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Acid attack hoax highlights history of imaginary black suspects…

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( News that Bethany Storro’s acid attack was indeed self-inflicted is beyond disturbing. It’s downright heartbreaking. And it’s not just because Storro is obviously sick.

What many news reports are obscuring in the wake of confirmation that Storro’s previously reported August 30, 2010 acid attack in Vancouver, Washington is indeed a hoax is the fact that it was so easy for most of the nation to believe that a black woman could so easily come up to any white woman and callously throw acid in her face.

Given that Vancouver’s black population is officially listed as less than 5 percent,. the odds that such an attack would indeed be executed by a black woman were highly unlikely to begin with. But how many news reports pointed that out?

But this country has a troubling history of assuming that black people, black men in particular, can so easily commit heinous acts against white people. Remember Bonnie Sweeten’s claim last year that two black men kidnapped her and her daughter? Or John McCain supporter Ashley Todd’s claim a year before that a black man attacked her and cut a “B” into her cheek in support of Barack Obama?

The truth is every year at least one of these stories captures the national media’s attention. And the reason why is deeply rooted in a subject our nation continues to ignore. In the public imagination, we are still not all created equal, even in 2010. Despite the fact that the United States is indeed becoming a more diverse nation, it is today a still majority white nation.

Being a majority white nation is not the problem, however. There is nothing inherent to a majority race that should hinder any minority group. Instead, the problem arises when certain minority groups, specifically African-Americans, have been purposely portrayed in literature, film and television as lacking the basic morals of the majority group. Even if that agenda was put in place several centuries ago, like an untreated cancer, it simply will not go away on its own. Without an aggressive plan of attack, it will never go into remission.

Although the infamous Willie Horton incident was not a hoax, the Republican party’s exploitation of the unfortunate incident of a black convicted felon raping a white woman during the 1988 presidential campaign that Ronald Reagan won fed into the national hysteria that all black people are to be feared. Notre Dame- and Brown-educated writer Anthony Walton identified the real problem in his August 20, 1989 piece “Willie Horton and Me” for The New York Times Magazine.

I don’t think, for good or bad, that in any other ethnic group the fate of an individual is so inextricably bound to that of the group, and vice-versa,” he wrote. “To use the symbol and metaphor of Willie Horton in another way, I do not think that the lives and choices of young white males are impacted by the existence of neo-Nazi skinheads, murdering Klansmen or the ordinary thugs of Howard Beach.”

Regardless of all the heinous crimes that have been committed by white people, male or female, there is not usually an automatic assumption that only a white person could commit certain crimes. Even though Timothy McVeigh was proven responsible for killing 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing April 19, 1995, initial speculation regarding the 2003 World Trade Center bombing culprits didn’t even consider a connection to white males.

How do we change such ingrained attitudes? When the next Bethany Storro emerges, will so many Americans be so quick to ignore the many odds against the likelihood of an African-American suspect and believe her until she is unequivocally proven to be untruthful? Most reports about the hoax aren’t even hitting at the real crime. Certainly Vancouver police Commander Marla Schuman’s statement that Storro “is extremely upset. In many ways, this got bigger than she expected” is not a good sign. We have to stop making it okay for people to assault the African-American image.

Yes, it’s sad that Storro was so desperate for attention that she would throw acid in her own face to feel important and she certainly needs help. It’s even more tragic, however, that year in and year out, just anyone can think of the absolute worst any human being can do and, time and time again, the finger points to an African-American face. More than likely, Storro will get the help she needs. The bigger question, however, is: will our nation ever get the help that she needs?

Written By Ronda Racha Penrice

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