Racial oppression is a one-way street

June 03, 2007|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

It always amazes me when white people put on the victim hat. As in victim of racial oppression. By any measure - health, education, economics, employment - white Americans enjoy a superior standard of living. If that's racial oppression, sign me up.

But still, one occasionally hears mewling noises from that subset of my white countrymen who feel put upon by big, bad racial minorities. This is one of those times. And Knoxville, Tenn., has become the capital city of that lunatic fringe.

It seems that in January, a young white couple, Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, were victims of a brutal crime. They were carjacked, kidnapped and raped. Cleaning fluid was sprayed into Ms. Christian's mouth. She was stuffed in a trash can and apparently suffocated. Mr. Newsom was shot and set afire. His body was dumped. Five blacks, one a woman, have been arrested.

The story made headlines around Knoxville. It was unnoticed nationally.

That has changed. A constellation of white supremacists and conservative bloggers has pushed the story into the national limelight as an illustration of their argument that the news media, constrained by political correctness, refuse to report black-on-white crime while pulling out all the stops when crime is white on black, as in the Duke lacrosse debacle. Me, I would see their Duke case and raise them a Central Park jogger, but what do I know?

Anyway, bloggers such as Michael Oliver have chastised the "liberal, biased, mainstream media" for missing the Knoxville story. He asked, "Had the roles been reversed, would the media ignore such a horrific crime?"

Truth is, media ignore horrific crimes all the time. Space is limited and growing more so. Which means the story that catches fire usually has some element beyond gruesomeness to sell it. In the Duke case, it was class, privilege, sex and race that did it.

Not that I expect Mr. Oliver or any other "oppressed" white person to pay attention to something so trivial as fact. They're too busy demanding that this case be tried as a hate crime - even though police say there's no evidence the couple were targeted for any other reason than that they were there. Recently, white supremacists held - I kid you not - a "rally against genocide" in Knoxville.

Black crime against whites is underreported? On what planet? Study after study and expert after expert tell a completely different story.

For instance, there's "Off Balance: Youth, Race and Crime in the News," a 2001 report concluding that blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in the news media as victims of crime and significantly overrepresented as perpetrators, based on crime statistics; newspaper articles about white homicide victims are longer and more frequent than those about black ones; and interracial violent crime is more likely to be reported even though it is just about the rarest kind of violent crime.

And here I'm obligated, because I'm black, to say that if the defendants in this case did what they are accused of doing, I'd be happy to see them rot under the jailhouse. Sadly, that needs saying because there are people who will not take it as a given.

But with that obligation fulfilled, let me add that I am likewise unkindly disposed toward the crackpots, incendiaries and flat-out racists who have chosen this tragedy upon which to take an obscene and ludicrous stand. I have four words for them and any other white Americans who feel themselves similarly victimized: Cry me a river.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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