an interesting one. Looking back at the 60’s we can safely say that racism in this country is WAY down, and the generations since then, especially our generation, have been more and more removed from racism. I personally do not see the noose incidents as part of a trend, but rather a sick fad. However, sick fads are more acceptable today, so I don’t think the threat should be at all ruled out. I am not a racist guy, but when I look at myself and try to pick out things that cause the most racial friction with me I come up with competition. Whether America is more competitive now, or I am just coming of the age when competition hits hard, I don’t know. I just think that people respond with whatever they can, often racism, to put down and provide self rationalization of perceived superior qualities in themselves in response to the actual superior qualities of the member of the other race… if that makes sense. All of these instances in New York happened at low class blue collar job locations, a sanitation garage, a highway department yard, and a construction site. I will bet you these nooses were planted by underachieving whites to get back at aspiring black workers trying to get out of the inner city who were beginning to show them up—Competition. Also, at Jena, it happened at a school, sports are highly revered at schools and, let’s face it, black athletes are well, very athletic, and the nooses may have been planted in part to pent up frustration at competition. I dunno, but that is my hypothesis.

As for the nooses, they shouldn’t be ignored, I will quote Dr. Martin Luther King Junior yet again on this quote, but this is always what I remember in incidents like these:

"Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that -The time is always ripe to do right-" - Martin Luther King Jr.

Malcolm B said...

The previous comment, posted by gueveragurl, which I did not see till I posted mine, brings up a very good point about the new “subtle racism” that I think plays right into revelation I just made about myself on competition. Racism is just a subtle “friction” we can’t seem to get rid of, and do not even want anymore. Stereotypes have much to do with it as well. Spike Lee might be on the right track after all, stereotypes are killers, and the media is the biggest way those get spread (though it isn’t only the white man’s fault). When I perceive the competition I can tell that popular stereotypes flood into my head and I can’t seem to help it. In my good sense I am able to always push it back down, but for men of less moral fiber or decency, I can see how subtle racism can be a very big problem. It has become evident to me, now, that racism is still potentially a very big problem (though not our biggest problem) and ought to be thoroughly investigated.

Anonymous said...

I agree by saying that I don't think that more white people are suddenly more racist; it has been around for quite sometime and has always been bad. I think it is just coming out more because of the media and celebrities. Such things like the horrible tragedy on 9/11 has more people racist about Arab or Muslims. Or what about the ever so popular saying "The Mexicans are taking over our jobs in American" blah, blah, blah? How could someone honestly think these are smart comments coming out of their mouth? Why do people think it is okay to belittle someone else? To show hatred and racism to someone?

I don't think racism is way down. Martin Luther King Jr. had a plan for our country in regards to the Civil Rights movement, would he be happy with the results that we are seeing today? Would he be happy that nooses are being found in several places?

How could someone seriously say "What's the big deal? It's just a noose." We are in the 21st century here people! We have had so many fast growing techonological advances, but nope, we can't get rid of that racism issue. It's honestly sad...

Anonymous said...

Racism is not spreading in white people, the same hatred has been in these people for years and the sad thing is, is that they will probably be passing in on to their children. Just like the way the received this hatred. These people that are placing nooses around in public places are the same people that have been flying there Confederate flags all along. Saying the south will rise again. I believe that the shock value of the confederate flag has gone way down and they need a new avenue to put fear in the hearts of all minorities. In our class some people thought it stood for being a good old boy, and not racism anymore, or being a country boy and not the oppression of the blacks. It is scary that white people don't see this as symbol that brings up the worst part of our nations history. The one coworker that did not understand what the big deal was all about is the same guy that is buying the t-shirt that has a Confederate flag and a white tale deer on it showing that he likes to hunt. I don't understand why this symbol is put with other things like hunting and fishing. The makers of these items are just showing the hatred that they have for black people. This tactic has become too diluted and they need to step up the hatred level with nooses.

Paul Castle said...

I agree with the idea that there isn’t more and more white people that are becoming racist but I do believe that those who are become more active in showing their racism in more overt ways. Racism has never been eliminated and signs still exist and are used, for example the rebel flag. Everywhere you go you see them, and you see people defend them saying that it means something completely different that it is just a “good ole boy thing”. It come down to just good ole fashion ignorance, not realizing and caring that it stands for something that it offensive not only to African Americans but to whites as well. Issues like this and the outbreak of nooses that have been displayed will continue to happen until Americans not just White, African Americans, or Asian American but all Americans wake up and look at themselves in the mirror and see just who they are. We need to confront this issue head on and not due the usual sidestep around the issue because it is too controversial. We need to tear of the band aid and dig down to the foundation so that we can fix the problem. We need to fix the festering underlying problem so that the wound can completely heal.

Anonymous said...

Obviously a noose is a symbol of terrorism and makes me sick to think about how cruel
people are in this world. I know how much a noose offends African Americans but I find
comments all the time from white people that they don't understand why it is offensive
such as the rebel flag. I am both African American and white and the noose offends me
terribly. When I hear people say things like they don't understand why a noose would
offend someone it hurts me. How can it not offend someone? Not just African Americans but
people of all races. It means the same thing no matter where you go, it is racist and

Anonymous said...

Ummm… Im going to stray away from the main point of this article and focus on the smaller bits of racism seen in America today. I firmly stand by the fact that a noose, a rebel flag, etc. are all horrible things and extremely racist. I’m not talking about those things throughout this blog. Personally, I’m finding it easier and easier for people to become racist. Being racist can be something as little as just making fun of another races culture, at least that’s how the media is portraying it to be. I think that if a white kid mimics something that a black man does off the t.v., that’s not racist. Same thing with black kids acting like a smart, nerdy fellow when they are acting like a white guy. (Dave Chapelle) I really don’t find either racist but it seems that everyone is making it out to be. So in all actuality, I’m finding it easier and easier for people to become more racist according to the media, but really we should follow people like Dave Chapelle’s ideas of making fun of and accepting others cultures. So yeah, I think this persons article has some good points, but I don’t think that we’re all really as racist as you may think.