Ignore the Noose and Sap Racism's Power

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In light of the resurgence of nooses appearing in places like Jena, La., and Columbia University's Teacher's College, here's a modest proposal: 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.


Today, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing with federal officials and community activists. They were examining the case of six black teenagers charged with beating a white student in Jena, Louisiana. The incident happened after racial tensions were stoked by nooses hung from a tree on a high school campus in Jena. Democratic lawmakers, many of them black, have blasted federal authorities for failing to investigate.

Commentator John McWhorter has been closely following the Jena Six case. He suggests a different way to handle the recent noose incidents.

JOHN MCWHORTER: A modest proposal. The next time somebody plants a noose, let's just ignore it - no press conferences, no noose stories, nothing. Not because I don't understand the importance of fighting racism - and I'm quite aware what nooses symbolize. Because in this case, walking on by might be the way to temp down this expression of racism rather than going nuts every time somebody pulls it.

Right now, we're in the aftermath of the noose hung on Professor Madonna Constantine's door at Columbia's Teacher's College. The nooses hung from a tree in Jena were just last year. Then, there was a noose hung at a warehouse in New York last December.

This past weekend, someone scrawled the N-word on a bench at a Staten Island High School, which is really the same kind of thing. There's no evidence that a sententious brouhaha after each of these events has any preventative effect. Rather, they just keep coming. Obviously, the kinds of people who do things like these aren't reached by sonorous statements about civility. They're like spam.

There are times when a brouhaha makes sense. Banishing Don Imus from the airwaves, even if it was temporary, made sense because it actually was an effective battle against the expression of racism. Talk show hosts will now be more careful about what they say out of a desire not to lose their jobs.

But noose-hanging pranksters in the night can't be stopped by just words. Some bored jerk hangs a noose and spends the rest of the week watching his deed make national news. He and his friend do a high five while some Web-surfing scumbag across the country decides he wants to do something like that, too.

And as to the white kids in Jena who hung the nooses, even if they had been expelled, it wouldn't have stopped who ever hung the noose at Teacher's College at Columbia. They, apparently, left no traces - as is the usual situation in such cases. Imagine if in Jena, black kids had just walked by the nooses and gone on about their business.

Let's say, next month there's a nooses hung from the mask of a black man's yacht in Key West. Say nothing. In February, some fool writes the N-word in a dirt in front of a black school teacher's apartment in Tucson after she gives him a bad grade - nothing. And nothing, after a black guy finds a little noose hanging from his rearview mirror for no reason he can think of in Savannah next summer.

If these drags of society couldn't get such a rise out of us in the media, they very well might eventually knock it off. If anyone hung a noose from my door, I'd mention it to some friends and family, but that's it. And I'd be more concern about how painting my bedroom was going. I have a job, a piano, a kitchen, a family, a life.

I'd be uncomfortable implying that there was even any question as to whether someone imposing some symbol on me could actually make me feel bad. The jerks pressed the button and watch black people go act time and again, while the media exploit it for viewership. This is giving them the power. You get two for one - weakness plus only encouraging more nooses. Great. Hence, my modest proposal. The next time - and there will be one - let's let it go. Not because it's okay, but because that's the way to discourage it from happening. Isn't that what we were going for?

BLOCK: Commentator John McWhorter is the author of "Authentically Black."

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