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The Scapegoating of Black Men

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In 1994, legendary comedian (arguably the emperor of comedy) Paul Mooney produced a comedic CD titled Race, considered a classic by many critics. The album was a bitter, unrelenting screed on America’s racial climate during the mid-1990s. One particular segment on the album was entitled “1-900-Blame A (N-word).” This was a response to several situations in which White people falsely accused Black people of committing crimes.

While ferociously funny and satirically amusing, it was a brutally honest take on the complexities, friction and fragmentation of the nation’s racial history. Almost a quarter of a century later, it seems that little has changed on this front. Last week, an 18-year-old White woman from Denison, Texas, Breana Talbott, was arrested and charged with a Class B misdemeanor for making a false report of being raped.

While lying about rape (a serious act of human violation) in and of itself is despicable, the fact is that Talbott did not stop there. Her lies got even more detailed. She brazenly stated that she was raped and assaulted by three Black men, and that was just the beginning.

The obviously disturbed teen inflicted wounds upon herself and had the audacity to run to a local church half-naked in a shirt, bra and underwear, screaming to the congregation that she had been raped and assaulted. Just think about it, running inside a church half-dressed and lying. This galling act of dishonesty prompted Black Twitter and various social media to call out Talbott and tell her about her dangerously wayward, sorry, racial-profiling self.

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, the amount of traffic on many right-wing websites as it relates to the real story has been notably muted. This was in stark contrast to the previous week when The Daily Stormer, Stormfront, and other alt-right and far-right blogs and websites engaged in all sort of standard racial invective in denouncing the supposed Black male perpetrators. The truth and reality of what actually transpired does not fit standard right-of-center or far-right narrative. The truth as they see it. The Denison Police Department posted a lengthy response to the unfortunate situation.

What was notable in the statement was the fact that police were apparently suspect of Talbott from the outset. Her story seemed to unravel rapidly day by day as the investigation progressed. The Denison Police Department is understandably furious that numerous resources were diverted and now, wasted, and other real criminal investigations were put on hold in an effort to solve supposed crime where there was, in fact, none.

The citizens of Denison, and in particular, communities of color, are enraged and rightly so. That being said, it is more important that some innocent Black men are not being unfairly prosecuted and imprisoned due to the fabricated story of some unhinged teenage White girl. Justice, despite the resentment that accompanied it, prevailed in this particular case.

Throughout much of American history, one of the most effective ways for a White person who had misbehaved or committed a crime to evade accountability was to scapegoat a Black person as the culprit. We have seen this sort of behavior manifest itself repeatedly. Two grossly perverse examples of this typical “the Black man did it” defense were witnessed in the cases of Charles Stuart and Susan Smith.

In the fall of 1989, Charles Stuart, a 29-year-old White man, brutally murdered his wife in cold blood, shot himself in the abdomen, and dialed 911 to report that a “raspy-voiced Black man” had shot him and his pregnant wife and then left them both for dead. A few years later, in 1994, Susan Smith allowed her car to roll into a lake in Union, South Carolina, to drown her two young sons. She then went on national television tearfully crying “mommy loves you” to her by now dead sons and wickedly pointed the finger at the mythical Black man “wearing a ski mask” who supposedly robbed her, forced her out of her car and drove off with her two children. Both cases drew intense media attention.

Racial tensions engulfed both Black and White communities. In Stuart’s case, a Black man named Willie Bennett was falsely charged with the crime. After several weeks and a confession brought forward by Stuart’s own brother to Boston police, Stuart jumped to his death from a Boston bridge as police closed in on him. Were it not for the albeit reluctant, yet admirable behavior of a sibling, Willie Bennett may very well be sitting in jail more than two decades later. Meanwhile, in Smith’s case, due to clever and skillful techniques of small-town law enforcement officials, she cracked under pressure and admitted to murdering her two children. What these two chilling examples provide today is proof of the alarming vulnerability of Black people (particularly Black men) to such irresponsible behavior.

To be sure, there have been Black and other non-White individuals who have concocted fabricated falsehoods and hoaxes against other people and they have, for the most part, been roundly and appropriately condemned and, in a number of cases, prosecuted for their irresponsible actions. No race of people have a monopoly on devious or deviant behavior.

That being said, when it comes to being accused of crimes, Black people, in particular Black men, more often than not are usually denied the benefit of the doubt and, rather, are routinely seen as “guilty until proven innocent.” Such attitudes and policy are the products of a nation deeply rooted in historical racial animus. Old habits are hard to break. Nonetheless, we as a supposedly ongoing and evolving society must make a valiant effort to rectify such reductive attitudes. Such dispositions have no place in 21st century America.

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