Responding to Racism

Two nooses in the District of Columbia and one in suburban Maryland have been found over the past three weeks. Thursday, a noose was found hanging from a tree in an integrated Montgomery Village, MD, neighborhood. On May 31, one was left in the Segregation Gallery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Less than a week earlier, a noose had been discovered on the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum.

For me, a white man living in Kensington, MD, these are deeply disturbing reminders of an angry and divided world. A world in which racism remains a strong presence, even in the cosmopolitan DMV, and overtly hostile acts seem only to have grown in frequency since the beginning of the last year’s election cycle.

In order to understand better how African-Americans perceive these incidents, I spoke to Danny Cardwell – a community radio executive, ordained Deacon, and popular blogger. Danny argues that the rising number of incidents involving public displays of nooses are part of a pattern that includes the increasing popularity of racebaiters, like Milo Yiannopoulos, and white supremacists, like Richard Spencer. Liberal Bill Maher’s recent use of the N-word on his HBO show does not escape Danny’s censure either. He deplores any normalization of words and images that dehumanize African-Americans.

I asked Danny whether his community feels intimidated by this ongoing process and, what is worse, recent hate crimes like the murder of an African-American student on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. He said the reaction is more generally one of concern and, to a degree, bewilderment than an elevated level of fear. But, he insists, the intent is intimidation.

Nooses conjure up, especially in the minds of African-Americans, the approximately 4,000 black men, women, and children murdered by groups of whites in the century following the Civil War. For Danny, one challenge blacks face is to remain outward-looking and to continue to engage with whites rather than to withdraw into the more welcoming arms of the black community. In order to create a better America, Danny believes it is crucial for African-Americans to resist the temptation to view most whites as either complicit in the overt racism of a few or, at best, indifferent to it.

When questioned about how white allies can support people of color who understandably feel threatened, Danny urges us to step out of our comfort zone. He believes whites must confront relatives and friends who casually or for shock value use racial slurs or tell racist jokes. It is equally important to challenge the notion that economic anxiety or even hardship excuses hateful rhetoric or violence.

There is no doubt that grave race-based suspicions and economic tensions  divide us. The current President was a reality TV host who rose to political prominence in part because he absurdly questioned whether President Obama was born in America. He defeated a candidate who ran a racially inclusive campaign but appeared at times indifferent to the economic stratification that defines our nation.

Bernie Sanders and other progressives argue that the Democratic Party will only return to power when it addresses the real economic anxiety that is cutting across race lines and likely exacerbating racial tensions. But, while necessary, this is an insufficient response to injustice in America. As Danny eloquently argues, we must also condemn the actions of white racists while siding unequivocally with the individuals and communities they attack.

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4 Responses to Responding to Racism

  1. Shade says:

    While finding a noose is a disturbing implied threat, it is probably only the action of one or a few nuts. And while we should clearly speak out against such despicable acts, as long as they remain infrequent, it is probably best not to bring them too much to the forefront in the press.

    Unfortunately, when such relatively simple acts create large amounts of publicity, it tends to build the racist’s following and it encourages copy-cat events. Both of these furthers the racist cause. As long as overt racism remains relatively subdued, improving the economy for all remains foremost. Few are going to be wasting their time scapegoating others if the economy is good and people aren’t feeling like they have been somehow cheated out of the quality of life they deserve.

    • Shade says:

      At this point, given the comparative prevalence of the various forms of racism, I am much more outraged by the insidious techniques of voter suppression than I am by some nut planting a noose. Voter suppression is currently a much more a serious threat to minorities and actually to all of us — plus publicizing that reality doesn’t carry the same risks of strengthing the numbers in the racist ranks. Unfortunately one hears only some limited reporting on this issue at the time of elections, and then often nothing in the mainstream press until the day of the next general election vote. We must continually attack this form of racism and classism in the press, in the streets, on the ballot, and in the courts. This form of institutionalized racism has got to be changed, else the metaphorical noose is around 99% of our necks!

      • Shade says:

        Here’s another example of institutionalized racism which to me is much worse than some nut planting a noose. There are now more Black men in prison than there were enslaved in 1850. One in nine Black children have a parent who is incarcerated. Black LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people are overrepresented in local jails and are more likely to be abused once in jail.

        In addition, over the last three decades, the percentage of Black women incarcerated has increased by 700%. Worse, at least 80 percent of women caged behind bars are mothers who have only been accused of minor offenses but not found guilty. The reason they are still in jail and separated from their families is because they are too poor to afford bail.

        Money bail drives the modern day slavery of mass incarceration. Forcing people to buy their freedom or remain caged behind bars, before they’re even convicted of a crime, is unconstitutional and inhumane. Fortunately, the bail reform movement is gaining traction across the country. Even Clarance Thomas appears to be onboard. Twice now in the past two months Thomas has put the racial unfairness above his partisan views.

  2. halginsberg says:

    Thanks Shade. I agree with you that voter suppression, mass incarceration, and race-based violence are very serious problems in America. I don’t think their existence means we shouldn’t talk about the nooses. I’d say they all go together.

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