In the old days (like the 1970s and 1980s), I recall that riding the train in New Jersey or between New York and Washington could be a visual assault. Overt expressions of racial prejudice, no longer tolerated in polite company, found their way to the walls facing the railroad tracks, the N-word being the most prominent of them, perhaps because it was the most damaging. I used to know where they were and, when the train approached, would avert my gaze accordingly or look to see if some kind soul had come by to paint over the offense. Those days are long gone now.
But the killing of Trayvon Martin has brought back some instances of breathtaking billboard animus. Two recent expressions of hate in the last four days in two different states, combined with the deluge of hate flooding my inbox and those of other black journalists like Charles Blow, have me wondering if the initial soul-searching that they killing elicited has eroded.
“Long live Zimmerman” was spray painted on a wall outside the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center at Ohio State University on April 5. In a tweet that morning, university President E. Gordon Gee called it a “Deplorable act of intolerance.” As you see in the video above, the message was removed.
“Trayvon A N-----” was the message to motorists on one of those electronic construction signs early this morning on Interstate 94 in Michigan. According to Shawn Ley of WDIV-TV in Detroit, the computer keyboard used to type those highway messages was torn out and stolen from the metal box on the back of the construction sign.
Elaine Bonner told Ley, “I feel violated by it.” We all should.