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!"
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!
Lynching was a horrific and commonplace act in Reconstruction-era Texas and continued until the mid-1940's, spurred on by Ku Klux Klan groups. Texas is third amongst all states -- behind Mississippi and Georgia -- in the total number of lynching victims between 1885 and 1942. Of those 468 victims, an overwhelming number were African-American.
Perhaps the most well-known and horrific lynching in Texas occurred in 1916, when Jesse Washington was accused of raping and murdering a woman near Waco. He was sentenced to death, and lynched in front of a crowd of onlookers, after which members of the mob castrated him, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. Pieces of his body were sold as souvenirs. The gruesome event became part of the NAACP's anti-lynching movement.
Most recently, in 1998, James Byrd Jr. -- for whom the Texas Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named -- was lynched by being dragging behind a vehicle in East Texas.
We have a sad and awful history of white people lynching African-Americans in Texas, and this history is exactly what this Republican's front yard display taps into.
There are folks who will claim that this isn't "racist." Republicans, especially the Tea Party types, like to claim that liberals think every attack on the President is racist. Folks like to claim that hanging a noose up as decoration is "honoring the past of the South," blithely ignoring the context in which those same nooses were used during the pre-Civil War and Reconstruction eras -- by white men to hang African-Americans. Some folks will undoubtedly point out the burning of Bush effigies throughout his administration, especially during anti-war protests.
This is different. This is the specific and deliberate use of a racially charged act of violence -- lynching -- perpetrated by white men against African-American men and women. When you add a Republican symbol for the first African-American President into the mix, you get a pretty awful picture -- the one you see at right, and one that can be seen on a front lawn here in leafy, quiet Northwest Austin.
We're a state that has a horrific history of hate crimes, and given the new context of the "empty chair" created by the Republican Party during their own convention gives this image of a chair hanging from a tree a decidedly sinister, and yes, racist, meaning.
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?
It's awful. Republicans should call out this imagery and the racist rhetoric that has come to pervade their party. But I'm not holding my breath.
[Originally posted on Burnt Orange Report]
UPDATE 10:00 a.m. THURSDAY: A neighbor sent me a more recent photo of the chair, to which the homeowner has affixed an American flag.
If anyone wasn't clear before that he meant the President, hopefully this decorative addition will make it clear: the homeowner is suggesting that Barack Obama be lynched.
This image should curdle the blood of all patriotic Americans regardless of partisan leanings. Our flag is a symbol of our great country, and the ideals of diversity and opportunity that make us a beacon of hope and democracy around the world. Generations of service members have fought and died to protect what that flag represents.
Yet because one sad, old racist can't handle the fact that the President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, is African-American, he ties that same flag to a public display calling for that President's violent, racially charged death.
Unfortunately, our Austin neighbor is not the first person to come up with the "clever" idea of lynching a chair. A man in Virginia lynched a chair with a "Nobama" sign on it over the weekend, as reported by our friends at Blue Virginia.
The Republican Party continues to visibly brand itself as the last respite for public racism, and thankfully it won't win them many elections much longer.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term." That isn't stopping the angry demographic from raging against the dying of their white majority.
Incidents like this remind us that we've still got a long way to go, and that far from "solving" racism, the election of our country's first African-American president only revealed the festering, backwards beliefs clung to by those who fear the increasingly diverse future of our nation.
As of the time of this post's publication, the chair was still hanging in effigy in Northwest Austin. Neighbors report that the homeowner had a "guard" on his lawn yesterday protecting his installation. If the homeowner wanted to draw attention to his backwards views about the President, he appears to have succeeded beyond his wildest imagination.
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