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JEFF JACOBY

Faked hate? Lunenburg not the exception

WHEN A racist slur was spray-painted on the home of a biracial Lunenburg High School football player last month, the reaction was predictable.

Hundreds of neighbors attended a candlelight vigil in support of 13-year-old Isaac Phillips and his family. Politicians and civic leaders expressed solidarity. The Lunenburg police — assisted by the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, and the Worcester County DA’s office — opened an investigation. The school superintendent forfeited the football team’s remaining games and asked the Anti-Defamation League to provide educational materials for teaching tolerance. Editorials warned that “hatred and racism corrode communities,” and emphasized the need to “take a vocal stand against intolerance.”

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Then, after two weeks of eating their hearts out over the apparent bigotry festering in their midst, Lunenburg’s residents learned that the “hate crime” was most likely a hoax. The football team had nothing to do with the odious graffiti painted on the house, police said. Instead they suspect that the boy’s mother, Andrea Brazier, may have painted the racist taunt herself.

An act of hatred that turns out to be feigned? That too was predictable.

Media accounts describe Lunenburg residents as “stunned” and “floored” by the news. They shouldn’t have been. Faked-hate hoaxes happen all the time.

Some recent examples:

In a Jersey City prep school earlier this year, a black 16-year-old running for student council reported receiving racist text messages taunting him with the N-word, mocking him as a “slave” and “a waste at this school,” and warning him to “drop out right now.” In the sympathetic backlash that followed, the student was elected vice president. But police and school officials later confirmed that he had sent the venomous texts to himself.

Anyone seeking genuinely racist or misogynistic hate crimes in America today is likely to be disappointed.

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Oberlin College in Ohio cancelled classes in March after swastikas and vile racist graffiti appeared around campus. The supposed eruption of hatred at the noted liberal-arts school drew wide media coverage, but the perpetrators — caught in the act — turned out to be two progressive Oberlin students.

When a black Tennessee waitress didn’t get a tip from a white couple in September, she posted an image of their receipt online — with the N-word prominently written instead of a dollar amount. “This is what I got as a tip last night,” she wrote, commenting on “the low class racists of Tennessee.” A firestorm ensued; supporters sent the waitress more than $10,000. But the customers insisted they hadn’t written the racial slur — and a professional handwriting analysis backed them up.

By now there is a long history of hate-crime hoaxes; Lunenburg appears to be merely the latest example.

Hatred and bigotry really do exist, of course. Every society has some lowlifes and bullies. But by and large, America’s racist past is dead and gone. This is not a nation that conspires to keep blacks and women down, let alone to terrorize or humiliate them. Anyone seeking genuinely racist or misogynistic hate crimes in America today is likely to be disappointed. It is precisely because America is no longer steeped in racism that those who believe it is must resort to fakery. And even when they do, what is the result? Great outpourings of sympathy and solidarity — neighbors by the hundreds coming together in candlelight vigils, strangers donating thousands of dollars to a waitress they’ve never met.

With racial oppression vanishing from American life, being seen as the victim of racial oppressors can be a powerful source of acclaim and attention. That’s especially true on the left, where practitioners of identity politics insist on sorting people by groups — racial, ethnic, sexual, economic. Phony accusations of racism empower those whose identity revolves around a feeling of persecution. Oprah Winfrey recently told the BBC that such persecution will persist until older generations “bred and marinated” in prejudice and racism die off.

But as Winfrey’s own remarkable career attests, the old have already outlived the racism of the America they were born into. Today such intolerance is rarer than ever. Which is why the ugliest examples of hate crimes now routinely turn out to be hoaxes.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.
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