On The Psychopathology Of Racist Thinking
By Tim Wise
30 May 2007
it seems as if there are people who sit around, almost hoping for awful
things to happen, just so they can use these incidents, however tragic,
to make some kind of political point. So consider the evangelical preachers
who responded to Hurricane Katrina by claiming that the tragic inundation
of New Orleans occurred because God was mad at the city for its decadent
ways. Or even worse, Christian fascist Fred Phelps who argues that the
reason soldiers get killed in Iraq is because God is punishing America
for having tolerated homosexuality.
Then there are the right-wing
radio hosts who seemingly relish in terrorist attacks around the world,
so as to feed their fevered demands for an all-out war on Islam, or
who pounce on every crime committed by an undocumented migrant, as evidence
that we need to seal the border with Mexico. One has to wonder how folks
like this would make their case, were it not for the occasional drunk
driver who crossed the Mexican border without proper paperwork, and
then killed someone; or how they would hold the attention of their sheep-like
followers if al-Qaeda were to take a break from their terrorist proclivities
for a few years.
Lately, however, it has been
white supremacists and racists who have taken the cake when it comes
to exploiting tragedy to further their agenda.
Shameless but Predictable:
Racializing Tragedy at Virginia Tech
So, for instance, in the
wake of the Virginia Tech shootings (which certain liberals also exploited,
as a way to ramp up their rather simplistic, if still justifiable calls
for gun control), racists were using the catastrophe as evidence of
why America needed to be an all-white nation. On the message board of
American Renaissance - the nation's leading "highbrow" white
supremacist website, which prides itself on its academic and pseudo-scholarly
tone - one could read any number of racist comments in the wake of the
shootings. Among them, one writer noted, "This sad incident goes
to prove that non-whites, whether they be Asians, blacks, Arabs, Polynesians
or Mexicans are completely unfit for life in white societies and all
should be deported forthwith."
these crimes to be proof of the ‘third world's war of immigration'
on the U.S."
Another, basing his comments
on the early (and inaccurate) reports that the shooter may have been
romantically involved with the first female victim, proclaimed that
the entire incident was yet another example of a "multiracial relationship
ending in violence and death." Another, echoing that theme (and
ignoring the fact that over ninety percent of white women who are murdered
are murdered by white men), noted that the incident proved whites should
only date members of their own race, because they are "much less
likely to carry their emotions to extremes."
Others called for tight restrictions
or even outright bans on immigration in the wake of the killings, with
one proclaiming of Asians, "They are not white and they do not
add any major positives by being here; they need to go, just like all
the others!" Another took advantage of the tragedy to proclaim
her disdain for Korean dry cleaners, grocery store operators and landlords,
for presumably overcharging or refusing to rent to whites.
Ignoring that the shooter
had been in the U.S. for almost his entire life, one commentator, apparently
un-self-conscious about his own redundancy, exhorted: "The murderous
foreigner who murdered all those helpless people is just another example
of foreign invaders murdering our people and trashing our sovereignty."
Yet another proclaimed these crimes to be proof of the "third world's
war of immigration" on the U.S. - strange, considering that South
Korea is not a so-called third world country - and insisted that criminality
is genetically "innate" in "black and brown races."
One especially bizarre comment
on the AR site, from someone seeking to condemn gun control measures,
noted that murderers like Cho can find compliant victims in pacifistic
Amish country should they desire to kill a bunch of people: ironic considering
that just recently it was a white man who went into an Amish school
and massacred over a half-dozen young girls. Still others came close
to blaming the victims of the shooting for having chosen to attend a
multiracial school in the first place.
Exploiting a Double
Murder: Racists Allege Media Ignores Black-on-White Killings
But if a story about a Korean
American mass murderer is good for stoking racist hysteria, it pales
in comparison to a good black-folks-raping-and-killing-whites tale.
Nothing beefs up white rage and paranoia better than that, and sadly,
such a story recently came to light: a truly awful crime in Knoxville,
Tennessee, which occurred in early January.
According to the charges
in the criminal indictment, three black men in Knoxville carjacked and
kidnapped Christopher Newsom and his girlfriend, Channon Christian,
and were then joined by a female suspect at the home of one of the perpetrators.
Once there, the four raped both victims over several days, before murdering
them. Clearly, this was a horrible crime, and all thinking people can
agree that the perpetrators should face harsh punishment.
Unfortunately, for the professional
racists, like those who populate the message boards at American Renaissance
or Stormfront, this crime has become the stuff of a crusade: so much
so that they have actually sought to fabricate certain details of the
crimes, which the victim's families, and the county medical examiner,
as well as law enforcement all indicate are false. So, for example,
neo-Nazi groups have claimed that Newsom's penis was cut off, as were
Christian's breasts: details that are utterly without merit, but which
indicate the psycho-sexual hangups of the white supremacist types who
have made them up.
"There is nothing
at all to suggest the crimes were motivated by racial hatred."
To the racists, the murders
of Christian and Newsom prove that blacks are dangerous "animals"
who pose a mortal threat to whites, and the only reason the crimes haven't
received national media attention, to hear them tell it, is because
the perpetrators were black and the victims white. Presumably, if the
roles had been reversed, the crime would have been front-page news,
and on every network. As proof, they mention the way in which the national
press covered the dragging death of James Byrd at the hands of white
racists in Jasper, Texas, in 1998. Or even better, they note the coverage
of the rape allegations at Duke University, in which case the media
jumped all over a story that, in the end, wasn't even true. The reason?
According to the white supremacists, it was because the alleged rapists
were white and the alleged victim black.
Just yesterday I received
an angry e-mail from yet another one of these folks, who asked, regarding
the Knoxville killings, "Where be the Revs Al and Jesse (sic)?"
Answering his own question, he then insisted that the only reason they
weren't providing counsel to the families of the victims was because
the victims were white. Furthermore, the reason the NAACP and ACLU and
New York Times hadn't called for an investigation into the event, he
explained, was because the victims were white. And the reason the FBI
hasn't investigated the crime as a hate crime was for the same reason.
But although white supremacists
may try and score political points from this horrible tragedy, thinking
people shouldn't be taken in by their simplistic arguments. As for Jesse
Jackson, Al Sharpton, or the NAACP being involved in the case, why would
they be? These crimes were not, according to any available evidence,
based on racial hatred against the victims. So they are not the purview
of either man or the NAACP as a group, which deals with issues of racial
discrimination. To be angry with them for not getting involved would
be like asking, "Where's Ralph Nader?" Or for that matter,
"Where's Ross Perot?" Jackson and Sharpton don't visit the
families of most murder victims, of whatever race, because few murders
involve the area of specific advocacy for which both men are known:
namely, the area of race-based discrimination or mistreatment.
As for investigations of
the incident, the suspects are in custody, the D.A. is gathering the
necessary evidence for trial, and presumably is capable of investigating
all possible angles for these horrific crimes. There is nothing at all
to suggest the crimes were motivated by racial hatred, but if they were,
then surely the police department at the heart of the investigation
will be able to determine that. And if such information came to light,
there is little doubt but that the FBI would become involved. But until
the state investigation and prosecution of the suspects is completed,
it would be absurd to expect the FBI to rush in, to investigate the
possible prosecution of double-murderers as hate criminals. It would
be like having the feds rush in to prosecute a mafia don for embezzlement
in the middle of a murder trial.
Does Media Ignore
Uh, No, Not Really
With regard to the allegations
of racially biased press coverage, to suggest that this case has failed
to receive media attention because of the respective races of the perps
and the victims is absurd. Research has found that local news (which
is the source most of us rely on for crime information) over-represents
blacks as offenders, relative to their share of crimes committed, and
over-represents whites as victims, relative to the white share of actual
crime victims. Furthermore, on both a local and national level, media
tends to give more attention to violent crimes committed by blacks against
whites than the reverse.
There are several reasons,
besides racial bias, why a crime even as brutal as this might not receive
national news coverage. To begin with, very few crimes, including the
most gruesome homicides, make national news. There are typically between
12-15,000 homicides each year in the Unites States, and only a few become
fodder for national coverage. Of these, about 1200-1400 or so are interracial
(with only a few of these being apparently motivated by racial bias).
Of the interracial homicides, anywhere from 300 to 400 of these involve
white killers and black victims, (Homicide Trends, FBI). But very few
of these get national coverage, contrary to the claims of the racists.
James Byrd is actually the exception, not the rule, so conjuring his
case as evidence that the media cares more about black victims when
victimized by whites than vice-versa, proves nothing. The year that
Byrd was dragged to death there were 363 blacks killed by whites in
America, and the other 362 of them have names that are known to virtually
no one but their families.*
over-represents blacks as offenders, relative to their share of crimes
committed, and over-represents whites as victims."
Those murders that do receive
national coverage normally have some unique news hook: the perpetrator
is a serial killer, or the crime occurs in a public place, or involves
a hostage situation, or involves a mass killing spree, or involves the
violation of federal law and thus takes on national implications, or
perhaps the crime has some kind of political overtone. If we look at
some of the prominently covered national crime stories from recent years,
for example, we find several involving black perpetrators and white
victims. But in each case, some special circumstance attached to the
incident, thereby making what otherwise would have been a story with
only local implications, into a national event.
Consider, as just a few examples,
the Central Park Jogger rape in the 1980s; Colin Ferguson's shooting
spree on the Long Island Railroad in 1993; the DC snipers in 2003; the
beating of Reginald Denny by three African Americans during the L.A.
riots in 1992; the shooting of a judge and police officer, among others,
in Atlanta in 2005 by a black defendant headed to trial; and the shooting
of a young girl in a Flint, MI elementary school by a black child in
the late 90s, not to mention the OJ Simpson case. But what differentiates
all of these cases from the case in Knoxville, and likely led to them
receiving maximum coverage, is that each involved a special "news
hook" that made the incident relevant to a national audience.
So, for instance, the rape
in Central Park took place in a national landmark, where millions of
people from around the world visit each year. Had it occurred in an
alley in Greenwich Village, or somewhere in Akron, Ohio, for that matter,
it wouldn't have received the same attention, even had the crime been
every bit as brutal. Ferguson's mass murder shooting took place on a
commuter rail train, used daily by thousands of people, heading to and
from work. It also appeared to have a particular anti-white racial motivation,
so that it fit within a special news frame that a typical shooting incident
likely would not have. The DC snipers were shooting people randomly
in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland, and were on the
loose, making the relevance of the crimes to a large audience fairly
obvious. Denny was beaten in the midst of the Los Angeles riots, which
obviously were a major news event at the time. Not to mention, the beating
was captured on video. The shooting in the Atlanta Courthouse involved
the murder of a state judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy, and
a federal agent (after the killer, Brian Nichols fled), and the perp
was on the loose for a time, thus major coverage was to be expected.
The classroom shooting in Flint took place against the backdrop of a
string of shootings that had taken place in schools across the country,
and even though the specifics of the case were quite different than
the others - it wasn't a mass shooting, and it didn't seem to be the
result of a particularly premeditated or thought-out act on the part
of the shooter - it nonetheless wasn't surprising to see any school-based
incident such as this covered in the wake of several campus-based events
of that nature. And OJ, well, is OJ.
As for coverage of the rape
allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team, this story became
a national issue not because of the races of the various parties, but
because the supposed crime was claimed to have taken place on one of
America's most respected college campuses. Furthermore, the alleged
perpetrators were elite lacrosse players, making the details of the
supposed crime unique for any number of reasons. Had the crime been
alleged at a community college in Durham, or anywhere else, for that
matter, it is unlikely that the nation would have heard about it at
all. The economic status of the alleged perps is what likely mattered
here, as with Robert Chambers, the so-called "preppy murderer"
in 1987, or Alex Kelly, the rapist from upscale Darien, Connecticut,
who took off to Europe and stayed on the run for years, rather than
stand trial for his crimes.
And to suggest, as the racists
do, that stories with white perpetrators and victims of color automatically
receive national coverage is simply inaccurate: indeed, so much so that
one has to call into question the ability of such persons to do even
a modicum of research, beyond that involving clicking on their assortment
of bookmarked neo-Nazi websites. So, for instance, there have been several
recent cases of white violence against persons of color, which received
no national coverage.
"The idea that
white-on-black hate crimes automatically garner mass publicity is demonstrably
In late April, three seventh
graders in Highland, California placed a rope around the head of a biracial
child and dragged him around the playground at their school, while yelling
racial slurs. (San Bernardino County Sun, 4-26-07) Earlier that same
month, in Palm Springs, a neo-Nazi stabbed a black couple outside of
a Starbucks, in front of a crowd of two dozen people (Los Angeles Times,
4-6-07). In March, a black couple (one of whom was a pregnant woman)
was beaten outside their own home in Merrillville, Indiana, by two white
men who yelled racial slurs during the attack and later sprayed the
word nigger on their car (Chicago Sun Times, 3-28-07). In Elk Grove,
California, a black teen was attacked by five whites, one of whom ran
his car into the young man on his bicycle (Sacramento Bee, 3-7-07).
In February, two security guards in Stockton, California - one of whom
is Asian American and the other black - were attacked by white teenagers
who poured gasoline on the road, then lured the guards into the street
and threw a Molotov cocktail at them, in an attempt to light them on
fire (Stockton Record, 2-11-07). That same month, in Tarpon Springs,
Florida, a white man shot at two black men, hitting one of them, while
they walked down the road (St. Petersburg Times, 2-8-07). In January,
a neo-Nazi in Newport Beach, California attacked a black man in a wheelchair,
by pushing him into a lamppost (Orange County Register, 1-25-07). In
Bellevue, Washington, two white contractors attacked one of their black
coworkers and tried to gouge out his eyes (Seattle Times, 1-4-07). And,
in Knoxville, the same month as the murders of Christian and Newsom,
a group of whites shoved a black student's face into a bus window while
shouting racial slurs (Knoxville News Sentinel, 1-25-07).
None of these cases received
attention nationally, nor could they be expected to (except perhaps
the Starbucks stabbing), so the idea that white-on-black hate crimes
automatically garner mass publicity is demonstrably absurd.
Hysteria and Hypocrisy:
Using Tragedy to Condemn Entire Groups
But what is especially disturbing
is how white supremacists and racists use any case of black-on-white
crime to "prove" the criminal tendencies of African Americans.
Websites like American Renaissance, and neo-Nazis like David Duke regularly
report on any such crime they learn of, anywhere in the country, even
when there is no apparent racial motivation for the incident, as if
to say "see, we told you so - these people are a threat to whites
everywhere!" In other words, the criminal acts of a small handful
of blacks come to represent blackness in the minds of weak-minded persons,
the likes of whom are attracted to such sites and organizations. Lacking
the ability to think critically, racists assume that the roughly 5000
blacks who commit murder each year, do so because they're black, which
leaves one to wonder what it is about the other 35 million or so, also
black, who don't?
"The fact that whites
commit the vast majority of serial murders, and are responsible for
case after case of corporate misconduct hardly indicates some genetic
predisposition to these types of crime."
Racists such as this put
forward arguments using techniques that are exactly the opposite of
social science, and which instead resemble nothing so much as traditional
propaganda. After all, the scientific method begins with a hypothesis
and then examines all the evidence, for and against that hypothesis,
without presuming to know what the data will suggest in the end. White
supremacists, like the ones making such political hay out of the murders
of Christian and Newsom, begin with an unshakeable belief - black people
are dangerous and out to harm whites - and then find any evidence they
can that fits their hypothesis, while discounting all evidence suggesting
that their preconceived notions are nonsense.
But nonsense is exactly what
they are. Only about two percent (at most) of African Americans will
commit a violent crime in a given year, meaning that blacks who commit
crime, by definition are not typical within the black community. Likewise,
the fact that whites commit the vast majority of serial murders, and
are responsible for case after case of corporate misconduct hardly indicates
some genetic predisposition to these types of crime either. Not that
white supremacists would ever think to make that connection of course,
or to draw any conclusions about whites as a group, based on the acts
of a small sample of our community.
What racists demonstrate,
by virtue of their reactions to horrible crimes like those at Virginia
Tech, or the murders of Christian and Newsom in Knoxville, is that they
have no scruples whatsoever. Anything that can be used, however dishonestly
from an intellectual perspective, to further stoke white racial resentment,
fear and hostility, is good, from their perspective. These are people
who literally need white people to die at the hands of persons of color.
Without such incidents to help whip the masses into a state of racist
frenzy, their shtick only grows more and more tired. David Duke wants
to see white people victimized by people of color, as do the hate-addled
denizens of American Renaissance. If such crimes never occurred, they
would have a much harder time convincing whites of what they consider
the bottom line: the need to remake the U.S. into an all-white nation.
White supremacists care nothing for the victims of these crimes, or
for their families. They view both only through the distorted lens of
their venal propaganda needs. They should be ashamed. But of course,
they won't be. It's difficult, after all, to shame those for whom the
word has no meaning.
*Although it is true (as
white supremacists are quick to point out) that some of the white killers
in the FBI crime data are Hispanic/Latino, because government data tends
to lump them together racially, there is little reason to doubt that
most of the white-on-black murders in the data were "real"
whites, even using the racists' interpretation of the term. Even if
we assumed that a third of the 363 white-on-black homicides were committed
by Hispanics (a very high estimate), this would mean that 242 were still
committed by whites. Irrespective of the final count, the point is,
few if any of these crimes receive national media attention, despite
racist claims to the contrary. It should also be pointed out, as a side
note, that many of the whites killed that year by blacks were also Hispanic,
because the FBI lumps whites and Hispanics together in the victim data
for homicide as well. So, of the 841 black-on-white homicides that year,
many would have not actually involved victims who most would consider
is an antiracist essayist, activist and father. He can be reached at
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