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Stop Inventing Racist Bogeymen

A bogeyman is an imaginary evil spirit. It’s a scapegoat, a phantom enemy on which to blame your problems. In Orwell’s 1984, the bogeyman was Goldstein, an imagined fiend presumed responsible for every evil that befell the subjects of Airstrip One. In Orwell’s Animal Farm, the exiled pig Snowball becomes the same scapegoat, a convenient stand-in for blame games.

Unhealthy societies always need a scapegoat. They need a convenient target on which to pin their anxieties and at whom to vent their rage. It’s a diversion, a deflection; it prevents the ruled from training their gaze on those who are truly to blame for their problems. And no, I don’t mean the rulers.

In today’s society, despite the corruption that plagues our government, the overwhelming majority of human beings are still at fault for their conditions in life. If you have not achieved success, this was not denied you by some external agency. No, “systematic racism” is not holding you down. No, “the patriarchy” is not preventing you from excelling in your career. No, you are not “unsafe” because you heard an opinion you didn’t like. No, an army of white supremacists and Nazis and racists of every stripe are not trawling the streets of America, setting black women on fire and lynching black men.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: There aren’t enough “white supremacists” in the United States to fill a football stadium. There are real neo-Nazis, yes. There are real white supremacists, certainly. They are so few in number, so rare in actual fact, that you will probably go your whole life and never encounter but one or two of them. There are so few of these people, and they have so little influence, that they will never become a substantive factor in your success or failure. They will never impact your life as a white person, as a person of color, as a man, as a woman, as any demographic in the United States.

For example, I once indirectly encountered a white supremacist operating out of Auburn, New York, who distributed pamphlets I took to be for a grassroots firearms rights organization. That white supremacist sent me a series of increasingly strident mailings, to the point that I became concerned. I contacted the local FBI, who were well aware of his activities. They suggested I write a polite letter explaining that there had been a miscommunication and that I was not interested in his organization. I did so, and the mailings stopped. I never heard from this person again. The tone of the FBI agent to whom I spoke was anything but concerned. I took their nonchalance to mean he was of little concern, and that turned out to be the case.

To hear the media tell it, white supremacist racist Nazi monsters lurk everywhere, in every city, in such great numbers that President Trump is convinced he can dog-whistle racist conspiracy theories at them and then sail to electoral victory on the strength of their vile voting bloc. This is, of course, ridiculous. There aren’t enough neo-Nazis and white supremacists active in the United States to win a city council seat, much less a state or national election. Let me repeat myself, in case you’re still under the opposite impression:

There aren’t enough white supremacists in the United States for you to worry about them.

Of course, the media say otherwise. According to the media, white supremacists are everywhere. In this they’ve simply hit “find and replace” in the script they used in the early 1990s when discussing the “militia threat.”

There was never a right-wing militia threat in the United States; there were never a significant number of people belonging to militia groups; these were never a significant factor in US crime and violence rates. But just as our government has incorrectly and foolishly claimed right-wing domestic terror groups present a significant (or the primary) threat to our domestic security, so too do they continue to flog this “militia” nonsense.

There are so few actual racists in the United States — and here I come to my point — that people desperate to be victims of racism must constantly manufacture threats against themselves. In the past week we’ve learned of several major “hate crimes” that turned out to be simple hoaxes. Will the hoaxers face any consequences for their crimes? Unlikely. Laws are for little people and Republicans; they are never for Democrats.

A black student at Texas A&M claimed he found racist notes on his car saying “All Lives Matter” and using the “n-word.” He wrote the notes himself. A chinless Oregon politician named Jonathan Lopez said he received a racist, hate-filled latter in late June. He wrote it himself. Then of course, there was the girl who claimed a quartet of Hawaiian-shirt-wearing white supremacists set her on fire with a magic lighter they tossed from one car to another, and which has since disappeared. That’s a hoax too, but we don’t have any word on it (and it has disappeared from the news).

If racism were occurring all the time, everywhere, and explained everything about the supposed oppression experienced by people of color in the United States, its victims would not need to manufacture it. If hate crimes were constantly being perpetrated by an army of racist white citizens, the victims would not have to fabricate these incidents.

Day in and day out, we are told that white people are bad, that black people deserve reparations, that a different set of rules and even a different national anthem should be played for people of color in the United States. Meanwhile, a woman is shot to death for saying “All lives matter,” and this is not news.

At some point, we are going to have to acknowledge that the racist bogeyman does not exist. At some point, we are going to have to acknowledge that the victims of violent crime are not, in fact, the people complaining loudest about it. And at some point, we are going to have to come to grips with the fact that a national narrative devoted to vilifying an entire demographic has serious consequences — unintended or otherwise.

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