As we struggle to come to grips with racism in America, we should consider how our words and actions, however innocent we may think, are perceived. It may mean that we need to take the time to try to better understand how the things we do and say can mean different things to those who have been exposed to experiences different from us.
When a NASCAR crewmember – probably – fashioned a garage door pull into a noose at the Talladega race track some months back, it is inconceivable to think that he was concerned about the impression that length of rope would have on Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, and our country as a whole.
An investigation revealed that the noose was in place in October, long before the death of George Floyd, who died while being arrested on suspicion of passing a fake $20 bill – and whose death has spawned the latest Black Lives Matter protests – in Minneapolis.
But the fact is whoever fashioned that noose should have at least understood what it represents to his fellow Americans. Had he been cognizant, he might have known that the noose is a powerful symbol. “The hangman’s noose has come to be one of the most powerful visual symbols directed against African-Americans, comparable in the emotions that it evokes to that of the swastika for Jews,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. Giving the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that crewmember had no intention of offending Bubba Wallace – who was assigned that garage – or anyone. But that noose not only sparked an FBI investigation it has also become campaign fodder for President Trump. And it was all due to a simple length of rope and a lack of sensitivity.
Consider an event that happened here, in our community, and how it might have been handled differently.
The incident, as we have come to find out through simple reporting, began as a father-and-son fishing trip on Father’s Day. It turned out to include an accusation of trespassing as well as a visit from an Onslow County Sheriff’s Deputy.
A young father was at a private neighborhood’s waterfront access site with his stepson on Father’s Day. The two were guests of a family member who lives in the neighborhood. The young father is black and his stepson is of mixed race.
The day started pleasant enough, according to the father.
“We left to go about 7:30,” he said. About 30 minutes later, a man showed up, alone, also to fish. He, too, was a guest of a relative in the neighborhood. The man, a white man, helped the father and son get organized. “It was my second time fishing, ever, and he helped me with my fishing line.”
While the three were fishing on the dock, a family, a white family, came to check their crab pots.
Some time after that family left, and as the lone man was leaving the dock, another man showed up and confronted the father and son, who by now were alone at the dock.
“It was like he waited until I was alone,” the young father said in recounting that morning. “He came up and right away said, ‘You guys don’t belong here.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘You’re trespassing.’ I told him … we were guests.”
Not comfortable with the way the conversation was going, perhaps, the father declined to give the man his relative’s name or address. The young father was told the sheriff would be called and he would be reported for trespassing.
Almost immediately, a report on a “suspicious person” was filed with the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office. And, sure enough, it was not too long before a sheriff’s vehicle arrived at the dock.
“The deputy came up and said, ‘You probably have no idea why I’m here.’ I said, ‘I think I do.’ He asked me for my address and where I worked,” the young father explained. The deputy then asked for an ID. “I didn’t have it on me at the time, so he wrote down my information.” He also said he provided the deputy with information on his relative in the neighborhood. The exchange – recorded by the young father with his mobile phone – was polite and professional.
In speaking to the young father’s relative, the deputy pointed out that guests are supposed to be accompanied by a resident when using the neighborhood amenities. While that sign is posted, the young father’s family said the rule is so often winked at they did not even consider it.
In any case, the episode was upsetting to a father and son.
“Especially because it was Father’s Day and it was only my second time fishing. I was thinking this is like BS. I was kind of pissed that someone hassled me on Father’s Day.” But the young father added, “This isn’t my first go-round with something like this. And I still enjoyed my time. I was only mad for a little while. We didn’t catch any fish, but we enjoyed our time. I didn’t let this dude ruin our day.”
In fairness to the HOA officials, they have a right to enforce the rules, or not, as they see fit. But wouldn’t a little sensitivity make sense here?
Jimmy Williams is the Tideland News reporter/editor.