Posted on May 2, 2005

Phony Racism and the Allure of Victimhood

Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, May 1

Racism is on the verge of extinction in this country, judging from the latest evidence. There is no way to precisely measure how much is left, but it appears to be in such short supply that we’re forced to manufacture an ersatz version to take its place.

Recently, three minority female students at Trinity International University in Deerfield received racist letters, including one that mentioned a gun. Students, faculty and administrators were shocked. They should have been skeptical. Instead of being the deranged work of some angry white male, law enforcement officials concluded, the letters were fakes — written by an African-American student who hoped the incident would persuade her parents to let her transfer to another school.

You would think those concerned about racism would breathe a sigh of relief. Not quite. Rev. Jesse Jackson somehow managed to convey that the fraud actually proved the presence of bigotry. “Racism, whether it is actual or manipulated, is morally wrong,” he declared. “We must work to clean up the environment that makes such a hoax believable, a hoax that does harm to so many individuals and the institution.”

Talk about blaming the victim. This was not “manipulated” racism, because there was no racism to manipulate: It was pure fantasy. And the “environment that makes such a hoax believable” is one that Jackson and many other black leaders have assiduously cultivated for decades.

Any institution that includes white people (Trinity’s student body is 74 percent white and 13 percent black) is assumed to be simmering with barely suppressed prejudice against African-Americans and other minority groups — which threatens to erupt at any moment. That’s why just about everyone who heard the original allegation assumed it must be true.

It would have made more sense to assume it must be false. In recent years, there have been numerous instances where students and even professors have invented racial threats or attacks. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that “since 1997, more than 20 such hoaxes have been confirmed or suspected.” Tawana Brawley inspired a legion of imitators.