The Allure of Victimhood

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A repost of a 2015 commentary that feels appropriate at this moment.

Kean University in New Jersey is the sort of state school that I admire.  For generations, it has been educating immigrants and students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Its 12,000 undergraduates are ethnically diverse: 45.2 percent Hispanic and African American, 38 percent white and the rest mostly from other minority groups. The faculty is about 10 percent African American,  a rate most colleges would be proud to report.

In evaluations, Kean students consistently remark that they appreciate the diversity of their campus. So it was not surprising that on the evening of November 17,  about 100 of them were participating in a peaceful rally in support of black student protests at other colleges.

Then, around 10:30 p.m., a recent graduate — the school’s 2014 Homecoming Queen and former president of its Pan African Student Union — joined the group with distressing news.

She shared twitter posts that she had discovered by a tweeter called @keanuagainstblk.  There were 10 racist tweets.  Here are a few:

kean university twitter against blacks is for everyone who hates blacks people

KU Police, I will kill all the blacks tonight, tomorrow and any other day if they go to Kean University

Kean University there’s a bomb on your campus

Reaction

Students and school leaders naturally were horrified.

One student tweet:

@keanuagainstblk @kupolice HOW MUCH MORE DIRECT EVIDENCE DO YOU NEED? RACISM IS REAL,THIS IS A THREAT! ACT NOW!

Campus, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies immediately began investigations and strengthened campus security.  The school president urged students to come to school the next day, but many did not, which was understandable in the circumstances.

Within a few days, a group of black New Jersey ministers demanded the resignation of the school president.  One said this:

The deplorable death threat against black students on the campus of Kean University did not happen in a vacuum, but arose from a climate of racial intolerance that has been allowed to fester for years under this president’s watch.

Another said this.

While we should all be shocked about the threat that was made against black students, those of us who are familiar with the atmosphere at Kean and who have talked with faculty and students are not surprised this happened.  Just as the case at the University of Missouri,  President ______  has been tone deaf on the issue of race.

Again, all very understandable.

(Some in New Jersey earlier had urged dismissal of the president, who is not black, for other reasons — the near loss of Kean’s accreditation, a $219,000 conference table, his relationship with a major political boss — but his contract was extended for five years after those objections came to light.  It’s Chinatown, Jake.)

The Culprit

By now you have guessed who posted the offensive tweets.  It was the activist alumna who “discovered” them.

It appears that she left the campus rally, went to a computer in the school library, set up the twitter account and posted vile, racist tweets. Then she used them to foment fear and anger toward imaginary racists.

I’m not posting her picture or using her name.   According to news reports, she has been receiving death threats.  This may be true, but like the boy who cried wolf, she has said this before.  She now is accused of a third-degree crime for creating a false alarm.

I feel sorry for her, actually.

In manufacturing a hatred that did not exist, she embarrassed herself and damaged the credibility of a sincere group she hoped to help.  It was a cheat.

We hear often now of people, mostly young, who project racism, homophobia or sexual predation on others, usually people unknown to them.  They make up cartoon pictures of imagined enemies and then claim the mantle of victimhood.

Why would anyone want to be a victim?  There is more satisfaction, not to mention self-respect, to be found in facing real enemies and exposing them for what they are.

Note

One thing I did find distressing was this reported quote from a campus meeting following the announcement that the racial threats were false:

In response to other questions, (the) director of the African Studies Department called the threats a result of the fallout from the continuing racism in society.

“It does not matter that it was a black person who did this. This was all in the context of racism,” (he) said.

I disagree. What is needed is a commitment to plain truth.  Nobody argues that our racial problems are behind us, but similarly, nobody should conflate fake, manufactured racism with white racial animus.

We need to be better people here, all of us.

Update

A few hours after this repost, linguist John McWhorter published a more thoughtful take on l’affaire Smollet and its historical context in The Atlantic.

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