Today, Burnt Orange Report received the photo at right, taken in front of a home in Northwest Austin. The resident, a Republican, lynched an empty chair from a tree in his yard, which one can easily interpret to represent a racially motivated act of violence against the President.
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.
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.
Updated 6:28 p.m. 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?
If you haven’t heard it yet, liberal Austin is a white-washed piece of shit. It has never been welcome or open to the POCs that support it.