The classic and perhaps officially inaugural example – and this is in no way to equate Richardson’s possible exaggeration with the extraordinary event that preceded it – is Tawana Brawley’s declaration in 1987 that it was kidnapped and raped by a group of white people and then left in the woods wrapped in a garbage bag, covered in feces and scribbled with racial slurs. The sheer wretchedness of that scenario was always a clue that Brawley staged the whole thing, which she was shown to have done. Report of the US Department of Justice conclusion that in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Officer Darren Wilson mercilessly shot Michael Brown despite his surrender, despite Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson. request to be effective.
White lacrosse players at Duke did not raped a black stripper at a party, even though 88 Duke professors posted a newspaper ad alluding to the lacrosse players committing the crime. And of course, actor Jussie Smollett’s story that homophobic racists wearing MAGA hats danced him for a few small hours and put a noose around his neck didn’t hold up. Nor is it a coincidence that the script sounds more like real life than something that happened in the TV soap opera “Empire,” in which Smollett stars.
Cases like these are not an eccentric one. It is painful to write that they are a pattern. Incidents can fill a whole book, and they have:Hate criminals Hoax“ by Wilfred Reilly, a Black political scientist, covers more than 400 cases mainly in the 2010s that were disproved or thought to be highly unlikely. It’s not that discrimination never happens. But the more extreme and macabre the story, the less likely I am to believe it.
That’s kind of good news. Today’s hoaxes are often based on claims of things that have actually happened to people and gone unpunished in the past. That nowadays such things are sometimes just fabrications, strangely enough, in real life progress has taken place.
My point is not to remotely ignore claims of racism. It is to be on the lookout for strange, ancient-sounding special cases. And so: Indeed, the racially insulting trash talk by Los Angeles City Council members that surfaced this week is serious, but so to speak, as the speaker doesn’t know if anyone else will listen. See, it’s normal, but it’s sad. That story doesn’t disprove my point, because it happens in a normal way, not a strange one. The grotesque, racist private talk certainly persists.
While we should always be fully aware that racism still exists, we must also be aware that not all claims of racist abuse are valid and aware of this. This does not disqualify one from being an anti-racist. True opponents know that Blacks embody the full spectrum of human traits and inclinations, including telling sublime stories — and yes, even on issues related to racism. .
John McWhorter (@JohnHMcWhorter) is an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University. He is the author of “Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever” and most recently “”Awakening Racism. “