Familiar Fruit: Nooses’ Return

A young Biracial boy was lynched in Claremont, NH while his little sister watched.  The boy survived the attack and his mother posted pictures of his injury to social media in hopes of getting justice, which had been slow in coming from the small town’s police chief. Three teens were identified by the victims, but the police chief refused to release any information to the press in order to “protect the boys”, though I’m sure he did not mean he wished to protect a boy whose neck was sawed bloody with a rope that almost killed him.

Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, Russian spies and soldiers, terrorists and freedom fighters:  the play of children mirrors the conflicts of their times.  Play is practice, takes on the shape and character of the very real fights the adults are engaged in when they think the kids aren’t watching.    With the year(s) America is having around race, it should be no surprise that kids might play at practice America’s oldest game: racism.  The noose has long been a symbol of terror for black people.  Lynching is not just history, it is American present.  Nooses are everywhere--playgrounds and schools, videos and news reports.  So what better way to practice playing power than to knot a noose?noose_1503672085342_3968413_ver1.0_640_360

That the incident was referred to as an accident is unbelievable. Like cocking a finger into a gun, these kids knew that a noose was a weapon, playtime or not.  That they’re being protected by the Cheif Chase seems unfair when we regularly see like-aged young black boys splayed on the street dead, cops hands washed clean by our justice system. But the concern that outing these boys could ruin their lives is also real in a world where infamy is instant and infinite, ruining lives in the blink of a black twitter dragging.  He’s not wrong that that one act could be enough to ruin the perpetrators’ lives forever. So should we just shut up about it?

Hell no. But let’s not go after the boys, let’s focus on the ideas that supercharged their behavior. Cheif Chase is protecting something else besides some boys old enough to know better.  He is protecting racist ideology, rendering it invisible in his “just some kids playing” approach. Far from just giving the kids cover, the police chief is covering for white supremacy itself.  This is where the real danger lies. As an actor of the state, the police chief has a responsibility to name a hate crime what it is and not try to pretty up the racism in his town. Instead, he chose to swerve and reject any calls of racism…until the state AG decided to open a case to investigate what was happening in the tiny town.

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Monuments and symbols of racism–nooses and ni**er, white hoods, Confederate flags–trickle down to all parts of the culture, including child’s play.  This is how the old racism that we always think is owned by the old racists alone is reproduced in the next generation, a virus fighting to stay alive by infecting young healthy hosts to carry racism for their long life.  In the fight for justice, no matter how many bad apples we cull, the bunch will be forever tainted until we remove the ideas that shape and govern racism.  Racists come and go but the American ideology of racism is as old as America itself.

North or south, kids or adults,  we say our towns are no place for hate but the fact of the matter is that racism is rampant in our country, and I’m quite sure Claremont, New Hampshire is no exception.  That’s not to say we aren’t in the fight, but make no mistake there are real racists, people weaponizing the old symbols of power and privilege for a new generation.  And those symbols of hate are everywhere these days.  To see such powerful symbols and reduce them to an accident is to render the very real, very modern ideology of white supremacy as just normal, a game children can play, ensuring that it will remain untreated in the body politic–and therefore live on to keep poisoning who we are and what we could become.

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We have to be clear in naming the symbols of terrorism that permeate our culture.  Think about the images of torches in Charlottesville. The Confederate flag, still flying all around the country even as activists try to excavate the monuments to racist rebels; the nooses hung in schoolyards (remember Jena?); the white hoods on the evening news:  these are not just throwback symbols, they are contemporary messages to black people to stay in their lane–or else.

Imagine then, HBO’s new show Confederate–a drama with a budget large enough to guarantee slick and powerful visuals.  The shows’ creators–the pair that brought you Game Of Thrones–announced that the show will present a world where slavery is still legal in the Confederacy.  Creating updated images of what slavery would look like is only likely to load the gun of ideology, remaking what we thought we had left in the past in our own present.  The images from the yet-to-be-made show may be shocking, or even transformative in the best case scenario, but what will they mean to boys like those in New Hampshire, out playing Confederate in a backyard?  What happens when we greenlight images central to perpetuating the legend of white supremacy?

The easy availability of racist images in our culture ensures another generation will continue our tradition of demonizing and demeaning people of color in this country.  The incident in Claremont reminds us that these images are not without consequence. Citizens of that small town came together for a vigil when the boy’s story came to light, but the work to eradicate racism and its symbols won’t be won in an evening of solidarity. And the work won’t get done with the outing of three boys.  Instead, the ideology of white supremacy must be plainly named and properly shamed, every time it appears.

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James M. Patterson/The Valley News, via Associated Press
When we pursue justice are we required to extend it to those who would not extend it to us? We must, or else any justice that we achieve will be seeded with the same inequality we are trying to eradicate. If we believe that racists are redeemable, especially if caught early, then we have to support the idea that these boys can learn from their actions and that healing and reconciliation can keep them from being lifelong racists who go one to hurt others.  But we can extend no mercy, give no quarter to the ideology of white supremacy in our towns or in our hearts.  This virus of a vision has been poisoning America from the beginning, blocking us from truly become the dream we dreamed ourselves to be.

Dedicated to my sister-in-law Barbara McDonald, who is from Claremont, NH and who is raising four badass woke kids

 

 

 

Susan X Jane

Susan Jane thinks a lot about media and race…a lot. She teaches Communications at Wheelock College, writes and speaks about media…and race... and generally encourages everyone she meets to think about the way media shapes their sense of self and their ideas and beliefs about the world. If you're reading this, she wants you to think about it too. Want to talk about it? Let's go.

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