No doubt you know the story of the shepherd boy who cried “Wolf!” one too many times. He made so many false claims of danger that everyone ceased to believe him, and therefore nobody would help him even when he told the truth. This particular fable of Aesop came to mind as I read stories about a police investigation into a boy’s discussion of brownies, as well as a libel suit filed by an official of the University of Virginia against Rolling Stone for its demonstrably phony story of the non-rape of “Jackie” at a fraternity party never held, as reported at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/07/02/our-worst-nightmare-new-legal-filings-detail-reporting-of-rolling-stones-u-va-gang-rape-story/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_gp-rollingstone-630pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory.
Last week I posted on my Facebook blog, Crosswise on Politics, a link to an article about a boy in the third grade who allegedly made comments about brownies, prompting school officials to call the police to investigate him for racism. I say “allegedly” because the veracity of the report is now being questioned. One version of the story I reported on can be found at http://www.nationalreview.com/article/437306/new-jersey-elementary-school-student-brownies, and debunking efforts can be found at http://www.snopes.com/2016/06/30/collingswood-racist-brownie/.
But true or false, the story is widely accepted as plausible, perhaps because so many other examples of racism being attributed to the simplest of expressions can be found. For example, officials at the University of Missouri compiled a list of phrases considered racist “microaggressions,” which can be found at https://diversity.missouri.edu/summit/session-mats/can_we_talk-microaggressions_in_everyday_life-handout.pdf, including:
- “America is a melting pot.”
- “There is only one race, the human race.”
- “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
- “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they (sic) work hard enough.”
These statements may or may not be accurate. But to conclude that those who make them or believe them to be true are not merely mistaken but actually “racist” may cause several problems. Some may become too sensitive, seeing racism in word and deed, no matter how harmless or well-meaning. Others may decide that those who cry “Racist!” are merely crying wolf, and will ignore them even when descriptions of racism are accurate and reflect wrongs which must be righted.
This second danger, in particular, is well illustrated by the recent case in which a college student was convicted of raping an unconscious woman yet sentenced to only six months in prison, of which he will probably have to serve only three. The woman’s eloquent condemnation of both her attacker and the sentence he received won nationwide praise.
Nobody yet knows why the judge gave the convicted rapist a mere slap on the wrist; the judge is apparently forbidden from publicly discussing his decision. Some have speculated that the judge felt empathy for the rapist since they were both student athletes at Stanford. But it is also known that a woman(!) wrote to the judge urging leniency for the rapist, asking, “Where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.” See https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/08/stanford-sexual-assault-brock-turner-court-letter-apology for more details.
Whatever one thinks of this question, the fact remains that many are more skeptical of reports of rape on college campuses partly because of widely circulated stories of heinous rapes—at Duke University, at the University of Virginia—which proved to be false. In these latter cases, to cry rape was to cry wolf, and those who hear or read about too many false stories of rape will be less likely to believe accounts of rape, or at least minimize their seriousness, even when they prove to be true—to the detriment of the rape victim and the benefit of her rapist.
So those who make it their mission to warn us of race, rape, or other evils should heed the boy who cried wolf. Through his exaggerations and falsehoods he made life more dangerous for himself and his sheep. And those who see racism in every word or rape in every action may ultimately make it too difficult for the decent members of society to see real evils and take real steps to combat them.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.