Playing the Race Card

Today I want to talk about a common defensive strategy in our culture that is far more effective than it has any reason to be: diverting attention from misdeeds by blaming black (or in more recent times brown) people.

On October 25, 1994, Smith reported to police that her vehicle had been carjacked by a black man who drove away with her sons still in it. For nine days, she made dramatic pleas on national television for their rescue and return. However, following an intensive investigation and a nationwide search, on November 3, 1994, she confessed to letting her 1990 Mazda Protegé roll into nearby John D. Long Lake, drowning the boys inside.

I remember this event as it unfolded. And thinking to myself as I watched her sob story: why the hell would someone kidnap her children, she’s not famous there’s no ransom in it so what’s the motivation? But a lot of credibility was given to her story and a nationwide search commenced. Of course, the truth eventually came out that she had driven her car into a lake and drowned her children.

This phenomenon is so frequent, it has been given a name: the racial hoax. It leverages the stereotypes and implicit bias against minorities to make an assertion have more plausibility. Somehow saying “a black man did x” makes it more believable. Sadly this only works when X is something negative, like “a black man stood next to an SUV, punched it’s 6'5”, 250 occupant senseless, reached across his frame for his gun and when fired at charged at said occupant, pretending to brandish a weapon he didn’t have”. Somehow this story is believable because a black man did it. But say that “a black man performed the first open heart surgery in America” and people will look at you like you just said I was abducted by aliens.

I mention cases of white on black racial hoaxes, but this is actually leading to a “cultural hoax” if you will. In the weeks leading up to the Olympics we were told about the problems Rio, the host city, was facing: contaminated water, a failing infrastructure, and of course rampant crime. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Olympic to completion without crime marring the ceremonies.

Shortly after competing in the Olympics, swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed that he and three teammates were robbed at gunpoint while in a gas station in Rio. The truth came out and it’s been revealed, that the only crime committed was him and his drunken teammates kicking down a bathroom door and urinating on the floor and side of the building. In his “apology tour” Lochte says he “overexaggerated” and that he was “extorted” for money…for the damages he caused to the establishment. He did make sure that he high-tailed it out of Brazil — skipping the closing ceremonies — before the legal ramifications of his actions could catch up with him.

But for a minute, no one doubted his story. Even now you have people saying “well there is no tape so it’s his word against theirs.” And that is the power of the racial hoax: you leverage the implicit bias that people have against a culture to make them believe you over the person you’re accusing.

The sad thing is, you’d think it’d be like the boy who cried wolf. That eventually these claims would be scrutinized more. But reality is that the bias is too firmly held within our society and thus these wild claims will continue to be the ultimate race card in America.

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