The violence of nooses

Dear President Biden,

It’s been a minute since I’ve had a moment to write to you. I don’t usually go this long between downloads, but a combination of being more tired than usual, having more work than usual, and playing more Scrabble than usual (as in playing Scrabble at all) have led to low letter output lately.

Plus, if I’m being honest, I’ve felt pretty wrung out by all the crappy things that have been happening in the world – from massive floods to massive wildfires to surging coronavirus variants to unrelenting gun violence – and the lack of effective response to it all. To be sure, Pelosi deserve props for blocking McCarthy’s bullshit picks for the January 6th insurrection investigation – that was a refreshingly clear and forthright move on her part. However, hearing your mealy mouthed stuff about the filibuster being vital to the Senate’s ability to function was a gag-me moment. Really? Do you think the Senate is actually functioning even minimally well now? Do you not have a copy of McConnell’s playbook? He’s not exactly hiding his signals so you don’t need some fancy listening device to overhear him yelling into his runners’ ears. He’s being as clear and blatant about his agenda as he could possibly be and that agenda is to tank your presidency by whatever means necessary.

You’re a smart person and almost certainly a wily politician so I trust that you actually do have a copy of McConnell’s playbook. And, as frustrated as I am with you right now, I want to trust – need to trust – that you’re playing some invisible-to-the-average-person three-dimensional chess game with McConnell and his ilk such that you have some sort of plan to get around, under, or over his obstructionist, dangerous behavior. Please oh please let this be true.

Some of us are crisping up in unprecedented heat waves while others of us are getting so waterlogged from unprecedented flooding that we’re fast reaching very scary points from which there’s no return. Then there’s voting rights and democracy itself hanging from a fraying thread. We all know that if the thread snaps and even one or two state legislatures empower themselves to call their states’ elections for their parties, the whole system is profoundly jeopardized.

You know this. You don’t need me telling you this. But I need to say it and I need you to do something overt and instrumental about it not only to protect democracy itself, but so that we have even a tiny chance of responding effectively to global warming, COVID, income inequality, racism, sexism – all of it.

Clearly I’ve been gnashing my teeth quite a bit even if I’ve not been writing to you lately.

This morning the thing that got me amped up enough to push through and pull together a letter was the article in the WP about the plethora of nooses that have been left at US construction sites over the past 5 to 6 years and the shitty, but highly predictable, non-response of the industry. The author, Taylor Telford, does a great job of documenting what’s been happening and shares some compelling stories of Black construction workers who’ve tried to address the nooses and other racist crap that’s happened to them on the job. It’s definitely worth reading.

And if you do read it, I think it’s also worth noticing what is not pulled forward, which is that leaving nooses at worksites where Black and brown workers will find them is not just cruel, racist behavior meant to signal that their coworkers think they don’t belong, but it’s also telegraphing that they are very literally unsafe there. The nooses are telegraphing that Black and brown workers can’t trust that their White co-workers have checked to make sure the power is really off when they go to repair a line or that a White co-worker isn’t going to shift the load just enough to throw them off balance or not look out for them when they swing around with a load of lumber. The list of potential “accidents” could go on for a very long time. And those “accidents” don’t need to actually happen – at least not very often – for the nooses to have their intended effect, just like lynchings didn’t need to happen very often to have their intended effects, or police murders of unarmed Black and brown people.

So let’s stop whitewashing it and call this horrible behavior what it is – race-based threats of real violence that have real, devastating effects on the victims and that signal a very deep sickness we must eradicate.

May we all be safe and may we all feel safe at work.
May we all be willing to name racialized hate that telegraphs violence.
May we all be strong enough to do the hard work of rooting out such hate.
May we accept that pretending it’s not a big deal is just as bad as placing the noose in a Black worker’s locker.

Tracy Simpson

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