America’s urban centers, especially in the Northeast, have a tendency to deal with the shame of America’s racist past by pretending that it is an entirely regional issue. It isn’t.

White and black people both face this temptation. White people because they want to believe that they themselves, their friends and family, and even the local society they live in has transcended what they see as the racial time warp of The South. Black people want to believe it because we want to believe that we can escape race, that we can outrun it here in the City; but for the most part we know we can’t.

A noose is a noose, in Jena or New York City.

A hangman’s noose was left dangling on the door of a black professor’s office at Columbia University Teachers College on Tuesday, triggering a hate-crime investigation and drawing parallels to the “Jena Six” controversy.

The ugly symbol of bigotry targeted Dr. Madonna Constantine, a respected psychology and education expert whose books include “Addressing Racism,” sources said.

The incident at Columbia follows what is essentially becoming a national trend. Nooses have been hung at Maryland University, The Coast Guard Academy, and a Long Island police station, among many others. In some cases, people simply quit their jobs.

The good part about covering a story on a college campus is the opportunity to acquire some pretty sharp “person on the street” type quotes.

“I’m upset, but I’m not surprised,” said Shawn Maxam, 26, a master’s degree student who is black. “I think it’s just a reflection of what’s going on in America as a whole.

“We got tricked into thinking that race is not an issue because we’re in 2007 and Barack Obama is running for President. That’s not the case.”

Someone should tell the MSM. I don’t think they’ve figured that one out yet. Contrast the above grad student’s reaction with that of a white professor and student.

“It’s disturbing,” said student Pete Cronin, 33. “It’s not the type of thing you’d ever think would happen here or should happen anywhere.”

“You might expect this stuff at the undergraduate level, but not here,” said Prof. Lambros Comitas. “We’ve never had any ethnic or racial tensions.”

Students were equally surprised that the noose was left for Constantine, who has worked at Teachers College since 1998 and often writes and lectures on race and multiculturalism.

Well, clearly “students” weren’t surprised because at least one student, the only black student interviewed, literally said “I’m not surprised.” What the Daily News clearly meant was “white students were surprised.”

Columbia itself lies smack in the middle of what was once Harlem; racial tensions are a very real part of its past and present. The idea that somehow the graduate school would be exempt from issues of race when it lies on the fault line between gentrifying Harlem and the Upper West Side is really hopelessly naive.

It isn’t however, very surprising. What people are really saying when they express surprise is a desire not to face the reality of race in America. These tensions reach beyond the American South. They are a part of our society. It frightens me that when faced with it, most people simply express surprise.

Surprise is really a failure to accept our own role in allowing racism to continue by ignoring it, or believing it can simply be erased by time or proximity, rather than asking hard questions both about ourselves and the world around us.

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