Nooses Are All the Rage; Can Lynchings Be Far Behind?

Nooses, nooses, everywhere. “Noose.” Such a sinister thing that rhymes with happy words like “goose” and “loose.” Nice words.

Ain’t nothing nice about a noose, though, a tried-and-true racial-terror tactic that, according to a recent report by the Equal Justice Initiative, killed more than 4,000 black Americans between 1877 and 1950, and in all parts of America—yes, the South, but also Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

To be clear, a noose presages death. A noose means that you are going to be strung up by one of your most delicate parts, your neck, and have the life viciously choked out of you. A noose in the United States is a specific threat; it historically served to put African Americans in their “place,” and to pacify the wretched hearts of men (women and even children) who craved blood in the name of supreme whiteness.

This week, two or three things happened that made me take pause around nooses.

First, I reported on the horrific story of a little boy in New Hampshire who was nearly hanged to death from a tree after being taunted by older teens, who were calling him racial slurs and saying, “White power.” The kids took some rope from a broken tire swing, fashioned a noose and tried to hang him. Thankfully, he suffered no permanent physical damage, but his spirit? Well.


A day later, I got a message that a noose was found on the campus of my alma mater Amherst on the first day of classes. Turns out it was some kids from town who left it on the athletic field, but it predictably shook up the now racially diverse, liberal arts campus. Coincidentally, Amherst, Mass., was the very same town where I was first called a “nigger” from a passing car 27 years ago (the second time, I was in Philly, same M.O.).

Tellingly, there were some similarities in both instances.

First, they didn’t take place in the South. As noted in a recent New York Times op-ed, the South didn’t (and doesn’t) exist on an “island of historical injustice separate from the rest of the United States.” Racism in America is everywhere. It’s as American as baseball, apple pie and slavery.


Northeastern whites love to sneer at “the South” and its racism, perhaps to unconsciously absolve themselves of their own complicity in white supremacy. In fact, both noose incidents took place in New England, pretty much as far north as you can get in this country. But Malcolm once said it best: “The Mason-Dixon Line begins at the Canadian border.” Or, as my friends and I put it, where are you safe here?

The second, and perhaps more disturbing similarity, is that it was juveniles who allegedly perpetrated both of the deeds. Where are they learning this? Why do they think this is OK? Do they want to see black people dead? Do they want to kill them? Do they know the real history of lynching? So many questions.


Finally, it seems as if whenever there’s a noose incident, there’s an almost knee-jerk response from some white folks to point out that “it’s not that bad,” because their privilege precludes them from having an ugly history of “strange fruitthat ain’t a tangelo. It also struck me that because these were not adults (note we don’t know their names—as we shouldn’t, but in New York City in 1989, when some teens were accused—and were later found to be innocent of—raping a white woman in Central Park, their names and faces were splashed all over the news), some people tried to brush off the noose incidents as playful things kids do.

First, Claremont, N.H., Police Chief Mark Chase immediately went on record in the New Hampshire case, saying that the kids who assaulted the little boy should be “protected” and that one mistake shouldn’t affect their futures.


Second, some of the contentious comments on the Amherst College Facebook page seem to want to play down the fact that a noose is a symbol of terror and even “heinous.”

Illustration for article titled Nooses Are All the Rage; Can Lynchings Be Far Behind?

Some ask if nooses are a “hate crime” (technically, of course):

The Root Slack
The Root Slack

A logical conclusion one could draw from all of these nooses popping up around the country, many of which The Root has covered, and the fact that so many don’t think they are a big deal, is that dead black people—no, killing black people—is acceptable. It’s like … black lives don’t register as worthy (I would say “matter,” but you know that triggers some folks).

Are nooses the latest in racism whack-a-mole? Confederate flags, statues—take ’em down, who cares—and now we got nooses! Can’t say “nigger” in mixed company anymore? Eh, we got the nooses! Kids wanna take some rope and hang it around another kid’s neck? Nooses are fun!


Although some took issue with the fact that I equated the election of Donald Trump to what happened in New Hampshire, there has been a quantifiable uptick in nooses around the nation since he started running for office.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, nooses are now all the rage (and yes, white folks be incensed about their perceived loss of power) since Trump began his ascendency to power.


For those who need to hear it from white folks, the Anti-Defamation League defines a noose as a visual racial-terror symbol directed toward African Americans, much as a swastika is for Jews. The noose became cemented as a key hate symbol in the early 20th century with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.


Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative just released a video on why the group is building a lynching memorial in Montgomery, Ala., in 2018. It is to educate; it is to memorialize those who died horrific, public, anonymous deaths; it is to say their names and to never forget America’s terrible lynching legacy.

“It’s not so much the noose itself but the escalation it symbolizes,” Amherst College sophomore Latrell Broughton tells The Root. “I feel like it’s a sign of impending violence, which worries me.”


It should worry us all.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.

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