The History Of Other Hate Symbols

A recent wave of noose incidents – particularly those on school campuses – has raised alarm among adults and questions from young people.
Grade Level

Historical and modern day images often contain hidden messages about us, about others, and about our world. These subtle lessons lie just beneath the surface. In order to see them, we must replace passive consumption of images with critical analysis. … We must dig deeper. We must ask questions about why we perceive things the way we do.


Background for Teachers:

The Rhetoric of Hate: Racist Propaganda on the Internet
A high school English class turns detective, unmasking racist imagery and propaganda on the Internet.


A Research Project for Middle and Upper Grades:

I. Ask students to evaluate the symbols and graphics from various relevant websites or books. You may have them first start with visiting the Intelligence Files for some symbols and graphics. Then ask students the following questions about particular images:

1. What does this image represent?
2. What message does this image communicate? What are its intended goals?
3. Is this a negative or positive symbol? Is its present-day meaning similar or different than its historical meaning? (I.e., the inverted pink triangle was used in Nazi concentration camps to label gay male prisoners; today, the pink triangle has been reclaimed as a symbol of pride in the gay rights movement.)
4. What group(s) of people might feel threatened, endangered or upset by seeing this image displayed?
5. What assumptions do hate groups make about their intended audience by including this image on their websites or in their literature?
6. What assumptions do people make – about their environment, their safety, the people around them, or the rules that govern their environment – by wearing this image on their clothing or displaying it on their vehicles or belongings?
7. Should people be allowed to wear or display this image in public? Should rules governing the display of hate symbols be more strict than rules for non-offensive symbols? How can we – as a school, as a nation – balance one person's right to freedom of expression with another person's right to be free from offensive, violent imagery?

II. Next, divide the students into triads and assign each group one symbol. Ask each triad to research the following questions:

1. What does this symbol represent? What message(s) does it communicate?
2. How and when did this symbol start? Has its meaning or message changed over time?
3. What group(s) of people typically display(ed) and/or identify(ied) with this symbol?
4. What group(s) does this symbol target? How does this symbol make them feel? Why?
5. Name three groups and/or individuals who fought against the message communicated by this symbol. What did they accomplish? What risks did they face? How do their action affect us today?

III. Each triad then should make poster displays of the people and/or groups identified in research question #4. Display these posters in the classroom and/or in the hallway, as a public celebration of people who worked to replace hatred with respect and equality.