Any American can rattle off a list of our nation’s enduring symbols. It might begin with the flag, the Statue of Liberty, or apple pie, and wrap around any number of entities, images, and landmarks. We trumpet some of these symbols; others we cannot escape. The noose now stands atop that latter list.
The case of the Jena Six nudged its way into the national consciousness more than a month ago – and since then, nooses have appeared eight times in the New York City metropolitan area alone. An African-American professor at Columbia University found the piece of rope dangling from her office door. A recently promoted deputy police chief in Hempstead encountered a similar affront, as did a worker for Nassau County’s Public Works Department. The meaning of the noose has changed little over the last century. In our day, as in the Jim Crow South, perpetrators use the noose to terrorize people, to warn African-Americans of the punishment awaiting those who ascend out of their “place.” In the era of segregation, that “place” was one of perpetual poverty, deference, and powerlessness. In our America, battles bubble up around this question at least once a year. They expose a society still shot through with racial inequality and tension.