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Sep 26 2012

No noose is good noose

Hey folks! Remember that time that Clint Eastwood did something hilarious?

Clint Eastwood did end up stealing the show at Mitt Romney’s formal appointment as his party’s choice for the US presidential election but perhaps not in the way he or the candidate would have wanted.

The 82-year-old’s rambling gravel-voiced conversation with an empty chair – supposedly supporting an invisible Barack Obama – proved a bizarre and confusing warm-up act for Romney.

“Mr President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them? I mean, what do you say to people?” he asked. He berated Obama for not learning from the Russian experience in invading Afghanistan. It was George W Bush who ordered US troops into the country.

For your convenience, the word “hilarious” has been temporarily redefined to mean “sad and pathetically embarrassing”. Eastwood, in a fit of improvisational zeal, decided that it would be an effective strategy to bring out an empty chair to symbolize the President and then have a one-sided conversation with him/it in front of an international audience. Columnist Jamelle Bouie noted that the image of an old white man angrily lecturing an imaginary Obama was a perfect encapsulation of the entire Republican election process.

So that happened, and it was weird, and after a couple of weeks we all just kind of moved on from it. Well… almost all of us:

A Republican man in Austin, Texas this week lynched a chair which many are interpreting to be a threat against President Barack Obama because of Clint Eastwood’s bizarre speech at the Republican National Convention last month.

“We have a sad and awful history of white people lynching African-Americans in Texas, and this history is exactly what this Republican’s front yard display taps into,” the Burnt Orange Report’s Katherine Haenschen, who obtained a photo of the lynching, wrote on Wednesday.

There are too many things to say here about how powerful this simple statement is, and there is no way I am going to do them all justice but I will try to hit some of the high notes very briefly.

  1. For this to occur in Texas has a very storied history. Lynchings were used as a tool of not only violence but of political suppression as well (more on that in a second). To give any credence to the explanation offered by Bud Johnson and his defenders that this is anything other than a violent racist statement, it is necessary to be completely (and some would argue, myself included, willfully) ignorant of Texas history.
  2. The case that this was not an intentionally-racist act becomes harder to make when you consider that a similar event happened in Virginia, where the racism and the target was much more overt.
  3. This symbol is a direct nod to efforts to suppress black political involvement in years past. The “uppity niggers” were lynched not for any actual crime, but simply for expressing a desire to enjoy the full measure of their human dignity, including participation in political life. It is important to note that Texas Republicans recently took part in an effort to suppress the black vote through legislative means – an attempt that was blocked by the Voting Rights Act specifically on the grounds that Texas was too racist to be allowed to amend its own voting laws without the federal government’s okay.
  4. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to connect the dots from this particular act to a statement threatening black Texans. This isn’t simply a protest against a president’s policies; this is a strongly-implied threat to all black people who would try to exercise political power: step out of line and we’ll string your black ass up. It should be investigated as a hate crime, since the impact goes far beyond the mere act itself.
  5. This is perhaps a perfect example of how privilege can manifest itself along orthogonal axises. Bud Johnson has little political or economic power – essentially zero when compared to the president of the United States. But what he can do is take part in a heritage that allows him to delegitimize black political power – a heritage of American white supremacy. It is a power that every white person, no matter how lowly they might be in other power dynamics (education, wealth, class, political power, etc.) can exercise over any black person. I know of no corresponding anti-white symbol that can raise the same spectres that lynching does, and it is not the only white supremacist symbol with this power.

When I first started this blog, I coined the phrase “forces of stupid” to describe a pattern of lazy cognition and, to be reductively blunt, idiotic decision-making that is a result of it. I can think of no illustration more perfect than the follow-up to this story:

“I’m not a racist,” Bud Johnson told KEYE-TV Friday while untying the chair from a tree. “I don’t dislike any race.”

(snip)

Johnson, who also threatened to attack the station’s cameraman, also complained about being harassed for hanging the chair, saying it was “the only place [he] had to put the damn thing.” He said he hung it on the tree because he wanted to cut the grass on the lawn.

(snip)

According to Burnt Orange Report, Johnson added an American flag to the hung chair Wednesday, fueling the perception that the chair was meant to symbolize President Barack Obama.

It’s got all the elements: the denial of being “a racist” in the face of a clearly racist action, an excuse so flimsy that it beggars belief that one would even offer it up (it was a folding chair, incidentally – also, chairs can be moved around while cutting grass – also, it’s more effort to hang a chair from a tree than to move it to your porch), and then an action that undermines the credibility even of that crappy excuse. This is a man who desperately wishes to avoid the necessary conclusions of his actions, and the consequences thereof. This is typical of those who use racist symbols and “code” (although one could argue that this is barely coded at all), and yet it is apparently black people that lack a sense of “personal responsibility”.

It’s otter time.

An otter sticking out his tongue

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19 comments

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  1. 1
    embertine

    The Otter of Judgement has decreed that the only appropriate response to Bud Johnson and his ilk is: Pppbbbbbttttthhhhh!

  2. 2
    embertine

    DECREED.
    *sigh*

  3. 3
    Gregory in Seattle

    Interesting that you should bring this up: the lynching of Jesse Washington was the featured article at Wikipedia yesterday. A newspaper photographer was there when Washington was dragged out of the jail in Waco, Texas, castrated, had his fingers cut off and then was strung up over a bonfire, with his charred remains cut up and passed out as souveniers, all with an atmosphere of jubilation among the estimated 10,000 spectators. The story and pictures became instrumental in sparking anti-lynching sentiment in the US.

    The racist idiots of today need to see these photos, blown up to life size, every single day. Paper the walls of his home with them. And the ceiling. If they want a lynching, show them what a real one looks like, and make sure they get a very good look.

  4. 4
    dianne

    He said he hung it on the tree because he wanted to cut the grass on the lawn.

    Wow. That’s probably the only excuse he could have given that would have made him look stupider than he really is. Clearly the dude doesn’t even have the courage of his assholedom.

  5. 5
    dianne

    Though come to think of it, Johnson’s cowardice is very much in keeping with the tradition of lynching. Most participants in a lynching are rather reluctant to acknowledge it afterwards, whether out of shame or just fear of retribution, it’s hard to say.

  6. 6
    Anthony K

    They never do.

  7. 7
    Ingdigo Jump

    I’m reminded of Star Trek DS9, where they had a character that would casually lie often blatantly and would sometimes seemingly rely on the fact that the lie was so absurd, yet stated so convincingly that the mere dissonance that no one would make up such a bad lie + earnestness of delivery would generate plausibility.

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    complained about being harassed for hanging the chair

    “Those haters won’t let me hate in peace!”

  9. 9
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    What. The. Fuck.

  10. 10
    Anthony K

    Here are two sites that do just that:

    ***Extreme Trigger Warning***

    http://www.americanlynching.com/

    http://withoutsanctuary.org/

    I haven’t explored the first site, but I’ve looked through a fair bit of the second. These are of course very graphic and revolting.

  11. 11
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    Garak: “I’ve given you all the answers I’m capable of.”
    Bashir: “You’ve given me answers alright, but they were all different. What I want to know is which ones were true, and which ones… weren’t?”
    Garak: “They were all true.”
    Bashir: “Even the lies?”
    Garak: “Especially the lies.”

  12. 12
    timberwoof

    It’s not clear to me that showing grisly pictures of lynchings will have the desired effect of increasing whatever shred of compassion would-be lynchers have left. I suspect that they would reduce that compassion and, as was written, how them how it’s really done.

    “You have to watch the violence to be desensitized to it.” —Bart Simpson

  13. 13
    Brad

    Why tell the truth when a lie will do?

  14. 14
    Brad

    Dude’s name is Bud. What a despicable walking stereotype.

  15. 15
    sheila

    I’ve just realised that in Texas a hundred years ago, a white man could rape and murder a white woman with almost complete impunity. It wouldn’t even matter if there were witnesses, as long as those witnesses were black.

    And any white, would-be murderer must have known this. They’d have no deterrent at all.

    Whereas any black man would know that they’d have a fair chance of dying horribly.

    I always thought that these guys were convicted on the flimsiest evidence, and a lot of them must have been innocent. Now I think that most of them were.

    [This is quite apart from the other gazillion things hideously wrong with lynchings.]

  16. 16
    John Horstman

    For a Human Rights and Rhetoric class I took, we analyzed a set of postcards from the nineteen-teens featuring lynching photographs. Showing these despicable people (my first impulse is to question the personhood of anyone who takes intense delight in the brutal torture and murder of another, but then there was dancing in the streets across the USA at the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed; that standard would require me to dehumanize a whole lot of people, possibly most of us) actual lynching photos every day might just give them boners, or maybe just a laugh. I think you’re underestimating the human capacity for abhorrent, vicious hatred, assuming they don’t REALLY know what they’re suggesting. They may know all too well.

  17. 17
    dianne

    During World War II, the Nazis held up lynching as evidence of how evil Americans were. When the friggin Nazis are looking at what you do to minorities and saying “Whoa! That’s pretty bad!” it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing.

  18. 18
    Portia

    Unfuckingbelievable. You are so spot on with your analysis. Anyone who doesn’t think this is a threatening action is deluded or lying. Probably both. Fucking terrifying that people like this exist.

  19. 19
    oolon

    The Wikipedia picture was enough for me, worst part is the people smiling in the background by far.

    On a similar theme to the Bin Laden celebrations I never understood the way the news readers and commentators loved the ‘shock and awe’ bombardment of the Iraqi republican guard. Thousands of people were being blown apart but as far as the news was concerned this is a great opportunity to show laser guided missile attacks and talk about how the tactics would minimise our casualties. No mention of their losses being regrettable even, weird given we were meant to be liberating them and Saddam was the figure of hate.

    People have certainly equated this to racism but even the white Argentines got pretty much the same treatment for the Falklands war. I think anyone considered sufficiently ‘other’ can be dehumanised and treated in this manner and there is nothing like considering someone your ‘enemy’ for making that an easy transition.

    So I agree photos would be shocking to those with the capacity to be shocked, seeing your enemy destroyed is something to delight in for most of us.

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