In a new line campaign addemocrat Charles Bookera black man running for the US Senate in Kentucky, makes the horrific decision to wear a noose as he accuses incumbent Rand Paul, a white Republican, of block bill to make lynching a federal hate crime. Besides the horror of wearing a noose, Booker’s announcement is misleading: Paul voted against the legislation in 2020, but he co-sponsored and voted for the version of the bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. .
Using a noose as a political prop in campaign advertising is disrespectful and appalling. Wearing one shows little respect for those black Americans who have been hanged, burned, cut up or shot.
Those of us who know the story of the African American men, women and children who were lynched and photographed while being lynched will never forget those images or get the descriptions of what these American citizens suffered at the hands of their white countrymen. Even today, images of lynched black Americans can burn the mind and chill the soul.
That’s why using a noose as a political prop in campaign advertising is disrespectful and appalling. Wearing one, as Booker does, shows little respect for those black Americans who have been hanged, burned, cut up or shot by sadistic white men in this country, and that disrespect does not go away because, according to him, it is a descendant of those who were lynched.
Dressed in a suit and tie, Booker looks directly at the camera and says of the lynching: “It was used to kill my ancestors.”
Thousands upon thousands of African Americans can say the same, and yet you haven’t seen them donning nooses to push for the bill that passed the Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden. The Institute for Equal Justice in a recent report documented over 4,000 racial terrorist lynchings in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. And those are only the ones that were documented and only those that took place in the South. African Americans were also lynched in the North and West.
Consider the Chicago Record’s February 27, 1901 report of the lynching of George Ward in Terre Haute, Indiana. “When the crowd near the fire got tired of relighting it after two hours, it was seen that the victim’s feet were not burned,” the newspaper reported. “Someone called an offer of a dollar for one of the toes and a boy quickly pulled out his knife and cut off his toe. The offer was followed by others, and the horrible traffic continued, with the youngsters raising their toes and asking for offers.
And here is how The Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican reported the death of Sam Hose in Newman, Georgia, in April 1899:
“Before the torch was applied to the pyre, the negro was deprived of his ears, his fingers and the genital parts of his body. He pitifully pleaded for his life as the mutilation continued, but stood the test of fire with surprising courage. Before the body was cooled, it was cut into pieces, the bones were crushed into small pieces, and even the tree on which the wretch met his fate was torn and thrown away as “souvenirs”. The negro’s heart was cut into several pieces, as well as his liver. Those who were unable to obtain horrible relics directly paid their more fortunate owners extravagant sums.
Although lynching is part of the history of many African Americans (and the unacknowledged history of many other white Americans whose grandfathers or great-grandfathers committed such crimes, stood by side or perhaps even encouraged such tortures), it is always abusive to use a symbol of lynching for simple political gain.
Who did Booker advertise for? Did he expect him to please the white Kentuckians who repeatedly sent Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to the US Senate?
Who did Booker advertise for? Did he expect him to please the white Kentuckians who repeatedly sent Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to the US Senate? Or did he expect that showing off a noose, an instrument of terror used to end so many African-American lives, would inspire black people in Kentucky to turn out in record numbers to vote for him? Did he expect a symbol of hatred to become for him an instrument of victory? Or is it just a ploy to get the attention of a candidate lagging behind in the polls?
Booker, in a comment to The Grio, seems to know his announcement was a risk.
“I know this video will be shocking to some. I understand the sensitivity of this problem, and realize that the visual will expose some unhealed wounds in our society,” Booker said. “I hope the love and sincerity in my heart overcomes this initial shock and gives viewers the chance to not only see my humanity as the first black Kentuckian to be a major party candidate for U.S. Senate, but also to understand how important this campaign is in our larger mission to achieve healing, justice and democracy.”
Again, while Paul voted against the legislation in 2020, he supported the version that now has the force of law. “I fought to pass a strong anti-lynching bill,he said in a statement to The Associated Press. “To this day, I continue to work hand-in-hand with community leaders on issues such as violence and its effects on Louisville youth and their education and look forward to continuing these efforts when I am re-elected in November. .”
Booker is correct that Paul should have originally supported the bill making lynching a federal crime, but Booker shouldn’t have put a noose around his neck trying to make that point. This new law is the worst political joke anyway: it’s easy to oppose lynching when no one is being lynched. A bill worthy of applause would address things like police abuse, voter suppression, redlining, educational inequality or predatory lending. No one should expect a pat on the back for criminalizing something that rarely, if ever, happens.
Booker is not the first black man to bring up the lynching story to his advantage. Celebrities and public officials have too often portrayed themselves as victims of lynching, as Judge Clarence Thomas, a black man, did during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1991 when he said the allegations of Anita Hill that he had sexually harassed her had made him the victim of a “high-tech lynching”. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter repeated that language in 2012 when she called sexual harassment allegations against then-GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, also a black man, a “high-tech lynching”.
When OJ Simpson was convicted of robbing a hotel room in Las Vegas in 2007, a friend describes this sentence as a lynching. Camille Cosby compared her husband to Emmett Till, perhaps the most famous lynching victim of all, and R. Kelly said people demanded a boycott of his music lynched him. Every time a celebrity makes this comparison, they are publicly shamed. It is wrong to use lynching metaphors in any context.
Booker is correct that Paul should have initially supported the bill making lynching a federal crime, but he shouldn’t have put a noose around his neck trying to make that point.
This is not ancient history. These are people who belonged to the generations of my grandfather and my great-grandfather who were killed by the parents and grandparents of the so-called greatest generation, perhaps even killed by members of this generation itself.
There are African Americans alive right now who can tell of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, friends and acquaintances who were lynched, and their pain is still raw.
Don’t African American victims of white terrorism deserve respect? Their murders have never been punished. Can we at least not try to extract some voices from their suffering?
Our ancestors deserve more respect than that.