Thursday, October 11, 2007

What The Officials In Jena Should Have Done

In a reenactment of the noose incident that occurred in Jena, La; a black college professor at Columbia’s Teachers College found a noose hanging from her door. The noose appears to be the new calling card of racists in America; it has replaced the burning cross. After all, it is smaller and not as messy. This is important for the cowards who want to hide behind the façade of normalcy while they play out their sickness on society. There are those who say Blacks should ignore the nooses popping up and their vile implications, after all we have free speech and while it is ugly it is still only an expression of free speech. To this I strongly disagree, it is not the presence of the noose that is so contemptible to black Americans; it is the implication of it. To an outsider it is just a rope, harmless in and of itself and I would agree if not for one tiny detail, the presence of black bodies hanging from them. To hang a noose is to imply wanting to harm another human being, black, white or otherwise. This would be akin to my using verbal threats to one’s person to express my displeasure. While it could be argued it was an expression of speech, its connotations would be unmistakable.

A hangman’s noose was found hanging on the door of a black professor’s office at Columbia University Teacher’s College on Tuesday morning, prompting the police to start a hate-crime investigation.

Detectives with the New York Police Department’s hate-crime task force were investigating whether the noose, which was discovered on the fourth floor of the college at about 9:45 a.m., was put there by a rival professor or by a student who was angry over a dispute. Colleagues of the professor identified her as Madonna Constantine, 44, a prominent author, educator and psychologist.[1]

Upon learning of the incident the authorities in New York immediately begin to investigate, the authorities in New York acknowledge it for what it is without hesitation. Why do the people in New York and not in Jena recognize it, because in Jena hanging nooses is considered a harmless prank, distasteful but merely a prank. Just kids having a little fun, no big deal. The authorities at Columbia and in New York understand the volatile nature of the noose and how it could escalate if not checked immediately. In Jena, due to centuries of black subjugation they assumed the Blacks would just accept their benevolent explanation and once again put up with another affront. It is still a shock to them that so much became of a few nooses.

In an e-mail message to students and faculty at the school, the president of Teachers College, Susan Furhman, said the incident was a “hateful act, which violates every Teachers College and societal norm.”

The president of Columbia, Lee C. Bollinger, also released a statement condemning what happened.

“This is an assault on African Americans and therefore it is an assault on every one of us,” he said. “I know I speak on behalf of every member of our communities in condemning this horrible action.”[2]

There can be no vacillating or indecisiveness; a response must be quick and direct. If a similar tack had been taken in Jena, I believe the incident would not have escalated to the level it did. Will the response from the authorities prevent similar occurrences? Probably not, there will always be those who choose to use the language of hate to express their displeasure. I do believe though that it has sent a message and set a tone that this will not be tolerated publically and if caught will be dealt with in an appropriately serious manner. By doing so it also gives the administrators an opportunity to open a dialog on race and diversity, an opportunity the people in Jena chose not to take.

This despicable act could have presented opportunities to educate some young people, but in order to educate you have to have teachers willing to teach. Diversity and race were not lessons that they wanted to teach in Jena. The lessons they wanted to reinforce were fear and segregation, the same ones they had been teaching for centuries. It could have also been an opportunity to show just why this symbol is so virulent to Blacks by relating its historical significance and its malicious past. These are lessons which many Americans could use a refresher course.

The lesson in the response of New York versus the response of Jena is simply this if we continue to minimize the behavior of those who pull at the scars of racism; we only provide them with the cover to continue more brazen acts. If enough people had stood up at the first cross burning and said we won’t stand for this, imagine where we would be today. Instead there was silence and that silence led to more unspeakable horrors. No, there must be a collective repudiation of hate and racism and it must be clear unequivocal.

Free speech is one of the most important freedoms we have and I would never take its fundamental application lightly, but when free speech incites violence and hatred it is no longer free.

[2] Ibid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The noose was insane, and the guy had the beating coming as far as I'm concerned. I agree with every point you made. Can you imagine if Hank Williams had been singing "Strange Fruit" instead of just Billie Holiday?


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