The image at left was taken by a person passing through the neighborhood. Now, one could easily argue "it's just a chair, what's the big deal? That's not racist!"In these moments, I am struck by the dualism that is multicultural democracy in the Age of Obama. In many ways, formal racism has been vanquished. Yet, we are obsessed with finding examples of racism in order to remind ourselves of how far the nation has to go. The result is a national play coloured by the absurd and the bizarre.
However, in light of Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention, in which he had a largely one-sided conversation with an empty chair he pretended was Barack Obama, this imagery is now associated with the President.
The image of the chair is associated with the President. Now, lynch that chair from a tree, and you've got a pretty awful racist sentiment calling for lynching the first African-American President!...
I called the homeowner to ask about his display, citing my concerns as a fellow Austinite. He replied, and I quote, "I don't really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don't give a shit. If you don't like it, don't come down my street."
Ironically, the homeowner in question, Bud Johnson, won "Yard of the Month" in August 2010 from his Homeowners Association. I guess his display was a little different that month?
I am all for calling out racism. I am also all for calling attention to white supremacy. However, there are moments when I just have to laugh at how racism chasing runs amok, and otherwise well-meaning people follow a fool's errand, taking the enemy's feint, holding on like a junkyard dog.
Be warned. Such choices are exhausting and will put holes in your racism chasing shoes.
Apparently, two white racist reactionary conservatives have chosen to hang chairs from trees in order to lynch President Obama in absentia and by metaphor.
I understand the deeply rooted structural inequalities of white racism in this society.
I also fully understand how the foul deeds of a few can tell us something about whiteness' deep sociopathology, and its assorted micro-aggressions against people of color.
However, something is horribly amiss when given all of the evidence about systematic white racism in this society, that "lynched" chairs are the source of a mass upset
There is a curious element at play here. For example, the Daily Kos has an essay on these "lynched" chairs, and the foul bigots who would defile furniture, that has almost 400 comments. By comparison, substantive discussions of white racism are often met with denial, deflection, and rage on the same site.
Ultimately, I would suggest that all of this hullabaloo over lynched chairs is a pathetic joke. It is a sugar high that lets good liberals feel that they are winning the good fight against those evil, old school, paleo-racists, that still lurk among us.
It is easy to confront low hanging fruit. It is far more difficult to critically engage how day-to-day white racism and white privilege, often enabled by "well-meaning" white folks, is a reality in this country.
I must ask: how would those folks who are offended, upset, scared, and not at peace over the equivalent of a failed Chappelle skit respond to real racial violence, or an event such as the KKK's march on Washington during the 1920s?
History teaches us again. During the postbellum period, the KKK were masters of psychological warfare who went to great lengths in order to intimidate and frighten free black Americans. For example, the lynched chairs remind me of this darkly comic anecdote:
Special effects designed to support the belief that Klansmen were Confederate dead returned from hell were later added to their tricks. If a Black was on trial, Klan members sprinkled a little powder which they called "hell fire" on the floor beforehand. When the Black defendant looked down at the floor, one of the Klansmen would run his foot over the powder line, causing a fiery-looking trail. Sometimes and immense volume of flame was blown from the nose.We have been conditioned to respond like Pavlov's dogs to racism. Consequently, in our efforts to do right, many of us have lost a sense of calibration, proportion, and precision. Black and brown folks, and white anti-racists, need to expend our efforts on those battles that can really make a difference in our collective life chances, as opposed to weakening our forces on fool's errands such as "lynched" chairs.