It is no secret that this past month has seen a recent string of random and isolated hate crimes across the country. From the reporting of the noose incident in the schoolyard in Jena, La., to anti-Semitic graffiti and the hanging of a noose at Columbia University, to the prospective installation of security cameras and extra lighting at the University of Maryland to prevent future hate crimes, to our own anti-Muslim flier incident here at GW, one would think that we have been transported to the 1950s.
However, it is important to remember that we are actually living in the year 2007, not 1957, and the way in which we respond to such instances must be in sync with our circumstances. There are certainly still small-minded people in our nation who harbor feelings of hate and animosity towards those different from themselves, but as was demonstrated by the collective outrage to the implied racism of the recent posters on our campus, most people are quick to condemn such acts. Both the way the media is reporting these random, isolated incidents and the way the civil rights activists are responding to them is doing more harm than good.
I could write some long-winded paragraph to explain my position on this, but I’ll get more effect by showing you a recent Washington Post headline: “Anti-Muslim Fliers Cause Uproar,” implying that GW does indeed have a pro-intolerance bloc of its student body. Only after this inflammatory headline has sufficiently shocked readers does the subheadline mention in smaller print that “Posters May Be Intended to Mock Conservative Group.”
The media tries to make these kinds of stories seem as controversial as possible. A story about fliers that were inconsiderate and not thought out has been made into a dramatic controversy that has pitched student against student. Similarly, the noose found at Columbia was a random, isolated incident that turned into the bigger question of whether Columbia is a racist campus? This leads into my problem with the modern civil rights movement: guys, we aren’t in the 1960s anymore.
Our own Black Student Union staged a walk-out and protest to condemn the noose hanging in Jena. As romantic and ’60s-esque as marching on the Capitol may sound, it won’t solve anything. Unlike 50 years ago, when the racism was streaming from the government itself and the laws it imposed on the country, now the hatred is within the hearts and minds of a small, misguided portion of the population. How do you legislate against that?
This issue can’t be solved in the halls of Congress, and no protest regardless of its size will sway those who are willing to hang nooses in the first place. Americans already are disgusted at racism – we don’t need to exacerbate these kinds of hate crimes with any nationwide attention. This kind of reaction to hate acts is self-destructive; the triggered emotional response gives those who hung the nooses just what they were looking for.
To be fair, it is sometimes hard to just ignore these hate crimes and sweep them under the rug, especially for those at whom they are targeted. Some may live in fear or anxiety when they know that there are people out there who hate them because of the color of their skin or their religion. We can all agree that the country would be a better, safer place without them – that’s not the issue here. The issue is how we can best eliminate this margin of society, and giving them attention is not the answer.
Like I said, the civil rights movement strategy guide needs to be updated to make sense in modern America. Instead of jumping into a frenzy every time some lunatic hangs a noose on a campus, simply condemn it and move on. Focus instead on the positive advancements that minorities have made in our great country. We’ve had our first black secretary of state, our first woman speaker of the House of Representatives and a record number of minority candidates running for office, including a leading black candidate for president. Yet these accomplishments receive praise out of proportion to the outcry that bursts forth when a racist act is committed.
Don’t spend all your resources yelling about a noose hanging from a tree – there are still a few Americans who find these sick actions OK. Their mindset is both disheartening and appalling, but giving them a soapbox to stand on, in the form of extensive media attention, will only work to allow them to voice their hateful views. This sad and hateful minority may be stuck in the past, but the rest of America – the vast majority – is ready to move forward.
The writer is a freshman
majoring in political science.