In the 1930s the NAACP hung a flag on the 69th avenue of New York City. The flag read “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday.” Lynchings are often thought of as bygones from a brutally racist era. On Tuesday night, a queer black man was nearly lynched. Jussie Smollett, an actor on the tv show “Empire,” told the police that two men shrieking “MAGA Country!” attacked him. They poured bleach on his skin and hung a rope around his neck. They called him a “fa**ot” and a “ni**er.”
This winter break I was horrified when my sister pointed out that in the Netflix Series “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” a black antagonist looked like they were being lynched by the white protagonist. The symbolism didn’t even occur to me. That it evoked something so horrible. How had I missed this? Lynchings have become so ingrained as part of the past I couldn’t even recognize it’s modern day representation.
In 2018, media outlets were hesitant to call the murders of Alize Ramon Smith and Jarron Keonte Moreland by the hands of two white males a lynching. When Ferguson protestor Dayne Jones was found hanging in a tree, his mother called it a lynching. No one listened. The FBI are currently looking into the death of 18-year-old Ben Keita, whose body was found hanging from a tree 30 feet in the air. The word ‘lynching’ is said timidly around these cases, yet Roger Stone can brazenly call his arrest a legal lynching. Somehow it’s socially acceptable for anyone to use lynching as an expression. Somehow it’s okay for a Netflix series to show a white girl hanging a black girl.
I didn’t miss the symbols in the Smollett case. I can only assert the bleach was meant to symbolize skin whitening and the rope to remind Smollett that in MAGA country, white men are above the law. As a non-black person of color, I can only imagine a sliver of that fear. How it must have been for Smollett to hear and feel his queerness and blackness get attacked so viciously.
Symbols mean things. No one is innocent wearing a MAGA hat. Try as one may by throwing cliches around like “I support Trump, but not all of his views.” They are complicit with these symbols. Those still wearing MAGA hats and flying Trump flags around have bleach on their hands. Just know I’m flying a flag back: MAGA Country nearly lynched a man yesterday.