A couple of years ago, I read a biography of Ida B. Wells, who is famous for, among other achievements her tireless crusade against lynching. When I read it, I felt secure in my belief that lynching–vigilante killings for unproven crimes–of African-Americans in this country was a thing of the past. We have a dirty record of over 4,000 lynchings of black men between the Civil War and roughly the 1930s, but (I still hope) no more.
I don’t believe anyone who’s been reading the news for the last several months can be unaware of the sudden reappearance of the lynch mob’s noose in a disturbingly wide variety of places.
I first noticed it in news reports about the Jena 6. Today, I was reading about the noose left for a professor at Columbia University (!)
Dr. Constantine is a professor of psychology and education at Columbia and has published several books on race relations, including Addressing Racism in 2006 and Strategies for Building Multicultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings in 2007.
I knew I had seen more in the intervening weeks. This New York Times blog post confirmed my suspicions (many links in the blog post not reproduced in this quotation).
In addition to other racially charged incidents, an article in USA Today noticed nooses in almost a dozen recent news reports. The Lede tracked down a bunch of them: At a Home Depot store in South Elgin, Ill.; on the campus of the University of Maryland; in a police-station locker room in Hempstead, N.Y.; at two Coast Guard facilities; at high schools in North Carolina and South Carolina; and at least two cases of nooses with black dolls in Pittsburgh.
Mark Potok, who monitors hate crime activity at the Southern Poverty Law CenterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Intelligence Project told USA Today that a typical year passes with about five reports of incidents involving nooses.
So far, no one has actually been lynched: the nooses have been the equivalent of nasty anonymous emails or hate letters.
USA Today quotes Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Copycat offenses are most often committed by men under 22 who are bored or drunk and looking for attention, Levin says. They generally are not members of hate groups, he says, but they harbor racial animosity or feel threatened by racial groups they think have unfair advantages, such as affirmative action.
“Those prejudices are already there for the most part, and what the Jena incident did was give them a green light on repeating this novelty,” Levin says. “It’s a way of reasserting their importance.”
The comment thread on the USA Today article is predictable, disturbing, and informative all at once.
Is this a body image issue? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Racism is about skin color and skin color in a racist society is an enormous factor in how we feel about ourselves. Fear for one’s life is as big an opponent to self-love as can possibly be imagined.
Before any of these copycats decide that it would make them feel even more important actually to lynch a person of color, every one of us needs to stand up against the symbol of the noose, and all it represents.