Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Self-inflicted hate crime prediction

In addition to the annals of academic impostors, there is another fascinating related phenomenon of late modern universities that I follow, and that is the self-inflicted hate crime. The first such incident in my files is the woman at Claremont who vandalized her own car, but there is also the Columbia noose incident, the Princeton incident in which a student improbably beat himself up, and then this little-noticed event in Connecticut last year. Maybe there are others? I would love to know about them.

Like Ivy League posers, these people are impostors of a sort, and their stories are almost always the same: they just wanted to raise awareness of what they perceived to be pervasive but frustratingly invisible or unnoticed bigotry against some minority group - blacks, women, gays, conservatives, whatever - by giving that bigotry a shockingly visible face. It's just like performance art for social justice, only the part where it's discovered that they committed the hate crime themselves has an annoying tendency to detract from the art's didactic effect on the audience. Still, between hate crime perpetration and perpetrator discovery, there is usually enough time for administrators to orchestrate a very cathartic period of campus solidarity, in which students express great trepidation about their security, what with haters in their midst. Who knows what else such a twisted mind might be capable of? After the discovery of the hoax, those most swept up in recriminations rarely just let go, but instead insist that this has been an important learning experience about the poisonous consequences of bigotry, regardless of the fact that no bigotry has actually taken place. This is all capped off by ritual insistence that the self-inflictor of the hate crime is to be pitied rather than punished, just like the Ivy League impostor, because he must be suffering from some sort of mental imbalance that drove him to such extremes of conduct. Well, maybe this special condition will find its way into the next DSM. But until then (and let's be real, probably after then as well), Miss Self-Important will persist in laughing at these people and the campus performances they instigate.

Now there is Oberlin's supposed student chapter of the KKK: 
The incidents included slurs written on Black History Month posters, drawings of swastikas and the message “Whites Only” scrawled above a water fountain. After midnight on Sunday, someone reported seeing a person dressed in a white robe and hood near the Afrikan Heritage House. Mr. Krislov and three deans announced the sighting in a community-wide e-mail early Monday morning.
Cue the usual cries of fear and insecurity, the self-flagellation, and the campus-wide assemblies and cancelled classes. Now, Miss Self-Important is of course willing to eat her words if proven wrong, but she's going to go ahead and predict that this will be another self-inflicted hate crime for her files. The vandal will turn out to be some activist type from (judging by the demographics of the students quoted in the NYT piece) suburban Boston who was fed up with the lack of racism to fight on a campus where everyone is already against it, and the KKK outfit will turn out to have been a figment of the witness's imagination, or some guy in a white jacket. Because really, there are probably more Bengal tigers prowling Oberlin's campus than living, breathing KKK sympathizers.

UPDATE: Oh, nevermind. Everybody has already beaten me to identifying this predictable series of events.

UPDATE II: Some googling unearths a bigger cache of college hate crime hoaxes from Inside Higher Ed, plus the perfect illustration of the "it's still a hate crime even if it's actually not" insistence of administrators:
But one should not discount these incidents, even if they are set up, some officials say. Regardless of whether a hate crime actually occurred, the fact that a student would feel compelled to fake one points to a whole other set of problems beyond just crisis response. “As an administrator, those are the kinds of things I’m really sensitive to – what are the students saying – because even if it’s not true, the perception is their reality,” said William L. Howard, assistant vice president of academic services at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. In other words, while a student’s method of calling attention to perceived prejudice may be flawed, that perception of prejudice still exists. “If you say, ‘This is not an issue on my campus,’ and a student has an experience that is counter to that, you have to listen to them.”


Andrew Stevens said...

Here's one that I remember vividly for your files. At the time, the General Counsel for the University was in my historical fantasy baseball league and I tried to convince him this was almost certainly a hoax, but he didn't listen until the police proved me right.

It seems to me that the major clue if something like this is a hoax or not is actual evidence. If somebody gets beat up and claims the attacker(s) shouted verbal slurs at him/her, this is likely to be true. But if they wrote the slurs on the victim or carved them or whatever or left behind other symbols which leave no doubt it was a hate crime, it's probably a hoax. Real hate criminals are rarely so anxious to leave behind evidence. When real bigots do write stuff down, it usually contains lame attempts at humor. Hoaxed evidence is virtually always completely humorless.

So, yes, the Oberlin incidents are almost certainly a hoax. We can hope that the police are more savvy about this sort of thing than the Oberlin administration, but then they almost certainly are. The reason these things are almost always caught is because the police tend to be very savvy about incidents like these.

Miss Self-Important said...

Thanks, filed. Though I'd like to see something about the fallout.

Well, the Princeton guy did manage to beat himself up, so it remains possible that such things too may be hoaxes, no matter how much they seem to violate the Hobbesian law of self-preservation. But in general, yes, I think the attempt at humor is a key point. Genuine racial incidents in the present usually involve insensitivity - white people throwing theme parties that upset minorities (at Chicago when I was there, an infamous "straight thuggin' party") and things like that. These people are not generally trying to be racist, because 100% of American college students agree that racism is bad, but they fail to imagine how their humor could offend. But outdated (though highly evocative) symbols of racism like nooses and "whites only" signs are not very plausible expressions of 21st Century college students' ideas about race.

Andrew Stevens said...

The Princeton case doesn't violate my general rule though. There was written evidence (email death threats). I am saying, paradoxically, that if there is clear evidence it was a hate crime, there's an excellent chance it wasn't. If all you've got is the victim's word for it and no corroborating evidence, the victim is very likely to be telling the truth.

Andrew Stevens said...

As for the fallout, Iowa was too sensible to hold solidarity meetings or cancel classes or anything like that. There was a not very well organized or well attended rally as I recall, but that was about it. On the other hand, coming only nine years after the Gang Lu incident, they were very serious about the bomb threat and stepped up security at the Dental School considerably until they caught the perpetrator.

Phoebe said...

Does this happen more on campuses than off? There was, for example, the Paris commuter-train hoax ( I haven't been keeping track of academic or other such cases as closely as you have, but yes, my guess would be this happens more often at colleges, esp. ones where there's some notion of a safe space made up of individuals hand-selected for their character.

Miss Self-Important said...

AS: Yes, I guess I agree with that rule of thumb. But I still think it's incredible that Pton guy actually beat himself up.

Phoebe: No, it happens in the broader world too, just like people pretending to be other than who they are or forging their credentials, but I am more interested in the academic incarnations I also think that the borderline hysterical response (campus protest, soul-searching assemblies, and the general cathartic overturning of business as usual) is particular to colleges and maybe other smaller, highly organized institutions like companies, because an entire city requires more than a few anonymous racist notes to go into hysteria mode. I think people actually have to die for whole towns and cities to get this agitated, so that kind of reduces the incentive to stage such crimes just for attention. Better to send racist notes than kill people for effect.

Andrew Stevens said...

Yes, I guess I agree with that rule of thumb. But I still think it's incredible that Pton guy actually beat himself up.

I think he hurt himself because of psychological issues (a la "cutters") and then made up the story to explain it.

Phoebe's Paris commuter-train incident is another clear sign of the pattern. The swastikas were a red flag it was made up (especially since the attackers were described as Arabs and blacks, very few of whom harbor a great love for the Nazis). Had I heard the exact same story without the swastikas, I would have believed it. The swastikas make the story implausible on its face.

The murderers of James Byrd and Matthew Shepard did not leave written notes with racial or anti-gay slurs around their bodies after killing them, because real bigoted criminals just don't do that. (Although they might have back in the day when they believed they were part of a silent majority, but that day is no longer here.)

Anonymous said...

This one was much in the news in Lincoln. Predictably, after she was exposed as a liar, the usual "fake-but-real" PC crowd ignored the lies and declared the incident was still "useful" in keeping us on the alert for demon white males.