By Brent Reeves, Director of Diversity and Inclusion and International Student Services at McKendree University
Photos from Unsplash
I’d like to start this article/editorial by saying that I have never written an article for the McKendree Review in the entire 23 years of my tenure here. I typically feel that students should be the primary providers of content for this media communications tool on this campus and beyond. However, I feel compelled to write and submit this article for publication in the Review to share my thoughts on a recent incident that was brought to my attention that disturbed one of our first year students. This event was also brought to the attention of the Social Justice and Equity Committee (SJEC) that I subsequently sit on as well. As a committee, we discussed the incident and decided to submit articles to the media on and off campus to raise awareness to its sensitive nature.
The incident involves one of our first year students seeing a “Halloween” display in the front yard of a house in Lebanon. The display was seen as having typical Rest In Peace (R.I.P.) signs and some other traditional scary pumpkins and the like. However, the centerpiece of the yard display was a fake body made up of old shoes, jeans, a jacket with a hood on it and a face mask that was seen worn by a character in the 1996 Miramax movie, “SCREAM” directed by Wes Craven. Many call it the “Scream Face.” All of this was hanging from a tree in the front yard by the neck with a noose! There was also a non-typical Halloween banner supporting the re-election of President Trump just under the effigy. The close proximity of the fake body hanging by a noose and the Trump 2020 banner takes this display from an insensitive Halloween display to a disturbing political statement that causes extreme emotional response or anxiety in the hearts and minds of African-Americans.
The image/symbol of a body hanging from a noose has always been used to cause fear and anger in African-Americans because it is a reminder that this is what has been done in reality to them prior to and since the slavery era in the United States. It also is a symbol of what can be done to African-Americans who don’t abide by the likings of white supremacists. In its most simplistic form, it can be viewed as bullying.
I write this article not with the mindset of shaming or counter-bullying, but with the hopes that we all are aware of the intended and unintended messages that are placed in plain view under the disguise of a Halloween display. Regardless of the intent, the message that this type of display renders in the mind of the viewer is that if you are African-American, then you are not welcome and will suffer the same fate. To my knowledge there are no city ordinances that preclude a resident from setting up such displays on their property, but it is my hope that all members of the Lebanon community and members of this campus community think about how these images can hurt individuals’ feelings and even cause fear.
After I was made aware of the display, I personally drove past the residence and found that the noose display was taken down. I am not sure if the property owner took it down or it was removed by theft but it was gone. Even though the image was taken down, it still lives on in the minds and memories of all who saw it, whether they are African-American or not, especially young children. I hope that all who read this article will understand that these are no longer acceptable images and that we all play a greater role in today’s society to be aware of what may be viewed by some as a simple Halloween display can be seen as a reminder of a horrible and terrifying period in the making of this place we call America!