Pick up a 3.5-inch floppy disk. Examine it carefully. Now think — if you tied a rope into a knot, fashioning a loop just large enough to encircle this tiny disk, could you hang someone with it?
Now, imagine that rope hanging outside a college residence hall in the South. In living quarters some argue bear the same name as dozens of old plantations where slaves once lived. The reality of the rope’s use becomes irrelevant. Since the discovery of this exact scenario at USF in the past week, the outcry from black students and others on campus has been about what this hanging rope symbolizes. “I know it’s a noose,” the vocal have said.
“Punish the perpetrators,” black student leaders have cried. Even President Judy Genshaft promised that whoever is responsible would be “swiftly dealt with” by the university’s judicial system.
In light of a meeting Monday night, where students heard that the rope was the remnants of a tree swing ordered removed from Magnolia Apartments, has the campaign to prosecute the rope hanger(s) unraveled?
Disagreements over who placed the rope there and why they did have terrorized this campus long enough. Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong?
On one hand, it’s hard to imagine such a vivid image would be a coincidence. During black history celebrations last year, someone vandalized the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. bust by trying to pry it from its pedestal outside the student union. University Police never charged anyone with the crime. And maybe the “pranksters” are up to their old tricks again this year, determined to tell this community — rally, if you must — but racism will never go away.
Zoom outside of USF for a moment and recall the other racially motivated crimes that occurred in the Tampa Bay area recently.
Largo police arrested a white man on hate crime charges last month for placing a noose around a black teen’s neck at a fast food restaurant. In St. Petersburg, vandals ripped through a traveling art exhibit in December that promoted peace and tolerance. And if you took a poll, I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before you came across a black person, on campus or off, who would say during the past week, he walked into a local store and was overlooked service by a clerk who helped a white patron who walked in after him.
Welcome to America. The land of “woe-is-me.” A nation built on complaints. The colonies fought for their independence because they grew tired of Great Britain, thousands of miles away, unfairly taxing them and trying to control their destiny by inhibiting their progress. They were discriminated against for their newly found heritage.
Hundreds of years later, the legacy of feeling lesser continues. No matter how hard you strive, you will never feel equal in this country. Not equal to your cousins, your colleagues or your competition. And, unfortunately, the mindset of feeling lesser and feeling the need to fight it against all odds rises like a phoenix when a rope that looks like a noose is found hanging from a tree at a university in the South.
Call me naÃ¯ve for believing most people are inherently good. Call me stupid for believing my eyes when I see the picture of the tiny loop in the rope Magnolia residents say was used for a tree swing and not thinking it was intentionally placed there as a message about lynching.
At some point, you have to realize that you need to move on to fight bigger battles. That time may not come when University Police investigators say, “case closed.” When you finally decide to in your heart, close the investigation, be careful you don’t leave it too late and argue with friends that may disagree with your interpretation. The dialogue has been good, I’m sure, but even well-intentioned words sometimes come at a price.
Dan McKinnon once said, “Be aware that a halo has to fall only a few inches to be a noose.” Don’t allow disagreements over the interpretation of this hanging rope to turn your brother into an enemy.
Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in Chief. firstname.lastname@example.org