More Nooses and the Return of Jim Crow?

The New York Times has a piece in today’s Regional section about the recent rash of noose-related incidents, and amazingly for the paper of record, offers some fairly critical analysis that suggests the return of Jim Crow. Here’s a snippet from the article by Paul Vitello:

At least seven times in the past few weeks, nooses have been anonymously tossed over pipes or hung on doorknobs in the New York metropolitan area — four times here on Long Island, twice in New York City, once at a Home Depot store in Passaic, N.J. The settings are disparate. One noose was hung in a police station locker room in Hempstead, where the apparent target was a black police officer recently promoted to deputy chief. Another was draped over the doorknob of the office of a black professor at Columbia University.

Vitello goes on to particularize the incidents, locating them within the context of Long Island, a suburban area just outside New York City, and writes:

Like many other parts of the country, Long Island is not without a history of racial bigotry. Black people were barred from buying homes in Levittown until well into the 1960s. Some Long Island school districts are still among the most segregated in the country. The black population is about 12 percent of the total, but is highly concentrated in a half-dozen communities that are 95 percent minority. In 2004, in Suffolk County, it was still possible for an interracial couple to wake up in the night to find a cross burning on their lawn — it happened in a hamlet called Lake Grove. Lynching was not part of that history. But to some of those sifting the evidence, the nooses of 2007 represent much the same impulse as lynchings did in the Jim Crow South.

What Vitello misses, of course, is the related, and well-documented, history of Nazism on Long Island, through institutions such as the Yaphank-based Camp Siegfried. And, these expressions of white supremacy have continued on Long Island through teen subcultures, as Lorraine Kenny describes in her Daughters of Suburbia (Rutgers, 2000).

The collective amnesia of many whites about racism in this country is not new, but it seems particularly glaring here. As one white guy in the story is quoted as saying,

“What’s the big deal, it’s only a noose?”

Assistant Professor Rachel Sullivan responds to this and gets it right when she says that most (white) people don’t understand what lynchings were:

“They think it was a few guys coming in the night, in their hooded sheets, taking you away. But in reality these were whole, big community events. Children and families would come to watch. Hundreds of people attended. They would watch a man being burned and mutilated before he was hung. They would pose for pictures with the body.”

While Vitello may have to explain the significance of the noose for readers of The New York Times, the symbol’s significance is not lost on the folks it’s directed at, as Willie Warren a target of a noose on the job, says:

“It’s hard to explain, but it made me upset the whole day.”

The fact is that the research demonstrates hate crimes hurt more than assaults or harassment absent the racial terror. This is why Williams has referred to these as “spirit murder.” Thus, these types of crimes require a greater collective response from all of us. No arrests yet in any of these noose-related incidents.


  1. Sheana Rankin

    I just wanted to add that I totally agree with Rachel Sullivan because this is something that white people did not experience. The white guy who said “What’s the big deal, it’s only a noose?” obviously does not understand the emotions that these INTIMIDATION TACTICS evoke. For black people, the memory of its [the noose]symbolism is deeply ingrained, so what may seem as “a prank” (as the superintendant of the school in the Jena 6 controversy calls it) IS actually A BIG DEAL!

    PS> “who feels it knows”


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