Inside the Fearful Conservative Mind: The Right-Wing's Latest Race Terrors
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The conservative media has invented a new terror in their imagined race war: hordes of black people coming after innocent white folks.
A while back Bill O’Reilly, the most watched TV personality on Fox News, ran a series of stories on what he suggests is a “racially motivated” attack on two white journalists in Norfolk, Virginia that he claimed was covered up by the local press. As Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins details, the facts reveal a different reality: a rock was thrown at a car, the occupants had an argument with a group of men and a fight ensued. The reporters were not severely injured. Although an unfortunate incident in a city that is struggling with violent crime, it was neither particularly noteworthy or an anomaly. In fact, the newspaper for which the journalists worked thought the event was a non-story. This did not deter Bill O’Reilly. He could frame the story as part of a national race war by introducing one fact--the victims of the assault were white and the perpetrators were black.
The National Review’s Thomas Sowell legitimated this narrative of a race war against whites in a column which circulated widely throughout the Right-wing media and blogosphere. There he listed a series of such assaults in major cities such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, which involved groups of young black people committing random assaults on pedestrians, robbing people of their cell phones and Ipods, and fighting on beaches and in malls.
These narratives of white victimhood at the hands of blacks have even gained traction internationally: the London based Daily Mail recently featured a story about a white man who was attacked by a black gang of “twenty hooded youths” outside of a pub.
Once more, instead of a story about random street crime in major cities (something all too frequent), white racial anxiety is used as the connective tissue tying these disparate and unrelated events together. As Sowell observes,”What the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress is that the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places.” Apparently, in the conservative imagination there is a nationwide plot and a scheme to silence white pain and anger as they are made the targets of systematic, brutal, anti-white racism.
The Conservative media’s race war narrative falls apart when one encounters the facts. In an effort to stir up white anxiety, these stories ignore that violent crime in the United States has been declining for decades. Oftentimes, these mob attacks are either random street crimes or actually a byproduct of long standing feuds between the participants and victims. And looking to context, most crime in the United States is intra-racial and committed by family members, friends, and associates. And o ne cannot generalize from aggregate crime statistics down to the probability that a given person will commit a criminal act.
Nevertheless, the conservative media keeps up the drumbeat of alleged black on white crime.
History matters. The conservative media’s suggestion that the country is in the midst of an anti-white race war does not come out of the ether.
While these fears were born in slavery and Emancipation as a means to justify white terrorism against people of color, there are many noteworthy examples in the near past as well.
Up through the first half of the 20 th century, The New York Times featured many news items about “giant negroes” who would attack police, any innocent white people nearby, and have to be brought down by overwhelming police violence. In an eerie foreshadowing of the conservative media at present, The New York Times archive also contains stories with headlines such as the following: “Mobs of Blacks Retaliate for Riots”; “Negro Mob Terrorizing the Citizens of Jacksonville”; “Negro Mob in South Shouts for Lynching”; and “Negro Mob Killed Sheriff.”