By Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Are the uses of nooses as symbols of intimidation rising in the workplace? Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data says that reports of racism and discrimination are on the rise. Their data does not speak to nooses, particularly. Still, it is disturbing to peruse newspaper reports to learn that at purportedly “woke” workplaces and supposedly liberal campuses, racists or fools (or both) are using nooses as symbols of racist intimidation, just as they were a century ago. Some of the places that have had recent noose incidents include Stanford University, the University of Alabama, the University of Illinois, and Duke University. In September, two climate change activists appeared at the supposedly progressive University of Wisconsin wearing nooses.
The protesters say they were modeling their behavior after seeing them used in a European climate change protest. Nonsense. If these protesters grew up in the United States, they ought to have known what nooses mean. Chancellor Rebecca Blank responded appropriately, “Nooses are an offensive symbol, with deep impacts to our students, faculty, staff, and community. Their use to amplify any issue is misguided, hurtful, and contrary to UW–Madison’s values of civility, respect, and inclusion.” Bananas were found hanging from string in the form of nooses at American University after Taylor Dumpson was installed as the first African American president of the student government.
The bananas were marked with the letters AKA, which happens to be Dumpson’s sorority. While the perpetrators were never identified, some people decided to take the hate to another level, identifying Dumpson in the racist rag, The Daily Stormer. Andrew Anglin, the publisher of The Daily Stormer, encouraged his readers to “troll storm” Dumpson, and she got so many racist emails, messages and threats that she feared for her life. Her grades fell, and she ended up dropping a minor. Of course, the University made all the usual noise about rejecting racism. They couldn’t find the perpetrators of the noose incident. Taylor Dumpson got her victory this year, though. In August 2019, a judge awarded her more than $700,000 for punitive damages, compensatory damages, and attorney fees. Most folks who are the receiving end of noose intimidation don’t experience such a victory. Employees at UPS, who filed a lawsuit earlier this year, have yet to receive satisfaction.
Nooses show up on construction sites (San Francisco), shipyards, offices, and in public places like courthouses and municipal buildings. And the nooses are used not just to intimidate individuals, but also to remind communities that racism continues to thrive. Part of the reason it seems to thrive is because the leadership of our nation has openly embraced racism. While he has not yet used nooses, he doesn’t mind his supporters showing up at his rallies brandishing the symbols of the confederacy. Indeed, he embraced the neo-Nazi hoodlums whose actions in Charlottesville, Virginia, cause the death of Heather Heyer. And the man who has a long history of wallowing in racist mud recently opined that he feels “lynched” by the Congressional inquiry to his outrageous behavior, which includes pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate his political opponent, repeatedly violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and withdrawing troops from Syria, leaving our Kurd allies unprotected. When 45 uses the term “lynching,” he is attempting to minimize the terrorist roots of lynching in the United States. More than 4000 people died from lynching in this country, and their lynchings didn’t happen at the hands of a Congressional committee, but at the end of ropes. Many were burned alive. After they died, their bodies were first used for sport (some bodies were found with hundreds of bullets in them). Then, there remains were used as keepsakes when racist observers of lynching fought for souvenirs – a finger, a tooth, or whatever they could keep as a gruesome reminder of their white supremacy. Nooses have no place in a civilized society, nor does the casual mention of lynching. While Mr. Trump did not create the racism manifest in nooses and lynching, he has undoubtedly unleashed its expression. I would say that 45 should be ashamed, but his outrageous acts and his insensitive rhetoric suggest that, actually, he has no shame.