Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Jena Blowback: Symbolic Use of the Noose as the New N-Word

by Kam Williams

Ominously, there’s been a frightening backlash building in reaction to the
mammoth demonstration in September supporting the Jena 6, those Louisiana teens charged with felonies during a raging local controversy which arose over the use of a noose by white high school students to intimidate their African-American classmates. The fallout started soon after the New York Times (which, by the way, has never considered even one of the dozens of op-eds submitted by me “Fit to Print”) gave D.A. Reed Walters all the space he wanted to spew his racist rationalization for his selective “all-black” prosecution.
Walters only fueled the simmering fires by reiterating his basic contention that “the placing of the nooses on the schoolyard tree… broke no law.” The Times, by giving Walters a forum without allowing equal time to any attorney with a well-reasoned counter-position, effectively decriminalized as just a harmless prank what was in this lawyer’s legal opinion a patently heinous, hateful and illegal act. This coded cultural message has, in turn, only served to embolden bigots with evil in their hearts, leading to an explosion of threatening chatter at white supremacist websites.
One neo-Nazi outfit posted the names and addresses of the Jena 6 on its homepage, exhorting followers to “drag them out of the house,” ostensibly to lynch them. “If these blacks want a race war, they will get one. Bring it on!” warned a poster at Stormfront, an online community catering to Ku Klux Klansmen.
Next, noose incidents started being reported all across the country... hanging on a black professor’s door at Columbia University… at other college campuses… in a black Coast Guard cadet’s bag… in a police station locker room… on a sanitation truck’s rearview mirror… ad infinitum… ad nauseam…
Remembering his utter ineptitude during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I have to wonder why Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is sitting on his hands again. Why hasn’t there been a rush by Federal authorities to arrest the homegrown terrorists behind this rash of hate crimes, and to take down their websites dedicated to inciting violence against blacks? I just pray he acts before the burgeoning Jena tensions metastasize, because if there’s any lesson we learned from New Orleans is how easily official apathy can translate into misery on a mass scale.
Finally, I would be remiss if in my remarks I didn’t take a moment to castigate comedian Katt Williams (no relation) who recently strolled up the red carpet at the BET Awards proudly sporting a noose around his neck. Needless to say, that tasteless display is in no way a fashion statement worthy of emulation, but the shameless, self-hating behavior of an attention-craving media whore who deserves to be shunned before he encourages the substitution of the noose as the symbolic equivalent of the just-buried N-word.

Lloyd Kam Williams is an attorney and a member of the bar in NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.

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