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Perspectives: On Nooses, Blacks and Dogs In America

The United States of America is in the midst of waging an all-out global “War on Terror.” However, in this writer’s estimation, not enough attention is focused on America’s own homegrown, longstanding domestic terrorism: racial violence against African-Americans.

Perhaps nothing symbolizes and crystallizes this racial hatred and intolerance — which is ingrained in the very fiber of all that is American — better than the hangman’s noose and the lynching that it is used to perpetuate. The recent spate of cases involving the hanging of nooses around the country is deeply disturbing, yet infinitely revealing, particularly on the grounds of institutions where one should be able to expect racial diversity and tolerance above and beyond that of the larger society, i.e. educational, military and law enforcement establishments.

The noose incidents at Columbia University, Jena High School in Jena, La., the University of Maryland, College Park, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy have been widely reported, but there have been other, lesser-known incidents. So, sadly, these developments form just the latest chapter in the history of the American noose, but they point to what many construe as an alarming trend of escalating contemporary racial intolerance in the place we call America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Many are scratching their collective heads in amazement that the Justice Department has not stepped into this seeming bigots’ free-for-all and launched a full-fledged investigation. What better time than now when race relations are at what could only be called a modern nadir (or low point) and when the criminal justice system is, it seems, woefully two-tiered — one track for Whites and one for everyone else.

Why, just last week, the U.S. Department of Justice waded into the Michael Vick dog fighting melee and appointed a guardian for the surviving dogs of the former ring! This, while on the very same day, the House Judiciary Committee conducted hearings on the situation in Jena. Yet justice has remained mum with regard to the historic “Jena Six” cause — and the flood of hate crimes that are nothing less than a pox upon our national psyche. Go figure.

Clearly, drastic measures must be taken to stem the tide of racial hatred flowing in this land, once and for all. Not since the days of Jim Crow have we witnessed such unmitigated cowardice and hate. Really, if the truth be told, this is even bigger than Jim Crow. Indeed, Christopher Metzler, director of diversity management and equal employment opportunities at Cornell University and a member of the faculty in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, declared in a recent presentation at Oxford University that we are witnessing “Jim Crow on Steroids.”

In view of this, in this correspondent’s humble opinion, there are three steps that could begin the process of correcting centuries of historical wrongs in America. First of all, Congress and the Department of Justice must strengthen the existing hate crime laws in this country to the point that they are so draconian and so prohibitive that anyone tempted to commit a hate crime would think long and hard before doing so.

Secondly, anyone convicted of a hate crime should be thoroughly and utterly ostracized and marginalized, and basically relegated to society’s “loser” heap. Think O.J. Simpson or Michael Vick. And mind you, this should not just be limited to convicted felons, but to anyone who advances racist and hateful sentiments in public, be they written or verbal. These people should have no place at all at the proverbial “table of brotherhood” — or sisterhood.

Finally, diversity and inclusion training must become standard fare in all American schools that receive public funding — and it should begin at the very earliest levels. Teacher training programs in this country must also incorporate this training into their curriculum requirements. Further, our children must be taught true American history and not some “Whitewashed” version which glosses over this nation’s slaveholding past and centuries of institutionalized, systemic discrimination. Only then will the young begin to understand what all the fuss is about with regard to racism, affirmative action, reparations, and other sociological issues of the day.

Until the day comes when the political leaders of this country are courageous enough to do what must be done to tangibly and concretely correct the historical ills in this society — with laws, enforcement, and funding — individuals and institutions of good will must make every effort to affect change in our own backyards.

The time has come when all persons in this country have an equal shot at the American Dream, and are afforded all the vaunted liberties of the American citizen, such as equal protection under the law. At the founding of this nation, the African- descended American was considered a mere three-fifths of a man and, as W. E. B. Du Bois noted in The Souls of Black Folk, America “classed the Black man and the ox together.” Many have begun to question just how far removed we really are from these founding American sentiments. In the end, this is the bottom line: We can no longer protect dogs more fiercely than we do African-Americans in this country. Doggone it!

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

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