The Age of the Noose

People say we’re living in the age of Trump, the age of uncertainty, the age of political chaos. Set all that aside for a moment. Here’s something you might not have immediately thought of.

We’re living in the age of the noose.

That’s right. The noose. That tightly-knit-into-a-knot instrument of death that properly applied can snap a person’s neck quickly, or not, leaving time for dangling. The noose. That frightening and most potent symbol of the Jim Crow South.

The noose is back. Not the practice of lynching, but its enduring presence as a symbol of hatred. Hate crimes and hate violence — the killing of two men in Portland, Oregon, and of a young African American man at a bus stop in College Park, Maryland — have made a comeback in America, along with the rise of white supremacist groups and hate speech.

The proliferation of the noose, beginning at American University, then at a residence and at two museums — outside the Hirshhorn and, hauntingly, inside the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture — is particularly upsetting. The most recent was found at a house construction site in Anacostia’s Hillcrest neighborhood.

Mayor Muriel Bowser was angered by and bemoaned the spate of such incidents in Washington, with the nooses either found lying on the ground or hanging from a tree. “Who would have thought in 2017 I would be talking to you about a noose in an African American history museum or a noose in Hillcrest?” she said.

The appearance of nooses in the D.C. area is especially disturbing. When they occur in this city, the echo is as loud as the pain caused by old wounds never healed, old pictures from lynching parties in the South, the bitter echo of Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit.”

This cannot lie fallow as just another “thing” that’s going on. As the saying goes these terror-filled days, when you see something, say something. We all saw something, and we all need to say something, to express our horror and outrage.

Maybe it’s time for former President Barack Obama to end his vacation, step up and speak out as only he can. He, of all people, ought to know that even a president cannot escape these kinds of vile expressions of bigotry.

Maybe we, as citizens of this city, ought to find a way — in terms of resources, jobs and affordability — to make the people who have lived here all their lives feel safer, feel that the future is possible here, not somewhere else, before the city turns into another Museum of Black History.

No one has been identified as carrying out these emotionally violent acts. So far, they have remained something on the order of underground creatures, not yet unmasked, breathing hard and cowardly, sneering.

But when they are caught and blinded by the sunlight, it is likely that they will look, not like their intended victims, but more like us; we will recognize them as kin. This sad truth can be countered by acknowledging that the presence of the noose wounds all of us deeply, hurts and offends us as human beings and as Americans.

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