I came across an article today about a man from Boone County, Indiana who put up a Halloween display that sparked a great deal of outrage from his community. The controversial display included a stuffed body being hung by a noose, the face wore an Obama mask. This vivid depiction of the President’s death incited an investigation by the Secret Service.
After reading the article and scanning the Comments section, it was clear that the prevailing opinion was that the display was disgusting, ignorant, racist, etc. Yet, some people suggested that if the same display had depicted Bush during his time of presidency, it would not have garnered such attention and outrage.
Of course it would still be disturbing, incredibly disrespectful, and perhaps even indicative of underlying mental issues. However, the fact that the current president is black does make this situation relatively more insensitive than had it been a white president. It is a blatant reminder of the racism that gave rise to segregation and oppression of blacks in America, which to some degree still exists today. It was after all, the whites who enslaved, tortured, and killed blacks with support of the law. It was the whites who executed the blacks with the noose. It was, and still is, the white supremacist groups that hang nooses to elicit fear and propagate racism. The noose is a symbol of American brutality that resulted from the acceptance of widespread ignorance and lack of ethicality. Those who claim it would be no different than depicting a white President being hung from a noose, are probably the same people who argue Black History Month should not be celebrated.
Though this was not the first time the noose was used in the world’s history, the fact that its role in lynching is so recent, makes it that much more relevant in terms of how offensively it can be interpreted, not only towards African Americans, but anyone with a sense of American pride. Slavery and the mistreatment of blacks is one of the greatest sources of shame in American history; the noose undeniably represents that. That being said, it’s easy to understand how the effigy of Barack Obama with a rope tied around his neck could be perceived as condoning racism and hate crimes.
The man responsible, who opted to remain anonymous, issued this statement about the display, “He’s not supposed to look like he’s hanging. The rope had nothing to do with anything.”
I don’t know if anyone would really believe that but let’s entertain this idea for a moment. Okay, so it wasn’t intentional, but did this guy really fail to consider the implications of a noose-like device around a dummy representing a black man? Well apparently not. So it seems he’s either a bigot, or complete moron. I’m going to say both.
The Boone County prosecutor maintained that the man responsible for the display was acting within his rights as described in the First Amendment, and I am inclined to agree. That being said, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. The problem with free speech is that a vast grey area exists in terms of where to draw the line – how much free speech is too much free speech?
In this case, there’s no doubt the display was incredibly insensitive given the history of civil rights in this country. Whether or not this man was acting within his rights is irrelevant. It all boils down to human decency. Respect for an individual’s life is different than respect for an individual’s opinion; it comes from the acknowledgement of human dignity rather than whether or not you agree with them. No matter what your political stance, resorting to the exhibition of your beliefs in the way this man did is primitive and of bad taste. It is a clear example of a lack of respect for African American history. Not to mention all the people that this man has now subjected to seeing this gruesome display. I wonder how many parents were faced with the challenge of explaining to their children why the President was being hung from a gallows.
There is a right way to express your discontent with the government, and there is a wrong way, clearly. Free speech is a fundamental aspect of this country, but when an expression of opinion moves past the point of relevance and towards evoking hostility against a group of people and proliferating hate, it becomes destructive to the original intent of the First Amendment.