Nooses are racial threats, not pranks

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

nooses workplace race racismThe New York Times ran a story yesterday on the rash of local incidents in which black people have found nooses left in their workplaces. I spoke to the reporter about why people cannot consider nooses to be mere “pranks.” They are serious cases of racial intimidation:

At least seven times in the past few weeks, nooses have been anonymously tossed over pipes or hung on doorknobs in the New York metropolitan area — four times here on Long Island, twice in New York City, once at a Home Depot store in Passaic, N.J. The settings are disparate. One noose was hung in a police station locker room in Hempstead, where the apparent target was a black police officer recently promoted to deputy chief. Another was draped over the doorknob of the office of a black professor at Columbia University.

…Lynching was not part of that history. But to some of those sifting the evidence, the nooses of 2007 represent much the same impulse as lynchings did in the Jim Crow South.

“In the context of today, the noose means, ‘There is still a racial hierarchy in this country, and you better not overstep your bounds,’” said Carmen Van Kerckhove, the founder of a New York consulting firm, New Demographic, that specializes in workplace problems, including racial tension.

The reporter also spoke to Rachel Sullivan from Rachel’s Tavern, who did a great job of providing a historical context for the nooses:

Rachel E. Sullivan, an assistant professor of sociology at Long Island University’s C. W. Post College, said most people do not understand what lynchings were. “They think it was a few guys coming in the night, in their hooded sheets, taking you away,” she said.

She teaches a course on African-American history, including the killings of thousands by lynching in the United States between the end of the Civil War and the end of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“But in reality these were whole, big community events,” she said. “Children and families would come to watch. Hundreds of people attended. They would watch a man being burned and mutilated before he was hung. They would pose for pictures with the body.

“If people had a grasp of what really happened at these things,” Professor Sullivan continued, “they would understand the power of the symbol of a noose.”