December 13, 2006

"Racist" Display Or Deer Deterrent?

Racism, or a really big misunderstanding?

A mannequin hanging from the trees behind a private home on Major's Path sparked an outcry from some who believed the specter of racism was raising its ugly head in Southampton.

While many of the homes on Major's Path in Southampton are decorated festively for the holidays, there is one home on the street that some feel was sporting a different kind of message.

According to Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the NAACP, members of the organization were livid after they discovered what they believed was a figure with a black face, wearing a hat and hanging from a noose in a resident's backyard. The organization contacted the Southampton Town Police.

"The Eastern Long Island NAACP condemns with outrage the recent discovery of an offensive, racially charged display," he said. "The life-sized representation of a man in black face hanging from a tree in clear view of passing motorists bore a striking resemblance to a period in which lynching occurred in our country on a regular basis."

Also under fire was a flag flying from the same resident's house; Ware said it was a Blue Bonnet flag, used by the Confederate state of Mississippi during the early weeks of the Civil War.

But, according to the homeowner, who asked not to be identified, the mannequin was originally a Halloween decoration that has been left in different locations around the family's yard since 1992. "My husband left it out to scare the deer," she said. "It was never meant to be offensive. It was meant to be funny."

When she learned that some believed the figure was meant to personify a racist sentiment, the homeowner said she was appalled. "I'm shocked by all of this."

Anyone who knows the family, she said, would know that racism was the farthest thing from their minds. "I have neighbors asking me, 'Why would anyone think this about you?'"

As for the flag flying outside, the homeowner explained, "My husband was born in North Carolina," and the flag harkened back to that state.

Lieutenant John James of the Southampton Town Police said after a police officer was sent over to interview the property owner, "We're convinced [the owner] had no intent to annoy or alarm anyone with the mannequin. It was strictly there to impede the flow of deer on his property."

James said the property owners, "like many others, had a problem with the landscaping around his house being eaten by deer who are hungry."

Though Ware boasted the display had been removed after his organization complained, the property owner said it had been moved elsewhere on the property.

"Anyone who doesn't have the right or privilege to be on his property won't be able to see it," James said.

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