We ought to wish for the day when a noose left hanging in a tree or the n-word spray-painted on a car is the extent of racial troubles in America.
Both are blatantly provocative and highly offensive, invoking the historical connection to gruesome lynchings.
But these outrages generally are also relatively easy to address. Cut down the noose. Clean up the vandalism. Find the culprit. Pat self on back for quick action.
Such flagrant acts can be distractions from more subtle and often more insidious issues.
This isn’t how racial hatred, bias and class differences play out in America. An act of vandalism isn’t what keeps people from getting hired, from being welcome in certain neighborhoods or from reaching their potential in education.
Prejudice is deft. Problems are more deeply embedded in societal attitudes, practice and policy.
Bear that in mind when judging Kansas State University in Manhattan.
As it turns out, it wasn’t an act of racial animosity that caused a young man to find his back windshield covered with phrases such as “Whites Only” and the go-to slur long hurled at African-Americans.
Dauntarius Williams, a 21-year-old black man, did this to his own car.
The legacy of Tawana Brawley visited the Midwest.
Brawley, a black teenager in New York, was aided and abetted by activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton. In 1987 she told a tale of being kidnapped and raped by white men over a period of days, saying that she’d been smeared with feces, and had KKK and the n-word scrawled across her body. In an even more outrageous twist, the accused were a district attorney and a police officer.
None of it was true.
And now, her name (which she no longer uses) is synonymous with fabricated stories of racial oppression and overreach by social justice activists. The episode did little to move people to address why the tale was so polarizing.
Sadly, the same now might be said of the K-State incident.
It’s not the first time that the administration was taken in by what only appeared to be an act of hate. In October, a display erected on campus for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot was found toppled.
Still, antisemitism is on the rise globally. The idea that it would infect K-State is not far-fetched. And that’s a truth that calls for more than a statement from the president’s office.
Likewise, the outcome of this most recent incident doesn’t indicate that everything is fine on campus. In May, a noose was found hanging from a tree on campus. In September, white supremacist flyers were tacked up on trees across campus. And an anti-gay slur showed up outside the student union.
But the K-State administration is likely breathing a sign of relief that Williams wasn’t a student (not our responsibility). And that the vandalized car wasn’t on campus (not our responsibility).
Because the incident amounted to a black man defacing his own property, there was no threat, just one very confused person.
How easy it would be if all the ways that people undercut others were so simple and so in-your-face. The real challenge is to respond to these acts, even the ones that prove to be hoaxes, and then go deeper, prod more introspectively, listen more intently.
The work would be nearly complete if every act of discrimination was a ready candidate for broad public outrage.