Couple's 'disgusting' Halloween display depicting a lynching sparks fury online
October has arrived, bringing with it autumn leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and - for one couple, at least - incredibly tasteless Halloween displays.
Jennifer and Marc Wolfe, from Alabama, found their holiday decorations at the centre of a fierce debate this week after someone posted a picture of them on Facebook.
"Trigger warning: Fake display of a lynching," wrote Alexus Cumbie in a Facebook post showing the Wolfes' Halloween display. She then went on to share a picture of the offending decor: a dark-skinned, emaciated mannequin hanging from a tree by a length of rope.
Cumbie explained that a friend of hers had been passing through Homewood, Alabama, when she saw the "sickening display" on the couple's front lawn.
"The owner of this display has refused to take this down," Cumbie wrote. "I’m encouraging everyone to share this post until Birmingham news outlets cover this."
She also noted that she did not want to encourage "violence or harassment" towards the Wolfes, she merely wanted them to take the mannequin down. "Let’s not meet bigotry at eye level but also let’s publicly condemn acts of racism in our beloved neighborhoods," she said.
The post, which has since been taken down from social media, was shared more than 10,000 times and received more than 2,000 comments - most of which were from people criticising the "disgusting" or "ignorant" decoration.
But Marc Wolfe denies any wrongdoing in his decision to put the dummy outside his house.
"We put it out so people can walk up and say it’s scary or get scared by a jumping spider," Wolfe said. "You know, if you’re having fun, you’re not hurting anybody."
He also explained that he believed the man was supposed to be white but had been burnt, and therefore didn't see it as a racial issue.
However, given Alabama's history of violence towards black people, the image was particularly upsetting to many. In fact, a memorial was set up earlier this year in order to commemorate the 4,400 known lynchings of black people in the states between 1877 and 1950, 340 of whom were murdered in Alabama.
"We’re not racist," he insisted. "Did I make a mistake? I guess so."
And, in fairness to Wolfe, he did take the mannequin down shortly after the post went viral.
"If they want to say we’re insensitive and should have known better, I’ll own up to that," he said.
"Do I see it that way [racially offensive] now? Sure," Wolfe said. "If other people see it that way, then I’ll see it that way. I don’t see it that way, but I can respect that people see it that way. In hindsight, would I have hung it what I know now? No."
It's possible that this case was a misunderstanding - but that doesn't excuse the reluctance to listen to people when they say something causes offence. Racism and racial prejudice is still a huge problem in the USA, and the first step towards eradicating it is to listen to people who are asking for change.