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Guest Commentary / September 20, 2022

The Perils of Crying Wolf

Three examples of late remind us of the folly of man as well as the problem of making false claims that have grown stale.

By Mark W. Fowler

Samuel Croxall, an Anglican churchman and translator of Aesop’s fables, wrote: “When we are alarmed with imaginary dangers in respect of the public, till the cry grows quite stale and threadbare, how can it be expected we should know when to guard against real ones?”

The good reverend’s observations are just as salient today as they were in his time.

To wit: Three recent examples of cries of racism warrant consideration. But let us begin with the observation that while racism has been a plague in this great nation, it can also be argued we continue to make progress in separating that chaff from the grain. Increasingly, black people have made and are making progress in many aspects of life. The list of names of accomplishment grows daily: Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, Ketanji Jackson, Ben Carson, Barack Obama, and Tim Scott are just a few of many who have reached their potential and ascended to the pinnacle of public life.

Three examples of late remind us of the folly of man as well as the problem of making false claims that have grown stale.

In November 2016, three Oberlin College students attempted to buy wine with a fake identification card and stole two other bottles from Gibson’s, a family-owned bakery. When confronted, they fled and were chased down by a store employee. One of the trio claimed they were victims of racism. Oberlin students, deans, and professors, in a demonstration of stubborn moral idealism unleavened by any interest in the truth, protested outside Gibson’s. Among other things, a college administrator handed out flyers proclaiming the bakery was a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination. For years, Gibson’s had served students at Oberlin College, but like other retail establishments, had been subjected to robberies and significant shoplifting by Oberlin students. The college, through some of its personnel, boycotted the business, and sales to the college dropped off. In the meantime, the three students apprehended over the shoplifting incident pleaded guilty and admitted that racial profiling played no role in their arrests. Indeed, Gibson’s had always enjoyed a warm relationship with the college. Owners of Gibson’s brought suit against Oberlin for the defamatory actions of the college and won a verdict in the amount of $36 million. Recently, having learned they had lost their appeal, Oberlin representatives demonstrated again their obtuseness by issuing a statement expressing their disappointment. In other words, having lost in the court system on the merits of falsely defaming Gibson’s, and having had that judgment reviewed on appeal, Oberlin continued to play the victim. The students who stole from Gibson’s and the administrators who joined in the inappropriate condemnation of Gibson’s did so in the hope that merely playing the race card would allow them to prevail. Fortunately, the student shoplifters and the administration had to face a court of law in which there was a forensic examination of their actions. In both cases, they lost. Oberlin might well have saved itself lots of money and lost prestige by simply admitting its error. This was not an episode motived by racial animus. It was motivated by a false sense of moral superiority. It was just as horrendous and morally repugnant as the behavior they falsely claimed occurred.

Recently, Rachel Richardson, a black starter on the Duke volleyball team, claimed that during a match with Brigham Young University, someone from the crowd persistently yelled racial epithets from the stands while she was serving. In the midst of an investigation by Brigham Young University, BYU went so far as to ban a special needs student in the stands who had a tendency to be vocal. At the conclusion of that investigation, not one witness claimed to have heard this harassment. Not one iota of evidence supporting Richardson’s claims existed on the video and audio tape. BYU concluded that there was no evidence substantiating this claim from coaches, students, or attendees present in the stands, including Duke University students and athletes. Duke officials, ever willing to signal their moral virtue, said they stood behind their student athletes, unlike their stand on the allegations against the Duke men’s lacrosse team that was excoriated for another alleged racial impropriety that never occurred. Neither Oberlin nor Duke administrators appear to have significant affinity for truth or justice or propriety. They are willing to signal their virtue at the cost of the truth.

Finally, the most vile and false claim of racism is the statement of Tennessee State Representative Antonino Parkinson. While a black teenager recently released from prison named Ezekiel Kelly terrorized Memphis, driving around the city and shooting seven, killing four, Rep. Parkinson took to social media to claim that if Ezekiel Kelly were found by the police, the police would kill him. “They are killing our children,” Parkinson cried. Two of Kelly’s victims were black. One was his childhood friend. Kelly was arrested without incident. In the same week, a black convict with a record of kidnapping named Cleotha Abston kidnapped and murdered a white woman, thus adding to Memphis’s grief. Both Abston and Kelly have appeared in court several times. There does not appear to be a so much as a scratch on them, and there are no media reports that either was mistreated on arrest.

No reasonably knowledgeable person denies that racism has played a sad, tragic role in the history of this or any other country. No one denies that racism still exists. But here are three examples of imaginary dangers that make stale and threadbare the claim of pervasive racial animus. Those pushing this argument make a lot of money trumpeting the claim of racism. Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones have sold many books peddling this concept. Rev. Al Sharpton launched his career on the false narrative that Tawana Brawly had been raped and abused by white men. Crystal Mangum attempted to avoid involuntary hospitalization by falsely accusing sexual impropriety by members of the Duke lacrosse team. She later wrote a book, capitalizing on her false accusations between assaulting boyfriends, one of whom died.

It is time to move past this. It is time to critically assess claims of racism so we can get on with the simple, but essential, task of knowing, understanding, and living with each other.

White people are not the greatest threat to the health and lives of blacks. Most black crime harms black victims, and black-on-white crime exceeds white-on-black crime by a factor of 10.

Let us see more clearly what the truth is. Having done so, let us do what needs to be done to heal.

Mark W. Fowler is a board-certified physician and former attorney. He can be reached at [email protected]

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