The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name
In Kansas City on Wednesday, "two older teens" followed a "13-year old boy" walking home from school. When the 13 year-old reached his front porch, the teens grabbed him, pinned his arms, poured gasoline on him, and set him on fire. The boy managed to pull his shirt off and pat the fire out, and the parents rushed him to the local children's hospital.
As seen on local TV news, although not obvious in the accompanying article, the parents are white. So is the boy. "We were told it's a hate crime," the boy's mother told the reporter. "They essentially followed him home, they told him he got what he deserved. He's 13 years old." Without the mother's reference to the hate crime, the viewer/ reader would have no sense that the attackers were likely of another, unspecified race.
Not surprisingly, the racially squeamish Kansas City Star did not include this story in the "Start Smart 10 hot topics" it sent out on Thursday morning. Nor could I find it among the 50 or so stories posted on the front page of its web site, several of which had to do with fires, like "KC Man accused of setting fire to friend's Habitat House." Of course, had the victim been a racial minority or gay, this would have been headline news locally or even nationally.
The cumulative effect of such routine suppression leads minorities, especially blacks, to think themselves uniquely victimized, and this kind of denial has been going on for a half century. This I know from experience.
Prey to the unknowable logic of motherhood, my mom chose to paste the newspaper account of my first official mugging in her scrapbook. I was "a 9-year old boy" at the time. As the Newark Evening News told the tale on page 19, I was returning home from the grocery store where I "had gone on an errand" -- a quaint notion -- when "three 11-year old boys" stopped me. One boy held his hands over my eyes while the other boys rifled my pockets. The trio then fled.
I reported the incident to my father, "Detective William Cashill of the Youth Aid Bureau," and then we "toured the neighborhood" until I pointed out the boys. The three confessed and were released to their parents' custody. End of story.
Not quite. As incidents like these became common in the neighborhood -- I stopped telling my parents about them -- our friends began to move out. The willfully blind media scolded them for so doing -- "white flight" they called it -- and created TV shows like "All in the Family" to memorialize the presumed paranoia of those who remained.
Eager for change, many of my old neighbors voted for Barack Obama. They hoped that the unspoken divisions would mend. Alas, they have not. The discourse has grown more dishonest, the accusers more shrill, and "hope" has gone out the window.