- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

Double standards are dangerous. That said, this is not a rumination on affirmative action, racial profiling or the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Instead, it is about the American obsession with race and the ever-narrowing tunnel vision through which we experience it.

An array of race stories came out this week, and that's not even counting the 14th (no kidding) installment of a forest-decimating series in the New York Times titled "How Race Is Lived in America," addresses by George W. Bush and Al Gore to the NAACP, and the subsequent critiques of what the presidential candidates said and didn't say to woo black voters. (A Goreism for the scrapbook: "I have made more trips to Africa than I have to Asia.")

The Washington Times reported that investigators in the stabbing death by a black man of a white child, 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett of Alexandria, withheld information from their own police officers indicating racial hatred was a motive. Could this be because "hate crimes" a bankrupt notion that encourages society to place a greater value on the suffering of some are only supposed to happen to black victims? Consider a bit of apparently squelched evidence, uncovered last week by The Washington Post. The newspaper quotes a witness to the attack as saying the killer yelled to the child something "about hating white people before slashing his throat." Sounds pretty racist, if you ask a nonexpert. But don't hold your breath waiting for such race maestros as Al Sharpton to conduct a grand march. The hate-crime brigade at the Justice Department remains similarly unimpressed, awaiting more information.

Maybe the folks at Justice were too busy this week assuring Jesse Jackson they were doing everything possible to investigate the hanging death last month of a black Mississippi teen-ager. After Mr. Jackson's 90-minute meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno and other top officials, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the FBI and other agencies were "actively investigating" the boy's death. Not that Mr. Jackson or anyone else has offered an iota of evidence that indicates a hate crime or any crime at all. Indeed, as the New York Times reported, the autopsy, which led to a state medical examiner's finding of suicide, found "no cuts, scratches, bruises, wounds or other signs that [Raynard Johnson] had either been hanged by assailants or killed first and then strung up" from a tree in his yard. "But," the newspaper continued, "that has not kept Mr. Jackson from describing it as a lynching, or from repeatedly comparing it to the murder of Emmett Till," a black Mississippi teen-ager killed in 1955, apparently after whistling at a white woman. In the Shifflett case, evidence appears to count for nothing. In the Johnson case, the utter lack of evidence is a ticket to see the attorney general.

Consider another story. The publication this week of a photo of Christie Todd Whitman frisking a black male suspect while she was out on patrol with state troopers in 1996 has caused a media ruckus, prompting charges against the New Jersey governor of "insensitivity" to racial profiling issues, and maybe destroying what prospects she had for a spot on the Republican presidential ticket. Now, there's a cause Al Sharpton can get behind. Quoth the reverend, currently planning protests for the Republican National Convention: "They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It might be worth a vice presidential nomination."

While the news of the week produced no mirror image to the Whitman snapshot, take a look, via newsmax.com, at a 1997 photograph of the president of the United States rockin' out on stage in an Afro wig. Worth noting is that this picture (egregious for entirely nonracial reasons) will never lead to any clamor for political correction or apology as similar poses have in the past.

Also in the last week or so came one of those recurring apologies made on behalf of long-dead forebears to descendants of victimized groups. In this latest round, the management of the Hartford Courant took it upon itself to apologize for its ink-stained predecessors' practice of advertising the sale of slaves and the return of runaway slaves between roughly 1765 and 1823. Among the commentary this classifieds-culpa has provoked is a New York Times essay by history professor Eric Foner. Mr. Foner urges New York City, which profited greatly from slavery, to follow the example of two European cities, Liverpool, England, and Nantes, France, by acknowledging the city's slave history and exhibiting its artifacts. All of which may be well and good, but why not also urge those regions of Africa that were the very epicenters of slavery to do the same? That, of course, would require stripping off the blinkers, which it seems that Americans are dangerously reluctant to do.

Diana West's column appears in The Washington Times on Fridays.

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