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The New York Sun


Walking Away From Hate

October 18, 2007

By John H. McWhorter

Amodest proposal. The next time somebody plants a noose, let's just ignore it.

Really. No press conferences, no news stories. Nothing.

I suggest this not because I don't understand the importance of fighting racism. I'm right with everybody else in considering Reed Walters, the district attorney in Jena, to deserve resistance and condemnation.

I also am quite aware of what nooses symbolize.

I suggest this for a simple reason. Walking on by might be the way to tamp down this expression of racism, rather than going nuts every time someone pulls it.

After all, you can reverse the decisions of a Reed Walters and hopefully fire him. But these nooses lately are different.

Right now we're in the aftermath of the one hung on the door of Madonna Constantine, a professor at Columbia's Teacher's College. The nooses hung from a tree in Jena were just last year. Some may recall the noose hung at a cable company's headquarters in Nassau County last December. This summer two people in the Coast Guard found nooses planted among their possessions. Just 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 is 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 this aren't reached by sonorous statements about civility. They're like spam.

Mind you, there are times when a brouhaha makes a certain sense. Don Imus' temporary banishment did, because it could actually be construed as an effective battle against expressions of racism. Talk show hosts will now be more careful about what they say, out of a desire not to lose their jobs. Mr. Imus is only being rehired because his superstar status brings in so much ad revenue; smaller fish could be beached forever.

But even there, they only could be, and if even Mr. Imus had been allowed to just stay put, all the dutiful condemnation would have been enough to warn others in his line.

And the fact remains that meanwhile, noose-hanging pranksters in the night, however revolting, cannot be stopped by mere words. The words, in fact, only encourage them.

Some bored little piece of trash hangs a noose one morning, and spends the rest of the week watching his deed make national news on the internet and get discussed on the top talk shows. He and his friend do a high-five, while some similarly-minded web-surfing scum 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 whoever hung the noose at Teacher's College, who apparently left no traces, as is the usual situation in such cases.

Imagine if after the Jena incident, black kids had just taken the nooses down and kept on hanging out under that tree. Why is that such an unthinkable alternative to shouting it to the rooftops only to watch similar things keep happening nationwide anyway?

Thus my suggestion that we just walk on by. I admire Professor Constantine's assertion that she will not be cowed. However, might we take a deep breath and take a new tack that might actually have an effect?

Let's say next month there is a noose hung from the mast of a black man's yacht in Key West. Say nothing. In February some sniggering jackanapes writes the Nword in the dirt in front of a black schoolteacher's apartment in Tuscon after she gives him a bad grade. Nothing.

And nothing after a black guy finds a little noose hanging from his rear-view mirror for no reason he can think of in Savannah next summer.

If these dregs of society couldn't get such a rise out of us and the media, they very well might eventually knock it off. Not immediately. But if anyone thinks that if it never made news there would have no effect at all, it's they who have some explaining to do.

And I take it that in the meantime, individual black people will not pretend that some rope or word harms them psychologically. I presume black pride means something—i.e. that we have it. My proposal is designed to stop the pranksters, not to medicate us—because I presume we need no medication.

If anyone hung a noose from my door, I'd mention it to some friends and family, but that's it. I wouldn't mention it in this column, because soon the media would be doing stories about it and the perpetrators would be doing their high-five. I have a job, a piano, a kitchen, families, a life. "Symbols"?

With sincere respect to Professor Constantine, I would feel 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 press the button and watch black people go "Ack!" time and again, while the media exploit it for viewership. You get two for one: weakness plus only encouraging more nooses. Great!

Hence my modest proposal. The next time—and there will be one, and another, and another—let it go. Not because it's okay, but because that is the way to discourage it from happening.

Isn't that what we were going for?

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