Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
These words mean so much to me and other people of my race. This is a song by Billie Holiday, aptly named Strange Fruit, and it carries a lot of significance. It affects the black community everyday and still rings true today.
Earlier this year, in April, Duke was caught in controversy once again as a noose was found hanging on the main plaza on West Campus. This noose shook students to the core, and incited feelings of fear, anger, and confusion. This was a wake up call for some, and a slap in the face for the black community at Duke.
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood until high school, and went to a predominantly elementary and middle school. My dad worked hard to teach me about the history that wasn’t being taught to me in class, and I understood things with ease, but it didn’t really hit me. Until my dad gave me the Willie Lynch Letter to read.
For those of you who have never heard of the Willie Lynch Letter, it’s a speech given by Willie Lynch at the James River in Virginia in 1712. In this speech, he talks about breaking a slave’s mentality and molding them into a working vessel. His philosophy is that by breaking them, they won’t resist as much, and it would put them in their place.
Over time, lynching has become something of a quiet injustice, though it certainly wasn’t always. In the times of Jim Crow, lynching was not only a public thing, but it was an event. People had picnics and watched the lynching of black person, cheering as they hung and burn to their death. Lynching was so welcomed in the community that postcards were made. Lynching was something that was used to instill fear by the public, the police, and the KKK. It became something of a normality to see a body hanging from the tree.
To see a noose being hung from a tree on your campus, it tells you a few things. It reminds you once again that racism is still here, that it never left, and you will always be the victim, not by your choice, but by the choice of those in power. Second, it tells you that the concept of lynching is still used in our country, and it will be brought out whenever they need to put us back in our place. It reminds you that we shouldn’t be here, that we are supposed to be the tokens, the special diversity chips in the collection plate used to attract more money. It tells you that we were meant to take things how they come and not question just how much it pains us. It tells you that you that you aren’t safe, even in your nice, cushy privilege of a private university.
Even more, when the university comes out with the cover up story that the student was international and had absolutely no knowledge of the connotation of a hanging noose, and that he will be allowed on campus with the sincerest apologies that he had to be offended, it sends a pain down to the deepest part of you. It reaffirms what you have always been thinking, that you don’t matter to people, that your feelings, your history are insignificant and that you just “make things about race.” When the students use the anonymous feed to say “Fuck BSA, we should get rid of it,” and “Black people are overreacting, racism is over,” it says that you were always meant to speak when told to speak, never before or after. It says that you deserve to have the brutality of your collective history of oppression dug up and shoved in your faced, used to mock your pain.
The noose is something that has a negative connotation no matter where you go on this earth. It may not have the exact same connotation, but the connotation is still negative. To have it hung on campus, to claim that you were just sending pictures of it to friends as a joke, and then being allowed to come back on campus with no repercussions, it pains me. Even if I did believe that story, the intent did not match the effect, and the effect of something should have been taken into consideration.
We are not your strange fruit.