The race card gets played both ways in this country

November 09, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

I am not sure why some people are so shocked that Susan Smith blamed the kidnapping of her two children in Union, S.C., on a black man.

I figure anyone evil enough to kill her own children is certainly evil enough to be a racist.

But in the aftermath of this sad and bizarre tale has come the accusation that the reason white America was so quick to believe Smith's tale was because a black perpetrator was allegedly involved.

In reality, however, I don't know many people who believed Smith's story. I didn't, and I told people so. What's more, I didn't believe it chiefly because Smith had accused a black man.

Figure it out: A black man drives off with two white children in a red car and nobody can find him? Not in the deep South? There are that many black men riding around with white children?

It never made sense, not to me and not to the police. Which is why they kept questioning Smith and why they did not do any general rousting of the black community in Union.

But is white America quick to believe evil of black people?

Yes. And many commentators, including DeWayne Wickham of USA Today, have given the same examples:

In 1989, Charles Stuart tells police a black man has shot him and killed his pregnant wife on a Boston street. The Boston police roust the black community, arrest a black man, but it turns out that Stuart committed the murder himself.

In Baltimore this August, a white couple is found beaten to death in their Guilford home and some in the community fear that a black person must have done it. The couple's own grandson, however, is arrested for the crime.

Now, after the Union, S.C., incident, Jesse Jackson is demanding that President Clinton call a national conference on racial justice.

But if such a conference is convened, another incident is sure to be included, an incident that conveniently has been ignored in all the stories I have read so far: the Tawana Brawley incident.

In November, 1987, Brawley, a 15-year-old black girl living in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., claimed that she had been abducted and raped by white racists.

After being missing for four days, Brawley was found outside her family's former apartment in a plastic garbage bag. Her body was covered with dog feces and "KKK" and "nigger" were scratched onto her torso.

Brawley's story about white racist attackers was widely believed by blacks and whites. The Howard Beach incident, in which a black man was run down by a car while fleeing a bat-wielding white mob in Queens, N.Y., was still very much on people's minds.

But in 1988, a grand jury determined that Brawley had fabricated her story. And a few years later, there was a fascinating and instructive book by a group of New York Times reporters about it.

E. R. Shipp, a black woman and a co-author of the book, said her first reaction after the grand jury verdict was: "Once the whites were convinced it was a hoax, Don [Terry, another black New York Times reporter] and I said: 'No, it can't be.' Through the years, many people have been telling lies involving race. Many black men were lynched and jailed on the basis of white women's lies."

But, through their reporting, Shipp and the others became convinced Brawley was lying, probably to keep from getting a beating from her mother or the violent man her mother lived with. And their book, published in 1990, was titled: "Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax."

As Shipp said, many people know how to exploit race. When Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual harassment on his way to the Supreme Court, he knew just what to say to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was the victim of the "high-tech lynching" of "an uppity black," he said.

It was like a bombshell going off in the committee room. The senators, all white, did not know how to deal with it, and Thomas was appointed to the court.

The race card gets played both ways in America. I am sure there are more black victims than white victims.

But anyone with an evil heart knows how to exploit the fear and resentment that exist in this country.

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