Americans witnessed new feats of misanthropy on Wednesday. A group of four Chicago men and women determined to stretch the bounds of digital decency this week when they kidnapped an 18-year-old man with special needs and tortured him on a video they promptly posted on social media. For 25 minutes, the victim—bound and with duct tape across his mouth, terror visible in his eyes—was verbally abused, threatened, and cut with a knife. The attackers, all of whom were black, berated their victim for being white and routinely spouted profanities about “white people” and President-elect Donald Trump. This sickening and remorseless display inspired in some not revulsion but a frenetic effort to prevent the country from reaching inconvenient deductions about the episode.
By 6 a.m. Chicago time, local police cautioned reporters that it was too early to determine whether the attack had any racial motive. By 7:45, however, police were certain that there was no racial motive and that the man who was abducted from a local McDonalds was targeted only because he had a learning disability. Investigators believe that the victim knew one of his attackers from high school, and may have accompanied his tormenters willingly. To claim, however, that there was no racial element to a video in which a white man is tortured and berated about his skin color while his attackers shout epithets about white people and the Caucasian president-elect beggars belief.
It has become a grimly predictable phenomenon of the Obama era that obviously racial crimes should not be acknowledged as such when the victim is of majority race, lest Americans infer from those events some dangerous assumptions about society. The Chicago attack, for example, compelled the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers to examine the myriad ways in which the kidnapping and torture of a special-needs teenager confirmed the views of Donald Trump’s supporters who irresponsibly believe white Americans are subject to persecution.
“If the attackers had been white and the victim had been black, the incident would have, of course, conjured America’s ugly history of white mobs committing violence against black people,” Brochers wrote. “There is no parallel history of the reverse happening on anything remotely approaching the same scale.” He added that, while evidence does not support the conclusion, the perception among whites that they are subject to increasing societal discrimination is on the rise. Borchers and others fail to see that their transparently frantic endeavor to craft a mitigating narrative around this gruesome attack reinforces the very preconceptions he contends are the product of a persecution complex.
Telling Americans that they cannot believe their own eyes for fear that they might reach an obvious conclusion is why so many have turned against what they call, for lack of a better term, “politically correct” culture. For millions of Americans, “PC” has become a vehicle through which the obvious is rendered unmentionable, and ambiguity is preferable to specificity and precision.
When it comes to episodes of racially charged violence or agitation in the Obama era, there is a strange incongruity to which the American left is utterly blind. In episodes like that which occurred in Chicago, Americans are asked to prudently reserve judgment. On the other hand, when the racial roles are reversed—as they often have been in the Obama era—the public has been primed to devote itself to a struggle session involving the examination of their implicit cultural roles in the rise of racial tensions.
This kind of racial awareness is not without merit. For millions of Americans who live in ethnically homogenous communities and never developed a sense of identity and a historical competency regarding racial tensions, the Obama years have been educational and clarifying. Being aware of the advantages or adversity resulting from accidents of birth is enlightening. Few things are made worse by open, comprehensive, and unashamed dialogue—race relations included. But those who can be counted on to demand a “national conversation” on race so rarely seek conversation. When those advantages of birth are deemed “privilege” and adversity becomes currency, it isn’t surprising that the dialogue around race becomes dishonest and, therefore, worthless.
Those who inexplicably find the torture of a white, mentally disabled man by four African-American assailants a fine opportunity to lecture Trump voters on their lack of proper racial consciousness aren’t without ammunition. A rabid base of agitators who deliberately and maliciously linked this attack to the Black Lives Matter movement without substantiating evidence did so to advance an agenda; not the truth. They deserve admonition, but so, too, do those reporters and activists who uncritically advanced the “hands up, don’t shoot” myth, which became rallying cry accompanying riotous mass violence following the arrest-related death of a Missouri teenager in 2014. To even contend that these are two sides of the same coin is enough to inflame a class of activists who prefers a one-sided lecture on race to an honest dialogue.
Troubling episodes of police violence targeting African-Americans is a legitimate cause for national consternation and an examination of the discrimination that leads to wrongful deaths. The same cannot be said regarding coordinated revenge attacks on police or, in this case, the grotesque proclivities of a group of race-obsessed sadists. When it comes to racial violence, the distinction between a trend and an isolated incident can often be found only in the minds of America’s newsroom editors.
The racial awareness that accompanied the Obama era began before the president took office and it won’t end after he leaves. It would serve the nation to engage in a thorough audit of the reasons why race relations backslid over the Obama presidency—a reality matched by majority public perception. There will be no such national conversation, though. We wouldn’t want Americans to reach the wrong conclusion.