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Ignoring Hatred

Ignoring Hatred

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In a commentary for NPR's All Things Considered, which aired last week, and in his column for The New York Sun, John McWhorter, of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, made a "modest proposal," which generated a huge response: "The next time somebody plants a noose, let's just ignore it. Perhaps paying less attention to these acts will take away their racist power."

The modesty of his proposal is debatable, to say the least, as more and more nooses are found, hanging on trees, at high schools and the Coast Guard Academy, and in the ivory tower. Can we really ignore something so malicious, with such a painful and haunting history?

No, it seems. Since protesters converged on Jena, La., last month, many media outlets, including NPR, have filled pages and programs with reports on, and conversations about, race and racism. DiversityInc magazine has chronicled each incident on a web page, called "Noose Watch." And the Rev. Al Sharpton has called for a march on Washington, D.C., to demand that the government prosecute hate crimes with more zeal. What do you think of McWhorter's suggestion? Is the noose's symbolism indelible?



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i recall that recently in a suburb of chicago someone spotted a noose hanging on a tree and that it had been there for several days. this person called a news crew, and then the news crew, after getting video of the noose hanging on the tree, called the sheriff's office who then "promptly" removed it. when interviewed, this person said that "i saw it, and someone needed take it down." why didn't he take it down? why call the news? why call the sheriff. take the noose down, and don't tell anyone about it. i get that it feels good to get credit for fighting racism, but the best way to fight racism is to fight it without getting credit.

Sent by steve | 2:11 PM | 10-23-2007

Here in Germany,displaying a swastika is illegal. Some signs of hatred are so vile, they deserve to be outlawed. The noose is one of them.
Gay Koenemann, Koenigswinter, Germany

Sent by (Frau/Ms.) Gay Koenemann | 2:14 PM | 10-23-2007

People in this country have forgotten that "no response"" IS a response. I lived overseas in Asia for a long time and I learned over there one thing, that a person arguing with themselves will eventually tire of themselves if they don't get the response they expect.

Sent by Rachael Barrett | 2:15 PM | 10-23-2007

Very Fox-y case being made, defining a swastika as bad only as a portent of bad things to come (and presumably insignificant since 1939) and likewise nooses are meaningless because they don't mean something big and bad is coming. Utter nonsense. Racist blather. Of all the right-wing apologizing I've heard on Talk of the Nation, this takes the cake.

Sent by Mike from Boston | 2:18 PM | 10-23-2007

We have to have the "n-word," but "honky" is still a word we can say. Why? Because white people blow it off; it's a useless word because we don't care about it. Duh.

Sent by John | 2:19 PM | 10-23-2007

I'm a Jew. I know that there is nothing we can do to remove dislike or hatred of Jews due to people's stupdity. Making a "federal case" out of someone painting a swastika on a synagogue doesn't change anyone's mind. If the goal is to change the hearts and minds of those who hate you, the only thing you can do is clean it up, paint the synagogue door, and keep doing good works.

Sent by Jeff Lisson | 2:20 PM | 10-23-2007

This guest on your show is downplaying this symbol of hatred. To call hanging nooses as a prank is making light of this situation. This a black man who really does not care about the racism and discrimination that many of us {maybe not your guest} have to deal with on a regular basis. He says maybe we should try something else but I have heard no ideas from him which is typical.

Sent by ray | 2:21 PM | 10-23-2007

Ignoring the behavior doesn't mean condoning the behavior. When my 3 year old has a tantrum, getting sucked in to the hysteria and emotion is the last thing I want to do. I calmly say "that's not okay" and go about my business. I believe that refusing to rewarding this bad behavior with attention is what your guest has in mind. It works for toddlers (eventually) - but the question is, will it work for ignorant racists?

Sent by Monique Johnson | 2:22 PM | 10-23-2007

Just as children act out to get attention these "pranksters" seek to bring attention to themselves via negative behavior. In the same way ignoring a child's tantrum can help to extinguish the behavior by taking away the reinforcement (attention) so can ignoring the prankster take away their power to anger and get attention

Sent by Megan | 2:22 PM | 10-23-2007

How come this is never posed in this manner when someone posts a swastika!!! It seems as if it is all very similar, if not the same. The point is to terrorize and spew hate. Both are abhorent and both should be publically condemned.

Sent by Prof. Ruth Gordon | 2:22 PM | 10-23-2007

I agree that ignoring it or at least, responding in a lowkey manner could reduce copycats. On the other hand, a noose can be a direct threat. One needs to evaluate the potential for escalation of the incident before ignoring it.

Sent by Elaine Schuster | 2:22 PM | 10-23-2007

I agree with the guest, but I wonder what response he would do if the original "n" word was used in his presence. What would he recommend to others? What can he imagine the popular/general response would be?

Sent by John Potamites | 2:24 PM | 10-23-2007

Thank God someone has finally stepped up and seen the light. We get what we focus on -- fundamental fact of life. You focus on racisim and the ugly side of this subject you will feed the fire. On the other had we have the choice to focus on the positive side and create opportunities to bridge the gap rather than focusing on widening the gap. We can make the choice to foucs on individual pride, diversity, our strengths, our interest, etc. Lets pull our heads out and point them in the right direction!

Sent by Susan | 2:24 PM | 10-23-2007

Words and symbols only possess as much power as we asign to them. Not only do I agree with John McWhorter's suggestion that "looking past" these emblems diminish their effect, it also removes the temptation for porvocatuers to turn to these methods of insighting public outcry. I understand the historical merit of acknowledging the noose as a symbol of perhaps the ugliest aspect of our country's history. However, I feel that the lesson we are passing on to future generations is ultimately to fear and to be angered by this symbol. And (in case my identy is called to question)...I am a 31 year old Black woman, who is in fact a College Professor in a predominantly white (and, not always inviting) community.

Sent by N.A. Mitchell | 2:24 PM | 10-23-2007

First, a noose is a distinct object which can be used to harm and kill a person. It is, therefore, a weapon. This is a threat of violence. Let's think about that for a moment at least.

Second, every time you ignore the actions of any person which promotes racial violence in any way, you lend credence to the attitudes held by those who believe in racist ideals.

Imagine a group of 10 people are standing around and 9 of those people would never enact racial violence on someone, but one person would. Now, imagine that someone tells a racist joke (or pulls a racist "prank") and say, 5 of the people just chuckle. 2 are mildly uncomfortable, but chuckle anyway just to be polite. 2 more don't laugh, but don't say anything. The last person takes all this laughing or silence as assent. The group has now collectively authorized the violent actions that a person with racist beliefs will enact.

It is possible to respond in a manner which condemns the actions of those involved without "playing the victim" as so many people are accused of doing. It is also possible to be empathetic to fellow human being who feel truly victimized by the actions of others.

Sent by Robby D | 2:24 PM | 10-23-2007

People are just too sensitive these days. Such a dramatic reaction is just giving these perpetrators exactly what they are seeking.

Sent by john | 2:25 PM | 10-23-2007

I am from Tucson Arizona and a hanging noose does not represent what you suggest in this area. This may be a regional perception.

Sent by Beverley Tidwell | 2:26 PM | 10-23-2007

Mr. Conan,
I am listening to your program and I see it differently from your guess. It seems to me that history is repeating itself. You can not ignore the cycle of hatred. Nation's ignored Hitler and his statements and early acts. When McKinnley was elected president and removed the troops from the south, people ignored the beginning of the repeal of equal opportunity laws in the south and it was not until Bull Connor and CBS news did America stop ignoring racial hatred in this country. When you ignore something it has the potential to get stronger.

Sent by A. Casey | 2:26 PM | 10-23-2007

Making a "noose" a crime would be insane. A noose is an object, but not one that black people own. Would this mean that every cowboy movie where the bad guy gets hung would have to be edited? Nooses appear in the Oxbow Incident, Lonesome Dove , even in Schindlers List.

This should be a misdemenor crime with obligatory counseling and a fine as the sentence.

Sent by Dereck | 2:26 PM | 10-23-2007

i'm curious to know if the law recognizes a noose as explicit hate speech, unprotected by the 1st ammendment. i'm certainly in the anti-noose hanging camp, but am theoretically interested in the free-speech issues that this question raises.

Sent by matthew j. miller | 2:27 PM | 10-23-2007

Neal Conan has said that a noose "sends a clear message". If so, what is that message? There's no evidence that it's a threat of death or injury . . . no threat that I know of has been followed up by an attack. So, what's the message? And what makes that message, however offensive it may be, outside of the protection of the First Amendment?

Sent by Geoff Sjostrom (SHOE-strum) | 2:27 PM | 10-23-2007

I believe we should ignore them personally but legally we should prosecute any one who is caught leaving one.

Sent by Tony | 2:28 PM | 10-23-2007

Ignore a noose? Isn't that exactly the way intimidation works? The target is frightened, afraid to speak up fearing a lack of support and all the non-targets are free to blithely go about their business. No one mentions the fact that the noose(s) in Jena were a specific statement in response to a specific question. Can black kids share the space under the "white kids tree?" The answer, in the form of a noose, was unambiguous. Put into words, "No blacks allowed or there will be violent consequences." And in this case the tension escalated into a violent confrontation. A fistfight, supported by the dominant culture (white) is NOT a "prank." Ignoring it is easy to do, but only if you are not the target.

Sent by Peggy West | 2:28 PM | 10-23-2007

Making the act of hanging a noose a crime only treats the symptom of the underlying problem of racial ignorance and intolerance. It is an empty act that makes us feel good about "doing something" while not actually addressing what is ailing our society.

Sent by Ty | 2:28 PM | 10-23-2007

This balkanization of minority protections inside of minority protections is political correctness still run amuck. It was my understanding from an earlier NPR broadcast that the nooses hung on the tree in Gena, La. were put there by the rodeo club to advertise their accomplishments and by the clubs admission had no racial connotations. If this information is true then this whole discussion is absurd.

Sent by Bruce Harlan | 2:29 PM | 10-23-2007

Nooses are an easy way for an insecure (and presumably white) idiot to be powerful by creating a big reaction.

Most nooses are not a threat these days - context, of course, is everything - they are signs of insecurity.

Sent by Julie Charles | 2:29 PM | 10-23-2007

I agree with your guests approach. A book excerpt I recall hearing on NPR "Kicked, Bitten and Scratched", about a woman who studied animal training at Moorpark college then applied the same techniques on her husband, comes to mind. Validating a "negative" behavior is in animal training, the equivalent of "rewarding" it. This is certainly a more grave matter, but the principles are consistent. Thanks

Sent by Chris DeChant | 2:29 PM | 10-23-2007

If someone were to put a cross on my lawn, or a noose on my tree, or a swastika on my wall, I'd consider it a threat on my life and would prepare for violence, determined that I'd be the one who survived. You ask, should brandishing a noose be a crime? It is terrorism. It is a death threat. It is a crime.

Sent by James | 2:30 PM | 10-23-2007

Your guest's proposal mischaracterizes the situation in Gena. Within the Gena community, there is a repressive regime. Should the Blacks have ignored the principal who parceled out discriminatory punishment? Should it have ignored the DA who only saw the Blacks in the community as the threat? Should they have ignored the all-white juries who applied different standards in conviction. The community of Gena is a micro-cosm of Nazi Germany which its residents must oppose vigorously.

Sent by David Maier | 2:30 PM | 10-23-2007

We have seen what ignoring nooses does. Natural healers, called "witches," are degraded each year at Halloween. People hang them in nooses. These women were mass murdered in Europe centuries ago. Ignoring it causes this prejudice to continue in society -- it does, every year. Responding to hate with aware laughter, in order to disable the power of hate, is wise. This disempowers hate by causing it to question the opposition that it assumes is its premise. This is addressing it, rather than letting hatred continue by ignoring it. If responding to nooses causes more incidents, this exposes hatred so we can disempower it.

Sent by inspra | 2:30 PM | 10-23-2007

I think you have to pay some attention to this and at least label this as racial intimidation and have a penalty.
There have been at least two hanging in Missisipi related to interracial relationships in recent years. It should be at least equivalent to putting a burning cross in someones yard.
About one of the hangings:

Sent by Sophia | 2:31 PM | 10-23-2007

IGNORE was probably not the best term . whoever puts a noose up for harassment or intimidation purposes should be pursued for that action . I think your guest has a good point to 'downplay' the act , and by that Dis-empower it at the same time .

Sent by Michael | 2:31 PM | 10-23-2007

I expected more of NPR and TOTN than: 1. Seeking out the opinon of a black person who represents no one but himself as represented by the fact that his following is primarily white including, apparently, the NPR producers; 2. The host clearly indicating that he believed that ignoring the noose was the proper response dispite the fact that the person from Jena said that by openly objecting to it brought the community together; 3. Asking the question, "Should it be ignored" when that question would never be asked of the jewish comunity. Whenever a Swastika is found, be it in a basement in Mongolia, the media, including NPR, reports it as though the Storm Troopers were attempting to regroup.

Sent by Glenn Gaudet | 2:32 PM | 10-23-2007

John is presenting an excellent and very mature response to a stupid act of ignorance intended to provoke a response. There is no doubt that there is an abundance of racism in this country and in most countries, but to "allow" a moronic act to cause such a knee-jerk reaction is exactly playing in to the hnads of the idiots that perpetrate these acts. The mature response is indeed to not allow this act to have the reaction it is intended to cause and move forward. Listen to Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit" and remember the horror that has indeed been inflicted, but do not allow ignorant hate-mongers to drive the actions of the rest of us.

Sent by Ron Denton | 2:32 PM | 10-23-2007

I think John McWhorter is the voice of reason and I thank him for that sense of calm. But changes in our civil rights have not come through by being calm. Changes have most often occured by people becoming enraged and saying we will not tolerate this bad behavior... this bully behavoir, this racism.

Sent by Marie Gibson | 2:32 PM | 10-23-2007

What is your guest's response to hearing the "N" word? Is it also to "ignore it"?

Sent by Marie in chicago | 2:32 PM | 10-23-2007

hanging a noose is a crime: vandalism, as such perhaps publicity should be limited to information useful in apprehension. When tires are slashed the local news carries the story and that's as far as it goes.

Sent by Irene Perin | 2:32 PM | 10-23-2007

Unlike a verbal slur or abuse, a noose is an implicit threat of death. Now whether done as a prank or not, if a stranger walks up to you on the street, or leaves a note on your door, that says, "I hate you, and I'm going to kill you," that is a crime. Threatening to kill someone is not to be taken lightly, or ignored, because an ignored threat of violence will force the person who makes the threat to either back down, or to make good his intent. Since, most people will not commit murder, one may assume that a random death threat may be safely ignored...however, this is done so at one's own peril, for there are the rare occasions where a person means what he says.

Sent by Brian Cassidy | 2:34 PM | 10-23-2007

The noose should not be ignored, but rather use as an opportunity for African Americans to come together and solve "real" issues. For example, rappers telling people NOT TO SNITCH when drugs and killings and crime are destroying our communities. That is one of the many REAL nooses killing our people. Our so called "leaders" are ingoring the real issues in the black community.

Sent by Denise Bensch | 2:34 PM | 10-23-2007

An unanswered question looms over this discussion: why hang a noose at all? It would seem that those who perpetrate these acts do so in order to solicit some kind of response. In this context Mr. McWhorter's is quite right to suggest that our best course of action is to ignore it. Why? Because then the message is sent that these sort of beliefs have no currency. The best course of action is to continue to marginalize these people and their beliefs and take them for who and what they are: sociopaths.

Sent by Ian C. L. Gosling | 2:34 PM | 10-23-2007

I agree with John McWhorter in his appeals to us black folks to grow past some of theses throwaway signs of racism, as to discourage the copycats. But there is also the idea of mercy--which dictates a particular forgiveness of sins committed against us that appeases and heals.

I think James Baldwin advice to his nephew, in regard to white people and racism, applies:

"...The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. "

so ignoring some form of racism is good for us all.

Sent by guerrier | 2:34 PM | 10-23-2007

This topic has my emotions stirring. I would pose 2 questions to your guest:
1. Would you consider a noose hanging on a tree outside your home tomorrow morning a "prank?" I think most reasonable blacks would consider it a THREAT to their safety and the safety of their family and respond appropriately. (i.e call the police, lock the doors, keep watch, etc.)

2. What would those who bled and died think of the "ignore it" mentality that their pain has afforded blacks today? Not so long ago, people WERE being hanged. Ask your guest to research the date when the last black person in the US was lynched and see how far removed he feels then.

While I can agree that an extreme response from the black community can sometimes do more harm than good, I think ignoring these types of threats, whether they are empty or substantive, can do just as much harm, if not more.

Sent by Matt | 2:35 PM | 10-23-2007

Being that it is October a week before Halloween, nooses are going to pop up that have nothing to do with racism. In November we can start the protest.

Sent by Lynne Arons | 2:35 PM | 10-23-2007

I feel that the noose is definitely a threat which should not be ignored. I am white, but I find this sort of activity extremely shocking, and something that should not be allowed. It is not merely a "prank," but the evocation of an era when racist terror was considered acceptable. I disagree totally with your guest. I also felt that the retort about allowing cancer to continue was a good comeback and didn't deserve to be shot down.

Sent by Louise Mathews | 2:36 PM | 10-23-2007

reality check, I'd like to point out that Saddam Hussein and his henchmen were were hung by nooses - much to the delight of countless Americans, Black & White. We cannot selectively determine the circumstances in which a noose is viewed as a tool of "justice" or as a symbol of hatred. The presence of a noose does not add to or take away from racism as it exists in our society. Rather than focusing on progressive ideas that help us all to move forward, we revel in ruminating on non-productive and harmful discourse. As a Black woman, I wish that my community would focus on solving our greatest problems. A noose is a symbol of ignorance, but wasting time in exhaustively discussing the matter and possibly prosecuting every kid who wants to stir up hostility by hanging a knot from a tree does not change the reality of financial and educational inadequacies in Black communities.

Sent by ayisha mitchell | 2:37 PM | 10-23-2007

One interesting mis-step in logic that I see going on here is that racists are necessarily "child-like", "ignorant", or "stupid".

Racists, as humans, often completely retain the capacity to understand what, exactly, they are doing. You may claim that they might not be fully aware, but I counter that the choice of a noose is deliberate.

The 3-year-old throwing a tantrum is not in a position, emotionally, to empathize with the suffering of the mother. Ignoring the tantrum relegates it to the realm of impotence because the 3-year-old sees only that they are upset and want to show it.

The racist knows specifically that the actions being taken are psychologically violent to the target of the hatred.

Sent by Robby D | 2:39 PM | 10-23-2007

I have never heard anyone advocate that the Jewish community ignore a Swastika painted on a synagogue. The advice offered by the guest is hypocriful.

Anytime there is a public expression of hatred it should be condemned in the strongest sense.

I would like to know if the guest would offer this same advice to the Jewish community if a Swastika is painted on one of their synagogues tomorrow.

Sent by Aubrey Jackson | 2:40 PM | 10-23-2007

Can we ignore a noose?

It depends on where you live.

If you live in Philadelphia or New York City, or any other place where folks are largely tolerant, you can ignore it if you'd like. The chances of your being lynched are somewhere between slim and none in those places.

But if you're in a place like Berks County Pennsylvania, a place where folks of color are occasionally run out of town for having the nerve to move into neighborhoods that are nearly lilly white and where the Ku Klux Klan is doing the running, you can't ignore it. It's a definite sign. And, it's meant for you.

Sent by Denise Clay | 2:41 PM | 10-23-2007

I have no idea how a black person who grew up in the late 50's early 60's or before feels when they see a noose, I doubt seriously whether black people born in the 70 or later actually have reaction accept where they believe that they need to act a certain way because they are black, but these incidents are just perpatrated by idiots that have yet to learn that we all all dependent on one another. So let us all try not to over react to the presence of a symbol that is only the opinion of an idiot.

Sent by D Hill | 2:41 PM | 10-23-2007

I'm not overly impressed with Dr. McWhorter since he exhibits a binary approach..."we can't do *this* until we do *that*...and seems to find only fault with African Americans no matter what we do. I find it telling that his arrogance isn't only directed toward AfrAms, but, apparently against anyone on the other side of his rather lame arguments, as is evidenced by his discussion with the founder of DiversityInc. And I find it stunning, just stunning, that the answer to racism is "just ignore it" in 2007. Why aren't Americans thoroughly embarrassed by this kind of nonsense?

Sent by Coquinegra | 2:43 PM | 10-23-2007

I disagree strongly with your guest, ignoring these acts do not give them less power, in fact for some one that is capable of producing such "prank" as your guest called; it can well produce an even more violent act. Also comparing this acts with child tantrums is ridiculous, we are talking of adults not four year olds.

Sent by Jimena V. Centeno | 2:44 PM | 10-23-2007

Those of you making such a big deal of this are the true racists. To say that a white person can't have a noose up around Halloween - a holiday typically reserved for death and all things 'evil' - is racist against white people. You really need to (as your own person said) STOP SEEING TODAY THROUGH THE REAR VIEW MIRROR. You are only going backwards.

Sent by Sanity Beacon | 2:48 PM | 10-23-2007

Too much attention has already been given to this kind of thing. As if we don't have more important things to worry about in this day and age. As a person of Latino decent but who is half white, I have received prejudicial treatment from blacks, whites, and latinos. That is just the way some people are, and if you go on a witch hunt you will find witches. All you will do with attempting to make it illegal to display a noose is to make it a monument for some people to rally around and to hold up in front of you. You will also alienate many who otherwise would not even be considered racist.

Sent by Mike | 2:50 PM | 10-23-2007

Ignore a hanging noose? NEVER!!! To ignore it demonstrates apathy and a lack of seriousness for the offense. A noose is far more than a prank it is a real, present, and tangible threat that has yet to manifest in action. African-Americans have a right, as history has taught us, to fear the threat of a noose. And the rising tide of noose hangings as of late is proof that there is indeed a problem. To ignore it is to allow it to fester and grow. To address it is to express our collective disdain and intolerance for such racist actions. The mere fact that NPR deems it necessary to discuss the appropriate African-American reaction to a noose hanging belies the problem. Are African-Americans not entitled to be outraged? Jewish people say "Never Again" to the tragedies of the Holocaust. To make sure racist movements never happen again, we must sound the alarm when its ugly head is reared. So to all the Jena Six supporters and those fighing these symbols of racism, sound the alarm loud and clear. Sound the alarm for all to hear. Racism will not be ignored.

Sent by Assata N. Peterson | 2:51 PM | 10-23-2007

critique of your guest's stated opinion that "pranks" should be ignored. are as most commentaries have stated in response. There is a response to any dialogue. The Tree in Jena was a symbol of white supremacy. The student trying to get permission to sit under that tree was a symbol, as was the response of the hanging nooses. The gun "prank" brought to the school by the Anglo and the subsequent fight between the African and Anglo's resulting in injury of the African student "another prank?" then led to the taunting of the afro students and subsequent fight resulting in injury to the anglo student...leading to what. How long should incidents be ignored?

Sent by Doc Oliver | 2:54 PM | 10-23-2007

You CAN, but I think for a black person to ignore a noose is form of self abuse and self hatred, if there is some way to respond in a measured, appropriate manner.
Because I ignored or didn't act on some blatant acts of racism I experienced, I still feel victimized. I wish I had acted in some way -- filing a police report, filling out a housing discrimination complaint, but I didn't. I didn't want to make waves. My foray into in-your-face racism was back in 1976 when I experienced a great deal of blatant racism for the first time in my life. I grew up in Cincinnati, OH, a sheltered girl from a working class African American family, and I hadn't experienced any significant racism I could recognize. It happened when I was 20 years old and my husband was a low ranking Air Force NCO at Scott Air Base in nearby Belleville, IL, and we had no money for a telephone or a car. We had a terrible time finding an apartment. We were discriminated again and again. When we finally rented a trailer on a street with other trailers on lots owned by the residents, it was only because the owner of the trailer we moved into wanted to get back at his neighbors. Only two of the neighbors on the street ever even said hi to us. We lived in a suburb of St. Louis called O'Fallon, Illinois (a nearly white suburb which is right across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.) Each day, as a way to break the boredom, I and my 2 year old daughter would walk about a 10 minute trek to a discount department store. We walked along a road without sidewalks. One day a truck drove up behind us very fast and threw down leaflets on the ground next to us saying "Keep White Neighborhoods White!" I was shocked and terrified. I dared not even stop to even examine them further because I thought any minute that truck could come back and that someone jump out and attack me and my child. After that I was afraid to take my daily walk. I was stuck home all day with a 2 year old with no telephone or car while my husband was stationed on the Air Force there.

I think nooses are too inflammatory a symbol to let go by. A confederate flag is bad enough, but the noose says I hate blacks so much I would kill to express it. It CANNOT be ignored.

Sent by Linda Wright | 2:57 PM | 10-23-2007

I believe that covertly planting nooses is a threat. It is tantamount to saying "You're going to die", or "You better shape up or else".
So, yes this is very serious. However children (to include teenagers) make threats as "I'll kill you" very often. I heard such threats several times as a child and even as a teenager. These threats can be very troubling.

As children approach adulthood they learn this is not appropriate. They need to be held accountable for this sort of behavior. How do authorities handle playground threats of murder or mayhem? Obviously this is handled on a case by case basis depending on circumstances.

Making another law to further criminalize bad behavior is likely to be ineffective. Also where is the investigation against prosecutors and other supposedly responsible community leaders that did not enforce the law equally. I am less concerned about the kids fighting than the unequal prosecution of the law.

I do have to take issue with some of the grandstanding by Rev Sharpton and other prominent black leaders. Though I am of thoroughly mixed american multi-ethnic blood, most assume I'm white. This does not mean that I am not offended by acts of hate, racism, misogyny, etc. When black leaders take all of the coverage for themselves and claim victimization of the American Black Community, they take away the ability of anyone not-black to claim offence to these horrible acts. It is a matter of ownership. I feel that often I am cast as "white" instead of American, and that hate crimes are only committed against blacks.

This is an issue for all of America. We all suffer when injustices are committed. We do not need special laws to provide special protection for minorities or any other special interest group. What is needed uniform application of the same laws for all.

Sent by Todd H. | 2:57 PM | 10-23-2007

I think you need to separate the individual, group and official responses to these things. The individual (target of the threat) should ignore it. Groups (especially African American groups) should ignore it. However, officials should treat it as a death threat. I don't think there is a reason to treat this as a "racial" issue, even in spite of the history of lynchings in the south. If someone hung a noose on my door (I'm white), I would consider it a death-threat (plain and simple). Aren't there laws against people making death threats? If no law covers this currently, it's probably because the threat is non-verbal and not a written threat. The law should treat this as a non-verbal death threat, and we don't even have to get into the motivations behind the threat. The motive behind the threat is clearly to make the target feel threatened by a large slice of the population (that is, one race versus another). If African American groups respond as if it's a threat against their demographic group, and if that response is directed at "whites" as a group, then the person has probably achieved what they wanted. In reality, these people are on the fringes of society and they don't have any larger support from "whites" as a group. They're on the fringes, so let's keep them there. It makes sense for the targeted individual and African American groups to ignore it. However, there still needs to be an OFFICIAL (law enforcement, school district, etc.) response to a death threat. The situation in Jena probably would not have escalated so badly if there had been a more appropriate official response. Without such an official response, the targets of the death threats probably felt that the did not enjoy the protection of the law or officials charged with upholding it. If the law doesn't protect someone, we shouldn't blame them for protecting themselves.

Sent by Chris | 2:58 PM | 10-23-2007

A noose hung outside a black organization can not be misconstrued as a prank. I believe it should be dealt with quietly but publicly by pasting a white face in the noose and leaving it up. That sends the message that it isn't acceptable and that it can be considered a universal threat not a specific threat. The person who said we teach our children to ignore bullies is wrong. Bullies continue unless they are faced down and that takes creativity and courage. My son was teased about being small by calling him "tiny tim"so I told him to tell the bully to stop or he would alliterate him also. We brainstormed some names he could use and the problem ended. When my 7 year old, dark skinned daughter was helping in the grocery line she was told to "get your filthy hands" off her groceries. My daughter moved closer to me and when I found out why I gave a very loud dissertation to my daughter on why people are bigoted [they don't feel good about themselves so pick on others, or they are very unhappy and need someone else to blame]. It was very effective! The woman practically ran out the door and the employees [all white] treated my daughter like the precious child she was.

Sent by donna norris | 2:59 PM | 10-23-2007

In the US we are living within a system of structural violence and racism. One caller recommended ignoring it like he ignores bad behavior on the school bus. This is not an appropriate analogy, for ignoring racism, bigotry and hatred is a form of tolerance and collusion.

Sent by Sara Schmidt | 3:01 PM | 10-23-2007

Several comments seem to equate nooses w/ Halloween decorations. I'm 56, celebrated Halloween all my life, and I have never ever heard of making a noose part of a Halloween "decoration." Besides, we're talking about a time and place most specifically NOT associated with Halloween, so why was it brought up? Very strange.

Sent by Peggy W | 3:05 PM | 10-23-2007

How is the symbol of a noose more offensive than a burning flag to a nationalist or a recently publicized editorial cartoon to a Muslim? Poor taste? Yes. Ignorant and offensive? Absolutely. Punishable in an already overtaxed criminal court system for something that could be argued as a constitutional right? No! A crime is a crime and to make a distinction for "hate crimes" is silly. A symbol by itself is meaningless unless it's granted power by an audience. If you combine such a symbol with an existing criminal behavior, such as physical or verbal threats, then it's a crime but no different than any other form of assault, except perhaps the motivation.

Sent by Gerry | 3:54 PM | 10-23-2007

"Can we really ignore something so malicious, with such a painful and haunting history?"....

It only has the power, meaning and respect or disgust that we give it. This along with so many things are what America cries about, but that is the only action they take. Unless they seek out to destroy and humiliate people as a way of retribution. Why can't people move on? We have acutally lost ground emotionally and philosophically since the Roman Empire. .... Go ahead and prove my point and talk about crucifications, lions dens, spears and pillaging!

Sent by mike | 4:04 PM | 10-23-2007

I think amid all of the uproar something interesting is happening. I for one believe that most people have an inate bias against one race or another. If you don't believe me just have group of strangers from all races walk into an open room such as a stadium, or cafeteria. You will see them migrate to those who look familiar and dare I say seem trustworthy and approachable. This is not saying they are racists in any sense, but that there is an inate bias. What I think we are seeing, from post here, and all across America is a backlash of political correctness. I truly believe if a person has a bias, they should express it. It doesn't have to lend itself to racism, it may, but it does not have to. Even so, this is that person's true feelings, and they should be able to express them. If we remove the facade, which I think does more harm than we care to admit, then we know people for who they are. Remember, if it looks like duck, etc... I can't promise that racial harmony will be the end result, but who knows. I for one am tired of people faking it to appear free from bias and false perceptions. I am a black man and I respect the person who says that he does not like me because of my skin color, at least they are being honest. It doesn't mean I like to hear it, but I now know how to deal with that person, or how not to deal with that person. Honesty goes a long way in the arena of acceptance. Again, I am not fooled to believe this will end racial dis-harmony, in fact it may cause more unrest, but only for a short time. I may be naive, but once we get it out of our system, it may prompt us to be more civil towards each other as time goes on. Maybe we will all learn not to take our selves so seriously. The comedians really get it, laughter does wonders for healing and understanding our differences. If we laugh together at each other, then nobody laughs alone. Peace to all!

Sent by Shannon McMorris | 4:07 PM | 10-23-2007

Call me confused.
I am an educator I am seriously confused by this incident.
The idea of not giving attention (albeit bad attention) to bad behavior seems on its face, preferable. If we could look past race, as a sole motivator, but look at it as yet another stupid way kids use to distinguish us from them, this looks like bullying.
A school in my area has severe problems with bullying, and so I have received 'anti-bullying' training. Unlike other forms of misbehavior, if those in authority ignore the behavior, or quietly correct it on the side, they actually condone it, and empower the bullies. This means that there must be a 'zero-tolerance' policy for bullies, and bullies must be strongly and public ally sanctioned.
If there is no response from the adults, the victim feels further and further isolated. This leaves the bullied kids with no outlet but to respond hyper violently when they can no longer tolerate the provocations, ala Columbine. So, the over-the-top reaction of the black school children is a natural response to an impossible situation, and may not just be some symptom of the black/white divide in our nation.
Worse, by over-punishing the retaliation the school district and the district attorney have severely dropped the ball on this one.
Nearly all schools and large institutions are shy of bad press. Humiliated and intimidated students, are unseen, if they remain quiet. If no one complains, then there is no problem and the institution looks good/effective/safe. However, when the victim strikes back in some inappropriate fashion, the school can no longer sweep the situation under the rug. So they punish those who brought the dishonor upon them, rather than dealing with the problem, and correcting the hostile, bullying-friendly environment in their school. They do not want to engage in a protracted effort to clean up the atmosphere in the school, because each incident makes the school look less safe rather than more safe.

Sent by Sam Jones | 4:28 PM | 10-23-2007

There is only one post so far that even brings up the issue of freedom of speech, and I'd like to add my post alongside theirs. Who is it precisely that you would entrust in that precious role to determine the ultimate bounds of what can be considered hate speech? Can you name someone specific who would be trustworthy of this responsibility? I would find it strange if Mr. Conan could juxtaposition this story and Christopher Hitchen's book in the following segment and not at least silently come to some conclusions by considering both at length.

Sent by Thomas | 6:57 PM | 10-23-2007

So long as a person could collect a pile of cash from some blockhead who probably hates himself hanging a noose on your workplace, that would be OK. But making it a felony just sounds like another excuse for a lawyerfest or phony sanctimonious polititions posing as saints.

Sent by Stan | 7:56 PM | 10-23-2007

Allow me to preface this comment by saying that I abhor racism. I pity anyone who spends their engery hating an entire segment of the population and who has not been taught tolerance toward all people. With that said... Perhaps I'm forgetting a law, but isn't it a violation of constitutional rights to free speech to make hanging a noose a felony? Providing I don't trespass (to put it in a public or private place that isn't my own) or do damage to property in the process, what law am I breaking. Is New York going to tell me that I can't waltz through Times Square dangling a noose? What's next? The guy shouting that "The end is near" and waving photos of Jesus begging me to repent gets locked up for the same thing?

Sent by Jessica | 8:31 PM | 10-23-2007

As I recall the students in Jena put up with quite a lot before the beating happened so obviously ignoring the behavior did not work. To me, noose on the front door says "I hate you and I know where you live". I'd take that pretty seriously, but that's just me.

Sent by Lillie | 8:51 PM | 10-23-2007

It seems really absurd to me that the concept of a noose is now being generalized into a racist symbol that is to be outlawed. My first thought when I see a noose is of somebody hanging themselves/committing suicide or some of the scenes from the many old westerns... whether it be a bad guy being hung by the mob while sitting under a tree on a horse... or the gallows being built outside of a jail. It's only a symbol if you let it be a symbol.
And it seems a shame that such a useful knot should be portrayed as a symbol like that... technically... a proper noose is suposed to have 13 loops around it... is any old knot hanging about going to be considered a noose?
I'm really kinda interested in knots... and the noose kind of slip knot is very interesting and useful in that it gets tighter as more pressure is applied against it.
So, could nooses being hung... or other innocent knots in string-cord-wire-rope-cable-ribbon and so on all be considered as racist symbols? Is this what it's coming to?

This just in...
"As we reported earlier... the recently discovered nooses in local area trees that set off the riots and recent violence and deaths... as it turns out now, had originally held skeletons that were Halloween decoration... but with our recent winds, many of said skeletons were blown from their nooses... and this station appologizes for any confusion."

And, as far as the "Jina 6" (not sure of the spelling)... yes, it was originally a mean but harmless teenage prank... and, no, I don't think that the prank, itself, should be getting this much attention... however, the violence amongst the white and black teenagers should have been dealt with more fairly and impartially than it had been... and I think that is what the real uproar is all about. And justly so.

Sent by Ed | 2:48 AM | 10-24-2007

Not to stir this up again... but the Michael Richards (Kramer) thing...
People tend to gloss over the fact that the hecklers in the audience were calling him a "cracker" before he snapped and went into his tirade. He was firing back at them in like-fashion the only way he knew how... and he may have thought that he was being like Lenny Bruce... a shock comediane... but the real story is that he is not a stand-up comediane. He went off on the guys in the audience because he was angry about their heckling... not because he was racist. (He was just reaching for whatever "stone" was easiest to throw back at them.)

One thing I find myself thinking of when I see these videos that are caught on cell phones or digital cameras... Is it a set-up? How likely is it that the person is taping and happens to catch what happens. (Taking into consideration batteries and memory.) Is that person taping everything and just happens to catch it?

Sent by Ed | 3:02 AM | 10-24-2007

If you outlaw the noose, only outlaws will have ropes.

I made a noose a few weeks ago, at my workplace, and left it in plain sight. I meant for it to signify my frustration at work, and as a bit of light-hearted commentary on my own depression. (Black humor, if you will.)

Racism is frustrating.
Free speech is important.

This country keeps letting me down.

Also: John McWhorter's voice sounds nearly identical to Larry Wilmore.

Sent by Phil Redmon | 4:46 AM | 10-24-2007

Ignoring a hate crime aids the perpetrator by allowing the victim(s) to be terrorized in isolation.

A just society does not allow people to be oppressed - a noose is an instrument of oppression. Read up on lynching - until a federal law was passed, there were thousands of lynchings every year in this country. A noose is the instrument of lynching.

Why did it take a federal law to stop lynching? Think about how long it took local law enforcement to bring the evil filth that bombed the church in Birmingham (and killed little girls in Sunday school) - over 40 years.

In my opinion, it is cowardly to suggest to an oppressed person that they ignore a hate crime that would not be expressed to themselves and tell the victim in essence to "buck up and take it like a man."

Sent by Luke Visconti | 6:12 AM | 10-24-2007

I may not be a historian, but I'm pretty sure that blacks have not been the only race to suffer a hangmans noose. If this offends blacks, then why does the christian cross not offend people? People demonstrate a serious lack of maturity by getting offended by "things" and not deeds.

Sent by D | 9:16 AM | 10-24-2007

This is more than raising the alert that there are racist people in America and the playing field isn't level for all people. This issue is of a much greater degree. Through custom and history, a noose clearly resents hanging and is reasonably interpreted as a death threat and shouldn't be ignored. You can't stick up your middle finger at a stranger and tell that person that they are being narrow minded if they become offended.
Furthermore in response to those who believe these symbols shouldn't be addressed discretely, yes it is noble to do the right thing because it is right and not try to seek personal gain, however that doesn't mean increasing the impact by bringing it to the public's attention isn't the right thing. A not so surprisingly large number of people in this country are unaware of anything but their own personal battles and need to be awakened to the fact that the passing of time doesn't guarantee progress.

Sent by Matthew Brent | 9:31 AM | 10-24-2007

No, I don't think nooses can be ignored. I think that John McWhorter thinks that this country is becoming more tolerant just becuase the years are passing. Just because we are meandering into the future doesn't mean we will automatically become more tolerant. I feel that bigots feel they are not being watched anymore and so they become more and more vicious. I think that this _may_ be a sign of a coming nation a backlash against the strengthening and empowerment of black people.
I don't think we should blow up over it but we need to say this is absolutely wrong and should be punished. I am not black but I don't think you should let bigots walk over you. You should stand up for your rights to not be intimidated and get justice for being threatened, because I doubt that a white person puts up a noose without trying to be threatening.

Sent by Mariam (Atlanta) | 9:34 AM | 10-24-2007

I don't know if ignoring a noose is the right answer, but I think it could be handled better in the media. If we address these matters as 'racial' or 'civil rights' issues we alienate a whole segment of the population. Most white people (I prefer European-American ...I'm proud of my heritage too :) don't participate in demonstrations or voice their outrage against 'racial' issues because they feel like they will be seen as the enemy. If we would discuss these problems as 'human rights' issues instead maybe white people won't feel unwelcome and alienated when it comes to standing up against this sort of injustice. Really, I think its time we work together. Let's stand up for the fair treatment of PEOPLE in general.

Sent by Jen | 11:08 AM | 10-24-2007

I think one caller was spot on comparing it to bully behavior. It is to intimidate and get attention. I think it is to dangerous a symbol, however, to ignore. Some segment of the population really is going to mean it. If it doesn't threaten you, then so much the better, but there are plenty of people out there who are threatened by it. I think quiet, strong protest may be one of the best avenue for them.

My life experience says to me that bullies need to be educated about the error of their ways or they will escalate their behavior. Victims often need to express themselves as a way to over come the powerlessness feeling of intimidation. So I think there is a real slot for action, but acting like a victim, acting out the upsetness of a victim, will feed the cycle, not end it.

So what's the answer? Talking about it on whatever level you are comfortable with, I think. Whether it's talking to your neighbor, black or white, or speaking to a broader audience. The other thing I know about bullies is that they thrive on divide and conquer.

Sent by Alitza Blough | 2:59 PM | 10-24-2007

I was a teacher for nearly two decades. A large lesson in what to ignore and what to allow could be summarized by the expression, "What we allow, we teach." In the current pop-press, Doctor Phil is likely to say, "We teach people how to treat us." I do not believe we can afford to simply ignore hateful behavior like hanging nooses, especially when the noose is being used to intimidate or frighten someone. Our goal needs to be to teach tolerance. Criminalizing hanging nooses in a racial setting will, over time, wake people up to its being wrong. Drunk driving used to be a shame, but not much of a crime. Now it is almost universally seen as a bad thing. Attaching legal penalties to the hanging of a noose may not stop the behavior completely and it may not change all minds, but the penalties will more clearly mark the behavior as unacceptable in a reasonable society. Thank you for the discussion.

Sent by Rhonda Stark | 5:11 PM | 10-24-2007

A couple of weeks ago there was a full-page photo of two members of the band "Velvet Revolver" singing in the local newspaper. They were playing that weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, and one of the members in the photo is wearing a black Nazi SS officers hat, complete with the skull and crossbones insignia. It struck me that for the Jews who live here, this is the equivalent of hanging a noose for the African-Americans. Yet there was no public outcry, no activist Rabbis crying and wailing, no grandstanding by erstwhile protectors of the people. Also, I am of primarily Irish descent, and in my travels in Ireland I have seen memorials to the Famine dead and those killed by the British in the several rebellions that occured before Irish independence all over Ireland. It seems that all immigrant groups have an oppressive past of some sort, and in order to get on with living peacefully and comfortably in modern times, they have to put the oppressions of the past behind them by ignoring the symbols and turning the other cheek. The alternative is the ridiculous situation I constantly read about in the Mideast, where they are still killing each other over legitimate heirs to the Muslim faith from the 7th century, and this recent business with the Armenian massacre resolution in Turkey that occured early in the 20th century by a completely different government. What a waste of time and emotion, and what a waste of our government's time instead of focusing on more important issues. What is the point of making hanging a noose a crime? It only makes for more news stories, and will create a rallying point for those seeing yet another of our personal rights being trodden upon by the government. I don't think it's right to hang nooses as a symbol, but it is free speech guaranteed by the Constitution, and the legislators who thought this up should know better. There will always be symbols of hatred perpetrated by one group against another-you can't legislate hearts and minds. Should we also make wearing Nazi uniforms, flying Viet Cong flags, British flags, etc etc a crime as well? I don't think so.

Sent by Kevin Kerwin | 6:00 PM | 10-24-2007

Shannon makes a good point that racism is innate, but I disagree with him. Sure, you see the self-segregation, but it occurs after we become socialized. Go to a dog park, and see if the small dogs only play with the small dogs and the big dogs with big dogs. No. Race is a social construct.

On nooses, context matters. There is a difference between hanging nooses in a public park and hanging a noose on someone's lawn.

The guest pointing to his diverisityinc website and the map, well, Mr. Conan and Mr. McWhorter missed the obvious question, which would be a great additon to his site: how many of those noose-hangings were followed by acts of violence?

Noose-hanging, swastika-paintings, ... are tasteless jokes and pranks, at best. They are often designed to intimidate. And I think that what Mr. McWhorter meant (or maybe not) but better than "ignore," is to not be intimidated. If you don't rant and rave, if you do what you were going to do anyway, then you are standing up to the intimidation.

Criminalizing the behavior beyond vandalism, attributes motives that may not exist. It seeks to punish people who are either insensitive or, more likely, racist. And, their attitudes won't change easily.

Lastly, I find it interesting that last week on this same show, there was a discussion of the use of the "N-word". People were afraid to say it. Not one of the guests today. Nigger. N-word. What is the difference? I write "N-word," and all know what I mean. By the context, too. It is dramatically different to state the word as an object, as above and the guest on the radio, where it is non-threatening, compared to directing it at someone, where it becomes inflammatory.

So, stand up to the intimidation by doing what you'd do anyway (with security if the threat seems real), teach children, and marginalize those who have despicable attitudes that are just too intransigent.

Oh, and bravo to the black students in Jena for standing up for their rights and not being intimidated by the nooses. And shame on those, black and white, who escalated the situation to violent attacks. And particularly on the adults who dispensed partisan justice.

Sent by Randy S | 11:42 AM | 10-25-2007

People have a made a lot of great and differing comments. I would like to expand on something others mentioned: context. Everything has a context and this is not a homogeneous world in which everyone can be judged by the exact same standards. Actions, symbols, words and meanings can have multiple interpretations. There is no one explicit answer. What is good for New York may not necessarily be good for Louisiana. I think the fact that Mr. McWhorter can have the ideas he has and other blacks can have theirs is exactly what the Civil Rights Movement was about. African Americans are not one homogeneous group, but rather like all humans are diverse, entitled to their differing opinions and entitled to live their lives in the way they see fit. Certainly the world isn???t perfect and there is still much we can improve, MUST improve. There is no denying it, but the fact that this discussion CAN occur is a wonderful thing. Also in terms of the references to ignoring a naughty child, while this certainly is a useful analogy, let's keep in mind that totally ignoring a child all the time only leads to worse conclusions (check our overflowing prisons and the lives of serial killers). Ignoring is a confusing term. Rather we should reward good behavior and correct bad behavior, (without a media circus).

Sent by Lili U | 3:35 PM | 10-26-2007

Bobby D and Sophia are right. A noose can not be ignored. Yes, you can ignore a child throwing a tantrum as someone suggested. You can, if you choose, ignore a painted swastika, paint over it and not mention it. However, as Bobby D and Sophia point out, a noose is a weapon, only lacking a neck slipped through the noose to complete the crime. It is an explicit threat of murder. As Sophia pointed out, there have been lynchings in recent times. Let those who chose to ignore, ignore. The rest of us will speak up, march, file lawsuits, develop blogs, organize, educate, and so one.

Sent by David Brookbank | 12:29 AM | 2-4-2008