The Complexion Chronicles
When Biracial = N-word: The Math of Hate
By TaRessa Stovall
Today, Biracial/Mixed-race identity is in the public consciousness as never before. Overall, that signals positive progress. And these growing discussions of our fluid identity markers and cultural choices might lure us into thinking the main story is the potential for shattering barriers to improve race relations.
But the case of eight-year-old Quincy, a Black/White Biracial boy recently hung by a noose from a tree by a group of White teenagers in his New Hampshire community is a gut-punching, slap-upside-the-head reminder that if our mixture contains any Black DNA, the math of hate will always render us fair game for racist terrorism in the USA.
Especially today, when blatant White Supremacy is unapologetically represented and promoted from the White House to the schoolhouse to the playground. Whether we agree with this assessment or not, the facts keep popping us to remind us that Biracial folks aren’t exempt from the dangers of Living While Black.
Quincy was playing with the teens in a neighborhood yard on August 28, his grandmother Lorrie Slattery, told the media. Around 5 p.m., the teens started calling Quincy “racial epithets and throwing sticks and rocks at his legs. The situation escalated when some or all of the teens stepped up on a picnic table and grabbed a nearby rope that had been part of a tire swing,” Slattery said.
“The (teenagers) said, ‘Look at this,’ supposedly putting the rope around their necks,” Slattery told the Valley News. “One boy said to (her grandson), ‘Let’s do this,’ and then pushed him off the picnic table and hung him.” Quincy’s 11-year-old sister was there, and screamed for help. Then she left to find their mother, Cassandra Merlin, as Quincy swung back-and-forth three times before he was able to remove the rope. He was hospitalized for cuts to his neck and released, reportedly not suffering any internal physical injuries.
News spread of the attack after Cassandra posted a photo of Quincy’s neck injuries and description of the incident on Facebook.
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase initially dubbed the near-lynching “an “accident,” saying the White teens “need to be protected … Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life.” City Manager Ryan McNutt called it “an unfortunate incident between some juveniles.”
After public pressure, New Hampshire Governor Christopher Sununu assigned the state attorney general to the Claremont police department’s investigation, and Chief Chase changed his tune. As Vibe.com reports, New Hampshire officials “have labeled the attempted lynching of an 8-year-old child a hate crime after facing criticism for a very sloppy investigation.”
The next night, a crowd of 100 held a vigil in response to the near-lynching in downtown Claremont, attended by “several Biracial families” from nearby towns. “None said their children had been targeted as the Claremont boy had been but said they had friends who had been called racial epithets or beaten up because they are not White,” reported Fox News. “As a mother of a Biracial child, this incident sent a chill through my entire body. As a mother, it broke my heart,” said Karen Liot Hill, a city councilor and former mayor from nearby Lebanon.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster told Fox that she was “outraged and sickened by the chilling images on social media and in the news.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the family with Quincy’s medical bills and care for him and his sister, who is traumatized by having to see the attackers at school. It will also help with care for their younger brother, who has been diagnosed with a blood disorder. (Click here to help)
The support Quincy’s family received is wonderful. But it doesn’t mask the ugly truth that violent racial attacks, including those against children and teens, seem to be on the rise.
After a 12-year-old Black girl was kicked, shoved and socially shunned by White classmates in a mostly-White private Waco, Texas school, three of them wrapped a rope around her neck and dragged her on the ground during an overnight school outing in April, 2016. She was left with severe neck injuries and trauma so deep that her family opted for homeschooling. Like Quincy, the girl had to remove the rope herself. School officials not only declined to notify the girl’s mother in a timely fashion; they also insisted it was an accident.
Just days after the near-lynching of Quincy, five White teen boys on their Creston, Iowa high school football team posed for a widely-circulated picture in white Klan-style hoods next to a burning cross. One was holding a Confederate flag. Their Black/White Biracial teammate, 16-year-old Kylan Smallwood, who plays quarterback on the school team, was shocked. “I thought these guys are my friends,” Kylan told The DesMoines Register. “I’ve been to some of their houses before. I’ve talked to them … I would see that kind of stuff like Charlottesville and think that’s pretty messed up. I never thought that would happen to our small town.”
But White children and teens taking part in racial attacks are not new.
Historian Stacey Patton, a professor at Morgan State University who is writing a book about the lynching of Black children, reminds us that White children and teens have historically “played” at lynching Black children and participated in actual lynchings during Jim Crow segregation. “There is a long history of White children ‘play-lynching’ that harks back to the Jim Crow era. Some White children practiced on Black dolls by burning them or pulling their hair and limbs from their bodies,” she writes in Dame. “‘I would play I was hanging him,’ one White child said in a letter to a Minneapolis newspaper. “I have seen very small White children hang their Black dolls. It is not the child’s fault; he is simply an apt pupil,” one anonymous Black domestic worker from Alabama observed. Those White kids were simply repeating the behaviors they observed in their environments.
And the symbolism of the noose cannot be denied.
It has the same sinister power and intent to convey threat and trauma as the swastika. There is no confusion or ambiguity in its meaning: White supremacy and attacks on Black people. In late May, a noose was found in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. As the Washington Post reported, “Sometime in the afternoon, in the gallery on segregation, someone placed the vile instrument of our country’s history of lynching — a noose — inside the museum. It was the second time this week one was found on Smithsonian grounds. A noose was found hanging from a tree near the Hirshhorn Museum four days earlier.”
In news of other racist attacks around that time, the Washington Post reported, “Three people have been stabbed to death in the past two weeks by alleged White supremacists — two men defending teenage girls on a train in Portland, Ore., and Richard W. Collins III, a Bowie State University student out with friends on the University of Maryland at College Park campus.”
As I write this column, another noose was spotted outside the Brooklyn Public Library in New York. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task force is investigating.
As someone who has been at the forefront of the movement for a separate Mixed-race category on and off since the 1970s, I love the many diverse—and sometimes divergent—conversations we’re having about our growing empowerment. For the first time in U.S. history, we’re being considered and sometimes publicly identified in ways that make it easier for us to live our truths and choose our designations.
But we can’t afford the luxury of forming our identities outside the harsh realities of racism. The dangers of racial hatred always lurk in the background. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks and records hate crimes, confirms that the “White nationalist” movement to Make America White Again is growing, with more daily attacks taking place nationwide. Any level of Black ancestry makes us targets.
The lesson is that Multiracial identity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Yes, some folks like to reject the notion of the One-drop Rule, but the truth is that White Supremacists don’t dole out racism in fractions. They’re not measuring our DNA. All that matters is that we qualify for the collective they want to attack and destroy.
Before we slide down the slippery slope of debating the use of the N-word, the ugly, tragic and irrefutable truth is that until the conditions that create and feed White Supremacy disappear, the fact of it will be with us whether or not we say it plain, sidestep it with a euphemism, claim and despise it in equal measure, or do our best to wish it away.
Let’s self-identify as we choose, select the labels we prefer, and proclaim our Mixed pride from every mountaintop. But let’s not pretend that the Supremacists aren’t including us in their anti-Black philosophy or activities. Sometimes we might face added danger due to their feelings about the race-mixing that brought us here.
Sometimes being Mixed-race means that we can navigate the gulf between races with multiple perspectives and layers of awareness. Yet underneath it all, pumping blood into the heart of this society we inhabit, is a history that never allows us the luxury of forgetting, or fooling ourselves that being X% Black minimizes the risks we face or the truths we must confront to survive.
Racists aren’t doling out violence on a sliding scale. Just ask Quincy.