The Corner

PC Culture

Intentions Matter

Florida Gators mascot, Albert, cheers with fans during the second half against the Towson Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Gainesville, Florida. Sep 28, 2019 (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

I read two stories this morning, back-to-back. The first:

President Kent Fuchs announced a decision that will not sit well with a lot of Gator fans Thursday and that includes the former player most often associated with the cheer of “Gator Bait.”

Lawrence Wright, who famously uttered the phrase, “If you ain’t a Gator, ya Gator bait, baby” after a 1995 win over Florida State at The Swamp, was livid after the announcement that UF will stop using the cheer.

“While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” Fuchs wrote in a UF statement titled ‘Another Step Toward Positive Change Against Racism.’ “Accordingly University Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer.”

Wright, who was planning to launch a line of bobbleheads, shirts and No. 4 jerseys with the phrase he is well known for, said he was most upset that there was no discussion about it.

“The Gator Nation is a culture, too,” said Wright, who is Black. “It’s not about what happened way back in the past. How about our culture?

“Me and the president need to sit down and talk about this.”

Wright did receive a call from a University Athletic Association official to inform him of the decision.

“I’m not going for it,” said Wright, who won the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back in 1996. “I created something for us. It’s a college football thing. It’s not a racist thing, It’s about us, the Gator Nation. And I’m Black.

The second:

OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland’s mayor said five ropes found hanging from trees in a city park are nooses and racially-charged symbols of terror but a resident said they are merely exercise equipment that he put up there months ago.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said Wedesday that a hate crime investigation was under way after a social media post identified a noose at the city’s popular Lake Merritt. Police said they searched the area on Tuesday and found five ropes attached to trees.

The Police Department provided five photographs of trees, some of which showed knotted ropes and one that appeared to have a piece of plastic pipe attached to a rope, hanging from tree limbs.

They have been removed by city officials.

Victor Sengbe, who is black, told KGO-TV that the ropes were part of a rigging that he and his friends used as part of a larger swing system. He also shared video of the swing in use.

“Out of the dozen and hundreds and thousands of people that walked by, no one has thought that it looked anywhere close to a noose. Folks have used it for exercise. It was really a fun addition to the park that we tried to create,” Sengbe said.

“It’s unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous,” he told the station.

Nooses have been associated with the lynching of black people and used as symbols to taunt or terrorize African Americans.

Schaaf said officials must “start with the assumption that these are hate crimes.” However, the mayor and Nicholas Williams, the city’s director of parks recreation, also said it didn’t matter whether the ropes were meant to send a racist message.

We have now hit the moral-panic stage in our ongoing “national conversation” about race. In both of these cases, the authorities have explicitly confirmed that there is no cause for alarm, and yet, in both, they have decided to continue anyway. Worse still, in both cases they have decided to cast their unnecessary actions as a “win” in the fight against racism. President Fuchs has confirmed that he knows “of no evidence of racism associated with” the “Gator Bait” chant — and, indeed, that he knows it was thought up recently by a black man. And yet he has also proposed that to ban the chant represents “Another Step Toward Positive Change Against Racism.” In Oakland, the mayor has confirmed that she knows that the ropes were put up as exercise aids — and, indeed, that they were placed there by a black man who wanted to do something useful for his community. And yet she has also proposed that this does “not matter.” The irrationality, it seems, is the point.

This thinking is not merely silly, it is dangerous. In isolation, these two incidents will not bring about the end of the republic. But the attitudes that have informed them could. Furthermore, if they are made regnant, those attitudes will be disastrous for precisely the people their champions believe they are helping. Who, exactly, do we think suffers the most in cultures that dismiss evidence and disregard intentions? What sort of racial justice do we believe can be achieved by allowing white authority figures to blame black men for transgressions that they vigorously deny? In whose name, exactly, are these decisions being taken?

Fanatical literalism of this sort is the sworn enemy of human understanding. Intelligent people are able to process information within its context and, thereby, to distinguish between superficially similar elements. A robot may struggle to distinguish between the N-word as thrown by a racist and the N-word as used in Huckleberry Finn, or between a noose of the sort that Ida B. Wells knew and a rope being used as a swing, but an adult should have no such problem — especially when that adult has put been in charge of a large city or of a major state university. Any idiot can scan his surroundings for naughty words and verboten signs; it takes a person of judgement and discretion to filter what he sees through his understanding of the world. In Gainesville and in Oakland, such people are sorely missing. And so the riot continues.

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