Though I must have driven past it Monday morning on my way to work, I didn’t see it, and for that I’m thankful. But I heard about it soon enough from a colleague who had happened upon the scene moments later, just as maintenance workers arrived to deal with the carcass of a bear cub, shot in the head and draped in Obama/Biden signs. It would be easy to dismiss this as a prank, as the students who committed the act have claimed, but it isn’t; the killing of the cub and the posing of its body for public viewing constitute the lynching of a black presidential candidate in effigy.
Last year, when students at Clemson University hosted a “gangsta” party on Martin Luther King Day, my second reaction, after being appalled, was relief that something so atrocious hadn’t happened on the campus where I teach. In the January 29, 2007 Anderson Independent, Clemson’s news director Robin Denny attempted to lessen the outrage: “The students said this was not intended to be offensive to anybody at all and (they) did not realize it would be.” Regardless of what they realized, the implications stand on their own, especially when there were follow-up photos posted on Facebook of white students in blackface: the event was a mockery of the birthday of an assassinated African American civil rights leader. The alleged intent did not matter; the poses, the costumes, and the incident said it all.
WCU’s bear incident makes similar statements. It associates Barack Obama with a slaughtered animal and depicts blackness as monstrous and animal-like; worse, it is a death threat. And what makes this incident even more disturbing than the Clemson party is the actual violence done to an innocent bear cub, forced to die in the service of racial hatred. This perpetrator could never claim, as the Clemson students did, that this action was not intended to be offensive. And the WCU community – faculty, staff, and students – are offended. The students in my 9 a.m. composition class, for example, expressed their outrage and sorrow when we discussed this event. They, like the rest of the WCU community, do not want their university to be associated with such baseness.
I write as an English professor whose job entails reading and interpreting not only written texts but also social actions. I write as a faculty member at Western Carolina University to condemn this action, because faculty and administration of a public institution of higher education have an ethical obligation to speak out when acts of violence and race-based hatred are committed in our communities. I write too as an animal rights activist who hopes that local hunting organizations will speak out to condemn this action as outside the code of ethics that hunters obey. In cases like this, the symbols say what they say, no matter who denies them; right now, all our communities could benefit from real and open discussion about how prevalent such symbols, and the hatred they represent, still are.
Laura WrightAssistant ProfessorEnglish DepartmentWestern Carolina University
Co-signed by the following English Faculty:Mary AdamsElizabeth AddisonMarsha Lee BakerCatherine CarterColin ChristopherMae ClaxtonPamela DuncanDeidre ElliotJill GhnassiaLynn Gibbons-BeddowKaren GreenstoneLeah HamptonJennifer HarrisElizabeth HeffelfingerEric HendrixBeth HuberBrent KinserBrian LawrenceJulia McLeodNaci MorrisChandrika RogersJamey Rogers