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Hatemonger Helper

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Clarence Page has written a fascinating column (you can read it here) about the phenomenon of hate crime hoaxes. Ever since the “events”—that euphemism of euphemisms—in Jena, Louisiana, the media have reported punctiliously on a rash of … Read More

By / November 7, 2007

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Clarence Page has written a fascinating column (you can read it here) about the phenomenon of hate crime hoaxes. Ever since the “events”—that euphemism of euphemisms—in Jena, Louisiana, the media have reported punctiliously on a rash of mysterious nooses. They seem to be appearing in all quarters: high schools, college campuses, the workplace. Several African-American commentators have inveighed against making too big a deal of them. After all, common sense tells us that anything that garners attention once is bound to be trotted out again and again by all manner of malcontents and social misfits. Why give them the satisfaction?

The idea that many of these displays are perpetrated by the very people meant to be victimized by them is a more prickly proposition. Page presents a number of disturbing examples:

A student at George Washington University recently complained that swastikas were scrawled on her dormitory door. Thanks to cameras hidden by university police, they have a suspect: The student who filed the complaint. . . .

Last year, for example, Trinity International University near Deerfield, Ill., evacuated some classes after anonymous letters threatened minority students with gunfire. A black female 20-year-old student was eventually convicted of felony disorderly conduct and ordered into counseling for creating the letters. Police told the Chicago Tribune that she had been unhappy at the school and hoped the threats would persuade her parents to let her leave.

Three years earlier at Northwestern University, a student who described himself as biracial admitted to putting anti-Hispanic graffiti on a wall near his dorm room and filing a false report of racial harassment and a knife attack.

In 2003 three black freshmen were accused at the University of Mississippi of writing racial graffiti on the doors of two other black students’ rooms and on walls on three floors of the residence hall. Among their obscenities and racial epithets, their scrawls included a tree with a noose and a hanging stick figure.

Page allows that he is “shocked but not surprised to hear of these episodes.” I’m always a little shocked by shamelessness, but it’s very difficult for me to be surprised. Page notes of one of these instances: “Police hardly had begun their investigation before students and faculty held a rally against racism.” Where have I heard that before?

Oh, right: In 1990, a saboteur broke into the offices of The Dartmouth Review and replaced its masthead quotation, a stirring bit from the Rough Rider himself, with an excerpt from Mein Kampf. Almost immediately, Dartmouth’s president, the late James O. Freedman, organized a massive Rally Against Hate, though the newspaper’s staffers, to return to Clarence Page, “hardly had begun their investigation.” There were several obvious problems with this: Assuming that the editors or staff had been complicit in this, could they have expected it to go unnoticed or unremarked? And was it not a cause for skepticism, or at least a little restraint, that the paper’s editor-in-chief, Kevin Pritchett, was neither blond nor blue-eyed but in fact African-American?

The campus would have none of such objections, and in retrospect there are only two explanations for that. One is that the student body harbored a great deal of hate—for The Dartmouth Review. Well, it’s easy to argue that the paper did its unapologetic best to inflame and provoke. So I find a second hypothesis more credible: The student body wanted to believe that hate, in the outsize, cartoonish form it envisioned, really did exist on campus. In much the same way, antiwar agitators imagine that they’re railing against 1984-style tyranny and not mediocre decision-making; in much the same way, high school students think that a dress code is an abridgment of human rights, and not a sop to harassed and exhausted parents.

I don’t for a moment mean to suggest that hate doesn’t exist; neither, if you read his column all the way through, does Page. I just don’t believe that it exists in any truly threatening form on any decent college campus, and outcry to the contrary serves the hatemonger’s purpose more than it does the progressive’s. The purpose of a noose or a swastika is to suggest and exaggerate a reason for fear: We are here in the shadows, and there are more of us than you think. In fact there are probably fewer than they think, but the media and the “campus activists” do everything in their power to say otherwise. Is the object, in the end, to raise awareness, or to terrorize—and to feel good about oneself at the same time?

A postscript: In the end, the Review did decide that it had identified the culprit, a disgruntled former staffer. The evidence wasn’t enough to file a criminal complaint, but when I contacted the individual in preparing this book, he didn’t respond to confirm or deny the paper’s suspicions. We may never know the truth, but I can say that at any given time the Review is more “diverse” than the campus as a whole, and a lot drunker, and that makes it a fairly dangerous place to try one’s hand at cultural insensitivity.

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