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If young whites are still shaking nooses, we have a long ways to go

Updated: March 1, 2012 8:24AM

When I look at my 11-year-old grandson, I see the young man he will become.

Already an exceptional scholar and gifted athlete (he is an inch and a half from towering over his 5-foot-4 mother), and he rocks the same playful dimples that make his father’s serious face handsome.

I take in all of this whenever I watch this grandson at play with teammates who don’t look like him. For as long as he has been in school, he has been the only dark face in the crowd.

If he’s ever been concerned about being the “only one” in the group, he hasn’t shared it with me.

Right now, his life is just like the lives of his friends. They play soccer and basketball. They sing in the choir. They huddle over science projects. He’s slept over at a classmate’s house. The classmate has slept over at his.

Once, in the heat of a close soccer game a white kid on the opposing team called him the N-word. But the soccer moms demanded a reckoning from the team’s coach. The matter was handled with an apology and forgotten by season’s end.

Still, I worry about him being in an environment lacking in diversity. His mom is convinced I worry too much. But she went to diverse schools. She was never the only one.

What will happen, I ask her, when he discovers girls?

In response, she rolls her eyes as if I’ve gotten into a time machine and sent it back to the 1950s.

I wish I had.

I wish the accusations against Matthew Herrmann, an 18-year-old at Brother Rice High School, and two other white teens were something my grandson read about in a history book rather than in a newspaper.

The trio is accused of putting a noose around Joshua Merritt’s neck because the black teen was sending texts and Facebook messages to the female cousin of one of the attackers.

Herrmann has been charged as an adult with battery, unlawful restraint and a hate crime. The two other teens are being charged as juveniles.

According to Merritt, he was invited to meet up with Herrmann and his friends at the Beverly home of a Cook County state’s attorney’s employee where the attack allegedly took place.

Apparently, once Merritt got comfortable, his attackers pulled out the noose and put it around his neck. When Merritt tried to flee, his attackers allegedly blocked his way. After Merritt managed to get away, a 16-year-old accused in this incident followed him to the bus stop and threatened him with a knife. Merritt said he was told to “stop talking” to the boy’s cousin.

Because Merritt was not beaten, the tendency will be to dismiss this despicable incident as a tasteless prank.

But black people do not play with nooses.

The noose is a symbol of racial hatred and intimidation and hearkens back to a time when black men were hanged from trees just for looking at a white woman.

Merritt may not have been physically harmed, but if white teens put a noose around his neck, he was horribly humiliated.

Worst yet, Merritt was apparently lured to the Beverly home under the guise of friendship. Merritt obviously didn’t think Herrmann and his alleged co-conspirators meant him harm.

The African-American teen told reporters he had been friends with Herrmann since his freshman year at Brother Rice.

Merritt thought the teens had a “trust with each other,” which is how he put it when he spoke to reporters.

So much for trust.

You can never know what is in someone’s heart. But if the facts are true as presented by Merritt, this attack appears to be rooted in racial intolerance.

That is what worries me most about my grandson’s situation. Right now he is innocent, and I don’t want him to think racism is behind every social slight.

Yet I also don’t want him to be naive. Racism still exists. I had hoped the next generation would be a lot more tolerant when it came to race than my generation.

But if young white teens are shaking nooses, we still have a long ways to go.

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