I was discussing race in my Introduction to Sociology classes this week and talked about how race continues to be an issue in the U.S. for a lot of reasons (e.g., income, healthcare, quality of life, racism, etc.). To illustrate that racial tensions have not disappeared, I linked to this NYTimes article about a principal receiving a noose in the mail. We talked in my classes about the symbolism behind the noose – it has come to be seen in the black community as a symbol of oppression and a reminder of the Jim Crow era in the U.S.
One of my brighter students then pointed out a controversy I had not heard of yet – that some people decorating for Halloween have been hanging fake corpses with nooses in their yard to decorate. The NYTimes is now covering this controversy as well.
Here’s where my conflicting feelings come into play: Growing up in admittedly almost 100% white Morgan, UT, my family always decorated for Halloween. Halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays, maybe because I always had so much fun on Halloween dressing up and scaring kids coming trick or treating. For a a number of years (this would have been from around 1990-1995 or so), one of our decorations was a dummy hanging from the house with a noose around its neck. I learned how to tie a noose along with other knots in Boy Scouts – and there was no perceived connection to race when we were taught it. It was more for entertainment than anything else. What we would usually end up doing is, on Halloween night, I would slip into the clothes the dummy was wearing, put the noose around my neck and put the mask on, then pretend like I was the dummy as kids would walk up to the house to trick or treat. When they got close enough, I’d come alive and scare the crap out of the kids (I usually wouldn’t come alive if they were really young). It was loads of fun and, honestly, had no racial over or under tones.
As I reminisced about what I thought of as good times this year leading up to Halloween, I saw this story and thought to myself: Okay, I know there is a symbolic association with a noose and racism in the US. But does the noose always have to have that symbolism? It’s not like the noose was used exclusively to hang black men in the South – it was widely used out West to hang criminals and has been used around the world for similar purposes. There are plenty of other examples of items having different symbolic meanings depending on the context: the swastika is generally seen as a symbol of Nazi fascism, but has its roots in Jainism and indicates a oneness with the universe; the cross is both a symbol of Christianity, a simple grave marker (with no indication of religious preference of the deceased), and a useful tool at times for helping plants grow or for holding a scarecrow. When I recently visited a Jain temple in West Chester, OH, they had a swastika decorating an altar. I know there has been no uproar over their use of this symbol, rightfully so!
Is the current uproar by the NAACP about the use of the noose as a Halloween decoration an attempt to push political correctness too far? Basically every person who has put up a noose as a decoration has said straightforwardly that there were no racial connotations – it was just a Halloween decoration. Can it be that sometimes a noose, is a noose, is a noose, and not a symbol of racial oppression?
Now playing: Relativity – Sium Ni Dhuibhir