The Harms Race: Hate-crime hoaxes and “counter-Trayvonism.”

Associated Press - A memorial for Delbert Belton

By James Taranto

Four “hateful text messages” appeared on the phone of a 16-year-old black student who was running for Student Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City, N.J. “We have NEVER and will NEVER have an (n-word) to lead our school,” read one of the messages, according to a report in the Jersey Journal:

The message went on to call President Obama by his middle name Hussein and used a racial slur in referring to Obama, a police report said. “We will never make that mistake again. Drop out right now . . .” it continued, a police report said.

Can you guess where this is going? The Journal reports that the unnamed student “sent the texts to himself, a school official confirmed last week.” (He lost the campaign for president, was elected vice president instead, and eventually complied with his own demand: “A source said he no longer attends the school.”)

This isn’t the only fake “hate crime” to come to light in the past week.

Last March, as The Daily Caller‘s Chuck Ross notes, administrators at Ohio’s Oberlin College shut classes for a day and held “campus-wide teach-ins focusing on racism and homophobia” after “virulently racist, anti-Jewish and anti-gay messages” appeared around campus and “a person wearing a hood and robe resembling a KKK outfit” was spotted “near the Afrikan Heritage House.”

The perpetrators in the Oberlin case, Ross reports, turn out to be “privileged Obama-supporting white kids.” One of them, Dylan Bleier, conducted a voter registration drive for the 2008 Obama campaign and belonged to a group called Ithaca White Allies Against Structural Racism (apparently he was from the upstate New York town where Cornell University is located).

Hate-crime hoaxes are of course nothing new; the practice goes back at least to 1987 and Tawana Brawley’s fraudulent rape claim. We’d like to draw a connection to a phenomenon that is new: what blogress Ann Althouse has dubbed “counter-Trayvonism.”

Althouse links disapprovingly to a item about a candlelight vigil for Delbert “Shorty” Belton. He was an 88-year-old World War II veteran, wounded at Okinawa, who was beaten to death in North Spokane, Wash. The suspects were described as black males between 16 and 19.

Counter-Trayvonism, according to Althouse, refers to efforts “to rebalance public opinion after the distortions that surrounded the George Zimmerman case” by “looking for incidents in where the killers are black and the victims are white . . . to undo the distortions.”

She thinks this is a terrible mistake:

Conservatives have rested on the principle of colorblindness for a long time, and they’ve taken abuse for it. Look at how left liberals abuse Chief Justice Roberts for writing, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” They consider that kind of talk naive (at best). They push the perceived sophistication of what Justice Blackmun said back in the first affirmative action case: “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way.”

Those are the 2 well-defined and socially presentable opinions in this country, and decent, sincere Americans have argued from these positions for decades. Now, we’re seeing some conservatives who seem frustrated by this taking account of race that’s been done on the left. They seem to think it’s a good time to spotlight violence committed by black people. This is not a good idea! It’s fine to mourn Shorty, but these candlelight vigils are intended to stir hearts the way hearts were stirred at the Trayvon Martin demonstrations. . . .

To stir hearts counter-Trayvonistically is to nurture feelings that white people are oppressed by black people. This alternative to colorblindness is profoundly stupid. 1. It abandons the easy to express, principled position that many people perceive as the high ground. 2. It steps into the arena of taking account of race, where the left liberals would love to take you on. And 3. It gives air to the white supremacists among us. These people have been outcasts for a long time, but they exist, perhaps not quite yet recognizing what they are.

Our first reaction on reading this a few days ago was to agree enthusiastically, particularly with that first point. We are an exponent of the colorblind view and are no more comfortable with counter-Trayvonism than with Trayvonism.

But on further reflection, we have some doubts about points 2 and 3. To begin at the end, we’d say worries about “white supremacists among us” are overblown. The impulse behind counter-Trayvonism seems quite the opposite of a supremacist one. It imagines whites to be in an inferiorposition to blacks–“that white people are oppressed by black people,” as Althouse herself puts it.

In that regard, it is in fact the mirror image of the contemporary liberal view of race. The left does not advocate black supremacy. Instead it asserts that blacks continue to be victims of oppression and are owed special treatment as recompense. Hence the parallel between counter-Trayvonism and fake hate crimes: While the murder of Delbert Benton was real and the St. Peter’s text message was fraudulent, both were presented as synecdoches of racial oppression. Trayvonism, counter-Trayvonism and fake hate crimes all arise out of the perverse aspiration for victim status.

We are also dubious of Althouse’s assertion that counter-Trayvonism plays into the hands of the left. That seemed right to us at first, but then we saw some of the reactions from the left–particularly one from Josh Marshall, proprietor of

Marshall complained last week that “the right-wing racial resentment-o-sphere has been aghast about the horrific murder of Chris Lane, 22, a young Australian.” There are three suspects in that case, “two black, one either mixed race or white.” Actually, Marshall seems aghast too: “The really sociopathic nature of the crime was brought home by the fact that one of the accused assailants allegedly told the police, ‘We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.’ ”

What troubles Marshall, of course, is counter-Trayvonism–or, as he puts it, the “jagging about the ‘double standard’ when the same thing happens and the races are reversed.” He observes accurately that the Martin and Lane cases are actually quite different: Whereas Zimmerman was interviewed and released after shooting Martin, the suspects in the Lane murder were promptly arrested and charged with murder. Marshall does not note the other obvious difference: that unlike Zimmerman, Lane’s alleged killers do not appear to have any basis to claim self-defense.

Anyway, although Marshall makes some reasonable points, his tone is not a reasoned one; clearly he is agitated by the comparison. So is Brian Beutler, who wrote a similar piece the same day for We read this as evidence that the counter-Trayvonists have struck at a weakness, not a strength, of the left.

Most interesting, however, is Marshall’s concluding paragraph:

This is the part where this kind of article falls back to say, well, race is complicated. It’s not as simple as it was in the old days. But actually, it’s still not that complicated. This whole episode amounts to little more than another plea from the subsection of aggrieved white Americans who still crave both social dominance and and [sic] the seat at the front of the racial victimization bus.

Saul Alinsky’s fourth rule was: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” The counter-Trayvonists may ultimately be wrongheaded, but if they can provoke as conventional a liberal as Josh Marshall into disparaging “the racial victimization bus”–a colorblind sentiment if ever there was one–then perhaps they serve a dialectical purpose.


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