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A Noose Brings History to Life

Lonnie G. Bunch III, a historian, author, curator and educator, is the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The person who recently left a noose at the National Museum of African American History and Culture clearly intended to intimidate, by deploying one of the most feared symbols in American racial history. Instead, the vandal unintentionally offered a contemporary reminder of one theme of the black experience in America: We continue to believe in the potential of a country that has not always believed in us, and we do this against incredible odds. The noose — the second of three left on the National Mall in recent weeks — was found late in May in an exhibition that chronicles America’s evolution from the era of Jim Crow through the civil rights movement. Visitors discovered it on the floor in front of a display of artifacts from the Ku Klux Klan, as well as objects belonging to African-American soldiers who fought during World War I. Though these soldiers fought for democracy abroad, they found little when they returned home.

That display, like the museum as a whole, powerfully juxtaposes two visions of America: one shaped by racism, violence and terror, and one shaped by a belief in an America where freedom and fairness reign. I see the nooses as evidence that those visions continue to battle in 2017 and that the struggle for the soul of America continues to this very day.

The people responsible knew that their acts would not be taken lightly. A noose is a symbol of the racial violence and terror that African-Americans have confronted throughout American history and of the intensity of resistance we’ve faced to any measure of racial equality. During slavery, one of the main purposes of lynching was to deter the enslaved from escaping to freedom. But lynching did not end with slavery; it was also a response to the end of slavery. It continued from the 1880s until after the end of World War I, with more than 100 people lynched each year. So prevalent was this atrocity that between 1920 and 1938, the N.A.A.C.P. displayed a banner at its national headquarters that read simply, “A man was lynched yesterday.”

Lynching was not just a phenomenon of the American South or the Ku Klux Klan. And in many places, as black people fought for inclusion in American life, lynching’s became brutal spectacles, drawing thousands of onlookers who posed for photographs with the lifeless bodies. This collective memory explains why the noose has become a symbol of white supremacy and racial intimidation.

So, what does it mean to have found three nooses on Smithsonian grounds in 2017? A noose inside a Missouri high school? A noose on the campus of Duke University? Another at American University?

As a historian, who also happens to be old enough to remember “Whites Only” signs on motels and restaurants that trumpeted the power of laws enforcing segregation, I posit that it means we must lay to rest any notion that racism is not still the great divide.

As someone who has experienced the humiliating sting of racial epithets and the pain of a policeman’s blow — simply because I was black and in a neighborhood not my own — I would argue that it answers a naïve and dangerous question that I hear too often: Why can’t African-Americans get over past discrimination?

The answer is that discrimination is not confined to the past. Nor is the African-American commitment to American ideals in the face of discrimination and hate.

The exhibitions inside the museum combine to form a narrative of a people who refused to be broken by hatred and who have always found ways to prod America to be truer to the ideals of its founders.

In the process of curating these experiences, I have acquired, examined and interpreted objects that stir feelings of intense pain. Anger and sadness are always parts of this work, but I never let them dominate it. Instead, I use them to help me connect with the people who have suffered and continue to suffer immeasurable pain and injustice, while clinging to their humanity and their vision of a better country.

I see the nooses in the same way. They are living history. Viewed through this lens, they are no less a part of the story the museum tells than the Klan robes, the slave shackles small enough to fit a child, the stretch of rope used to lynch a Maryland man in 1931 or the coffin used to bury the brutally murdered Emmett Till.

If you want to know how African-Americans continue to persevere and fight for a better America in the face of this type of hatred, you need only visit the museum, where the noose has been removed but the rest of the remarkable story of our commitment to overcome remains. Anyone who experiences the National Museum of African American History and Culture should leave with that realization, as well as the understanding that this story is continuing. The cowardly act of leaving a symbol of hate in the midst of a tribute to our survival conveyed that message as well as any exhibit ever could.

Lonnie G. Bunch III, a historian, author, curator and educator, is the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Ditas Katague, Chair, National Advisory Committee on Race, Ethnicities and Other Populations, U.S. Census Bureau, displays 2020 Census question format.

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White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners

Since Trump took office, more Americans have been killed by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners.

Jennifer Williams This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Las Vegas police stand guard along the streets outside the Route 91 Harvest Country music festival grounds on October 1, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada. David Becker/Getty Images

When President Donald Trump signed his since-revised executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, he claimed it was to protect Americans from "radical Islamic terrorists."

"We don't want 'em here," Trump told reporters at the Pentagon, where he signed the order in January.

But in the eight months since Trump took office, more Americans have been killed in attacks by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners.

Radical Islamic terrorists inspired or directed by groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda do pose a clear threat to the US. There is no question about that. Before last night's deadly shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history occurred in June 2016 when an ISIS-inspired man opened fire a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 53.

And ISIS-linked militants have killed or injured dozens of people in countries like England, France, and Canada so far this year, including two women killed in a stabbing attack in Marseille, France, and several people injured in a car-ramming attack in Edmonton, Canada, just this weekend.

But here at home, the bigger threat has come from a very different kind of attacker, one with no ties to religion generally or Islamist extremism specifically.

Here are just a few of the attacks that have occurred in 2017:

 

Sunday night, a 64-year-old white man from Nevada opened fire on a crowd of more than 22,000 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing more than 50 and wounding more than 200.

In August, a 20-year-old white Nazi sympathizer from Ohio sped his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring at least 19 others.

In June, a 66-year-old white man from Illinois shot at Republican Congress members during an early morning baseball practice, severely wounding several people including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House of Representatives Majority Whip.

In March 2017, a 28-year-old white man from Baltimore traveled to New York City with the explicit aim of killing black men. He stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman to death and was charged with terrorism by New York state authorities.

In May, a 35-year-old white man from Oregon named Jeremy Joseph Christian began harassing Muslim teenagers on a train in Portland, telling them "We need Americans here!" Two men interceded; Christian then stabbed and killed them both.

In fact, between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists, according to a study by New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC.

A June 2017 study by Reveal and the Center for Investigative Reporting found a similar pattern:

Even the "radical Islamic terrorists" are usually US citizens

In Trump's very first speech to Congress, he claimed that "the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country."

But none of the perpetrators of the major US terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam in the past 15 years have come from the nations on Trump's travel ban (either the original one or the new, revised version that was released late last month). In fact, the country home to the biggest number of terrorists who have carried out successful attacks inside the US is the US itself.

The San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people was carried out by an American-born US citizen of Pakistani descent and a lawful permanent US resident of Pakistani descent. The Orlando nightclub shooter who murdered 49 people was an American-born US citizen of Afghan descent. The Boston marathon bombers, who identified as ethnic Chechen, came to the US from Kyrgyzstan and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before carrying out attacks that left three dead. Faisal Shahzad, the attempted Times Square bomber, was Pakistani-American. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009, was born in Virginia to Palestinian parents.

And as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has written, the average likelihood of an American being killed in a terrorist attack in which an immigrant participated in any given year is one in 3.6 million - even including the 9/11 deaths. The average American is more likely to die from their own clothing or a toddler with a gun than an immigrant terrorist. But we're not banning guns and T-shirts from coming into the country.

Adopting extremist views and committing horrendous acts of violence in the name of some "righteous" cause, be it religion or politics or just plain old hatred, isn't something that only Muslims, or Arabs, or immigrants, or any other group of people do. It's something humans do.

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Should America be Deporting Domestic Violent White Males?

Now there's a good idea but nobody would want them!

Heather Gray

Justice Initiative International

October 3, 2017

Violent "white" American males are the problem in America as they have killed far more Americans than any other male group. Yet, just imagine the press and comments from Donald Trump if Las Vegas killer Stephen Paddock had been a black male or a Mexican male or a Middle Eastern male or a Muslim male. Under those circumstances, I can just hear Trump saying, "See, I told you so! We need to control them or get rid of them!" So the question remains, when is the press, and especially Donald Trump and his supporters, going to acknowledge that this was a violent crime by a "white" male and that it is "white" American males who are far more dangerous than any other male group in the United States. Is it not time for white males in America who are concerned about the violence by other white males to begin addressing this issue? I think it is way past time for some action by white males themselves and the white community overall.

Yet, Paddock had all these guns and used an "automatic" weapon to kill 59 people and injure more than 500 now suffering individuals. And Paddock's use of an "automatic" weapon for this killing spree was the first ever in an American massacre! And no authorities knew he had a sizable compilation of weapons? And/or there was no surveillance of him? That, in itself, is a tragedy.

Should Trump include on his banning list and priorities the deportation of American white domestic terrorist males? Now, there's a unique idea, except for the fact that nobody would want them! But where would he send them? Whites in British prisons, both convicts and debtors overall, were, for example, sent to the Britain's American, Australian and other colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries with Georgia being a debtors colony. But I can't imagine any country in today's world wanting to increase their violent American white male population. Can you?­

The other problem is that the American white males and those in police departments invariably are inappropriately acquitted of the most outrageous and heinous crimes, primarily against people of color, and are not placed in jail as they should be for the safety of all of us. But, nevertheless, most can be identified. This is, in fact, a major issue. Too many white males are acquitted for acts of violence that virtually any other male of color, or those not belonging to a main-stream American religion, would be penalized. In addition to the acts of violence, these inequities in the court system, or the so-called justice system, have to end.

I know that deportation of violent white males is not realistic but we do need to explore ways to better control guns and address the violent tendencies of white males in America. White males need to become accountable. Finally, American whites overall need to end this insane white supremacist mindset and, with compassion, acknowledge the beauty, profound cultures and humanity of all human beings on the face of the earth.

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