Three nooses have been found in the District of Columbia and suburban Maryland during the past three weeks. One was found hanging from a tree in an integrated Montgomery Village neighborhood Thursday. On May 31, a noose was left in the Segregation Gallery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and less than a week earlier one was discovered on the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum.
For me, a white man living in Kensington, these are deeply disturbing reminders of an angry and divided world. A world in which racism remains a strong presence, even in the cosmopolitan DMV, and in which overtly hostile acts seem only to have grown in frequency since the beginning of the last year’s election cycle.
In order to understand better how African-Americans perceive these incidents, I spoke to Danny Cardwell, a community radio executive, ordained deacon, and popular blogger. Danny argues that the rising number of incidents involving public displays of nooses are part of a pattern that includes the increasing popularity of race baiters, like Milo Yiannopoulos, and white supremacists, like Richard Spencer. Liberal Bill Maher’s recent use of the N-word on his HBO show does not escape Danny’s censure either. He deplores any normalization of words and images that dehumanize African-Americans.
I asked Danny whether his community feels intimidated by this ongoing process and, what is worse, recent hate crimes like the murder of an African-American student on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. He said the reaction is more generally one of concern and, to a degree, bewilderment than an elevated level of fear. But, he insists, the intent is intimidation.
Nooses conjure up, especially in the minds of African-Americans, the approximately 4,000 black men, women, and children murdered by groups of whites in the century following the Civil War. For Danny, one challenge blacks face is to remain outward-looking and to continue to engage with whites rather than to withdraw into the more welcoming arms of the black community. In order to create a better America, Danny affirms, it is crucial for African-Americans to resist the temptation to view most whites as either complicit in the overt racism of a few or, at best, indifferent to it.
When questioned about how white allies can support people of color who understandably feel threatened, Danny urges us to step out of our comfort zone. He believes whites must confront relatives and friends who casually or for shock value use racial slurs or tell racist jokes. It is equally important to challenge the notion that economic anxiety or even hardship excuses hateful rhetoric or violence.
There is no doubt that grave race-based tensions and suspicions divide us. The current President was a reality TV host who rose to political prominence in part because he absurdly questioned whether President Obama was born in America. He defeated a candidate who ran a racially inclusive campaign but appeared at times indifferent to the economic stratification that defines our nation.
Bernie Sanders and other progressives argue that the Democratic Party will only return to power when it addresses the real economic anxiety that is cutting across race lines and likely exacerbating racial tensions. But, while necessary, this is an insufficient response to injustice in America. As Danny eloquently argues, we must also condemn the actions of white racists while siding unequivocally with the individuals and communities they attack.