This editorial appeared in Sunday’s Herald…
Less than two weeks after a Golf Channel commentator was suspended for jokingly suggesting that competitors level the playing field by “lynching” Tiger Woods, undisputedly the world’s top golfer, in a back alley, a North Carolina mayor used the same term, suggesting his town might use the barbaric practice to rid itself of troublemakers.
Selma Mayor Charles Hester, like the Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman, later apologized for his remark. Hester was speaking during a council meeting Tuesday when he railed against people who showed up at the meeting to protest the rezoning of acreage in Selma to allow for the construction of an ethanol plant. “We have people in our community,” he said, “that stir up big crowds and we have one here tonight. Maybe one day we’ll have a lynching and we won’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Hester has expressed regret about what he said. He still has his job, unlike the head of Golfweek Magazine. It fired its longtime and vice president this week after it pictured a hangman’s noose on its cover (along with the words “Caught in a Noose”), referencing stories in the most recent edition about the Tilghman controversy. The president of the magazine’s parent company said the cover was an attempt to “convey the controversial issue with a strong and provocative graphic image. It is now obvious that the overall reaction to our cover deeply offended many people. For that, we are deeply apologetic.”
Clearly, Tilghman’s remarks weren’t meant to be offensive. Golfweek’s depiction of a noose, even though it was called “outgrageous and irresponsible” by the commissioner of the pro golf tour, wasn’t either, but the same can’t be said of what was said by Hester, Selma’s mayor – particularly in light of America’s, and the South’s, history of the practice. And not to mention the increase in the number of incidents in the last year of nooses showing up in places like schoolyards and gathering places in towns across the South.
“Lynching” commonly refers to the practice of mob justice, but is more closely identified with the hanging of African Americans in the latter half of the 1800s and into the last century. Even though more than a third of recorded lynching victims were white, according to statistics compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, lynching is remembered mostly as a practice of whites to intimidate and terrorize blacks for a nearly 75-year period following the end of the Civil War. It was often seen as a punishment for a crime no less than being black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thus, lynching can be construed as a racial term. In any context, especially glibness, it should be avoided.
What shouldn’t be avoided, though, are serious discussions about why such terms are still being used and how we should react when they are. One observer, in the wake of Tilghman’s suspension – and the demand by the Rev. Al Sharpton that she be fired – wrote that there were “plenty of soliloquies but distressingly little dialogue and no catharsis” following Tilghman’s remark. In other words, we should take advantage of Tilghman’s misstep, Golfweek’s miscalculation and Hester’s misdeed to examine ourselves, our past and what we can do about moving through this morass with a sincere desire to be better, and do better.