Racist Symbol or “Catchy” Political Spin?

If you haven’t been paying attention, there have been a number of folks playing off of Clint Eastwood’s lecture to the “empty chair” to express their political views. In a number of places across the U.S., people have been hanging empty chairs in their trees and there is some concern that this may be a veiled racist comment with Obama (a black man) being lynched. Here is a link to a news story about on of these displays in Michigan:  http://www.wzzm13.com/news/regional/226919/5/Hanging-chairs-Political-statement-or-racist.

In my opinion, this is not a veiled display but a clear example of how white folks don’t think about the contexts of their decisions when it comes to a racialized issue like the American presidency. As Wingfield and Feagin’s book, Yes We Can? suggested,  since 2008, the American public has not been able to separate race from the presidential election when a Black man is clearly running for the office. More important, as Bonilla-Silva points out in his book, Racism with Racists, white folks who hang these chairs in the tree don’t even think it could have any context to Jim Crow lynchings because they don’t remember the U.S.’s racialized past or present. They also camouflage any racist slight with abstract liberalism, calling out their rights to freedom of speech without recognizing that their words and actions do have consequences. Or, they don’t recognize that this plays into a larger theme in which nooses are often hung in trees as a warning to blacks (remember Jena Six?). In fact, check out this report in the New York Times about the rash of noose incidents across the U.S. in 2006 to 2007. Also, consider why nooses or even hanging a chair in a tree might be seen as a “racist” action based on this SPLC article. I’m sorry but when symbols gather their various socio-historical meanings, these meanings aren’t lost just because you didn’t think about it. And, one final thought to all those non-believers in Facebook land, you are right, no one would get upset if had happened to Mitt because HE DOESN’T HAVE THE SOCIAL CONTEXT TO MAKE IT OFFENSIVE!! However, what if we hung Joseph Smith in a tree? Think about it (or maybe you don’t get the reference).

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About lippardcd

Assistant Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University.
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3 Responses to Racist Symbol or “Catchy” Political Spin?

  1. avidbruxist says:

    Well said, Dr. L.

  2. Elizabeth Del Greco says:

    History did not begin with Jim Crow. For the whole story, check out the north’s Black Codes that predated Jim Crow laws in the South, and the lynching of white people by blacks during the time of the Union League. Beginning your argument in the middle of the story is dishonest and disingenuous. Let’s have the TRUTH for a change.

    • lippardcd says:

      Elizabeth, you are totally right. Black Codes and racist laws have existed across the U.S. and the American South is not the ONLY place where lynchings happened. I also understand that lynchings have plagued both whites and blacks BUT they were mostly conducted by whites and Blacks have overwhelmingly been the victims (88%). I should also point out that in Texas and the American Southwest Mexican Americans and Chinese and Mexican immigrants were victims of lynchings as well. Even when we see white lynchings in the South (and other places), these were predicated by whites, not Blacks in over 98% of the cases. So, yes, there were other racist acts across the U.S.; however, that does not negate the fact that lynchings and racist state and local laws were the strongest in the American South. We also can’t ignore that the media and our collective memories of lynchings and the noose are certainly focused on southern racial violence. Certainly, we should point out that other regions of the U.S. had these troubles but denoting that doesn’t excuse what happened (and continues to happen) in the American South. We just have different names for it like “securing the border” or “hate crimes.”

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