Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Noose

The University of California San Diego has suspended an unnamed female student who admitted to hanging a noose in a campus library. Apparently, the woman hung the noose from ceiling supports on the seventh floor of the Geisel Library, in an aisle where it would be visible from the window. Although the suspect’s full statement has not been released, the authorities did indicate that the actions appeared to be racially motivated. An investigation is pending and the action has ignited protests all over campus.
I wonder what this young woman was thinking. Was she expressing derision toward African-Americans in general, collegiate African-Americans, or just those that happened to frequent the seventh floor of this particular library? Perhaps she expected this stunt to create an insurmountable fear of literature in non-Anglo-Saxton circles thereby forcing ethnic patrons to a nearby Starbucks. There is also the possibility that the noose was directed at a single individual, in which case it would have been much more efficient to slash their tires or at the very least attack them in derogatory tweets.
Regardless of her motivation, the stunt has simultaneously reignited the “free speech” debate and set white people everywhere back twenty years, and white people cannot afford another setback as we are still trying to recover from the career of Roseanne Barr. It is unlikely that criminal charges will be filed, but it is realistic that the woman could face the loss of financial aid and even expulsion from the school. As for the free speech aspect, this was not a newspaper editorial or personal website; she utilized the library of a public university to proliferate a message of barbarianism and intolerance.Free speech doesn't apply.
While there have certainly been similar incidents in the past, such as the 2006 noose displays at Louisiana’s Jena High School, one of the most bizarre has to be the tale of Ohio’s Ivy Featherstone.
In 2006, Mr. Featherstone, a homeowner in the city of Columbus, became irate when the city trimmed one of his pine trees due to the fact that it was encroaching on the sidewalk in front of his house. They did so without Featherstone’s permissions and he subsequently filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the city demanding that they replace the tree and monetarily compensate him for “pain and suffering.” When the suit failed, Ivy concocted an unusual protest. He fashioned a dummy of the city’s African-American mayor and hung it by its neck from one of his remaining trees. The dummy was adorned with the following sign, “Mayor Coleman lynched my tree.”
Despite the protests of friends and neighbors, Featherstone refused to remove the display until the city acquiesced to his demands. When interviewed about how inflammatory and racially insensitive the depiction was, he responded:
“I've got big signs and a man hanging from a rope. They had problems in (Jena) Louisiana with just a rope -- I got a man. You've got to do what you've got to do. Free speech makes people uncomfortable."
Despite the fact that Mr. Featherstone has taken leave of what most of us would consider rational thought, he does present an interesting argument concerning freedom of speech. His case made all the more unique by two important facts:
1.       Featherstone himself is an African-American.
2.       Now 72 years old, he claims to have been around when lynching was still occurring.
Should he be forced to remove it, or is he simply exhibiting free speech?
Personally, I never understood hatred based on race and it is astounding to me that such a thought process is still present in our society. As much as I abhor bigotry, I cannot fathom an America where my ability to express controversial viewpoints is infringed upon. It pains me to say it, but if my crazy neighbor wants to put up a sign that says “Kill Whitey” in their front yard, that is a price that I am willing to pay for the freedoms that make possible the avenues of expression that include this very blog.  

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