Let’s get this cleared away first and foremost: A person in a costume that has a mask on of any black man, United States president or not, with a noose around their neck, is not free speech. It is terroristic threatening hate speech.
The fact that it was a two-sided mask with Hillary Clinton on the other side does not matter. The history of lynching of African Americans in this nation runs deep.
From 1877 to 1950, 3,959 black people, including an ancestor of mine, were lynched and we know more happened after that. That imagery has a direct line to lynchings of black Americans.
There are many things that are disturbing about the picture at the UW Badger game this past Saturday. Look at how many white people just don’t seem to care. Look at the ones smiling and laughing as a man dressed as Donald Trump held up the noose around President Obama’s neck.
Then there is the response by the University of Wisconsin and UWPD saying this is protected free speech. Yet, in the same breath, UW-Madison stated that it is “dedicated to promoting a campus environment where all people feel valued, safe, and able to thrive.”
Passing off this “costume” as free speech, when it is threatening, is none of the above, UW-Madison. The imagery of black people being hanged is threatening to this day, and it is why frat houses hang dolls and it is why a black girl had a noose put around her neck at a school. It is a traumatic scar on black Americans’ psyche.
In creating a space where “all people feel valued, safe, and able to thrive” you must understand the history, feelings, and perspectives of all those that you serve. By passing off this imagery that triggers trauma — that is literally threatening looking at history and present day America — as free speech, you are not understanding this campus’s black students. You are not making them feel valued, safe, or creating an environment where they can thrive. You are dismissing their safety, their value, and telling them to grow a thicker skin.
You are protecting a white voice that would rather beat us, drag us through the mud, and string us up than let us set foot on campus. White people who would rather watch black players beat each other up for their entertainment than create a space where black students can thrive.
Terroristic threats that promote violence, as this clearly does, are not free speech. For argument’s sake, even if you want to soften it to something protected under the 1st amendment, which hate speech is, call it hate speech. Don’t insult our lives by calling it “free speech.” You can admit that this is hate speech, which is protected under the 1st amendment.
The inability to label this hate speech while in the same breath saying that you are for “creating a safe, valued, and thriving environment for all students” is insulting at best, Chancellor Blank.
But, unfortunately, it’s what many have come to expect from you, as the past and present have shown that you clearly do not understand the experience of this campus’s students of color. Nor does it seem like you truly want to, passing off a poor climate on individuals and not the larger cultural issues that permeate through white society. Being an educational institution, you have a moral responsibility to push back against these issues, but like many leaders of predominantly white institutions, you are failing miserably.
Students of color do not feel safe, valued, or able to thrive on your campus, Chancellor Blank. They survive UW-Madison, and there have been more than enough surveys and reports to let you know this. Students of color have had to fight tooth and nail for any type of initiatives to address the terrible day-to-day conditions they face at UW-Madison. If you were truly ‘bout it, you’d stop fighting them and truly work with them.