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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Self-inflicted hate crimes, "normalized"

I've written here before about self-inflicted hate crimes, a phenomenon that seems to have become an even more popular activist tactic in the past couple years, and is now a wholly routine campus occurrence.  There is even an exhaustive website run (by some probable nut) devoted to nothing but chronicling these hoaxes. Two observations on the resurgent popularity of attacking yourself:

Is the term "hoax" to describe these performances really accurate? A hoax implies that the act didn't really happen, but was falsely reported to have happened. In these cases though, the "hate crimes" did happen - the racist graffiti was scrawled, or the posters posted - but their perpetrator just happens to also be their victim. The fact that the hate crime was actually perpetrated raises the question of punishment. This was especially clear in the U of C case a few years ago: while the perpetrator of these supposedly atrocious acts remains at large, students and admins talk a big game about the severe consequences that await him when he is caught. But once he is caught, talk of consequences quickly ends. By calling it a hoax, we imply that nothing actually happened, so punishment is irrelevant, when in fact the exact same act perpetrated by anyone else (or anyone outside the targeted identity group? I'm not sure how this has been treated in cases where the hate crimer targets others in addition to himself) would merit serious consequences.

One benefit of the term hoax though is that it does convey that the campus which inevitably launches into full crisis-and-protest mode as a result was duped. But by the time that becomes clear, no one seems to mind all that much.

The second observation is this: no one even bothers to find these events troubling anymore. Consider the most recent incident, at St. Olaf (Minnesotan liberal arts colleges of Scandinavian origin have been very active in this field recently): student finds racist note on her car, campus shuts down to soul-search, racist note discovered to have been written by student herself (which the article only brings itself to imply at the end). Fully one person quoted in this article finds this revelation "disturbing," but not disturbing enough to induce skepticism about similar future events. Everyone else agrees that it's basically not a problem at all, since "it’s started something good."

Now, of course, all these people who got worked up over fake threats want to avoid looking like fools when it turns out that they were, more or less, fools, so they have a strong incentive to emphasize positive things about these incidents - they brought our campus together! opened our eyes to our real problems! etc. Still, the extreme nonchalance of the people quoted by the MN paper is, I think, something new. It's not universal yet: when the source of the series of anti-Semitic threats to Jewish community centers in the US turned out to be coming from a Jew in Israel, American Jews, including many on the left, did express regret and wonder publicly about the dangers of alarmism. I didn't read very much that suggested that this guy had "started something good" for American Jews by falsely threatening to bomb them. But college campuses are more - shall we say - prone to hysteria and removed from reality.

One reason for this, I suspect, is that practically everyone on college campuses has internalized the arguments about the "structural" nature of racism and other -isms, not always in an entirely accurate way, and so has essentially bought what used to be the argument trotted out by self-inflicted hate-crimers, that they're only making real and visible (in the form of a lie) to others the otherwise invisible and hard-to-pin-down but deeply hostile forces that they feel around them all the time. What was once a completely absurd justification for an absurd crime has begun to harmonize really well with prevailing social theories.

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