By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Oprah shouldn’t feel too bad that she initially swallowed whole Bethany Storro’s lying claim that a black doused her face with acid and then booked her on her show. Oprah, the Facebook crowd, the sponsors of planned fundraisers, and the thousands that sent sympathy letters and cards to Storro bought her lie too. Obviously they didn’t remember Charles Stuart, Susan Smith, and more recently Bonnie Sweeten and Ashley Todd. Whites who screamed a Black man did it to cover up murder.
There’s a long sordid history of whites screaming that it was a Black man that raped, assaulted, and robbed them to cover up their crimes, misdeeds, or carnal lust. The only twist in the Storro fantasy is that the alleged attacker was a Black woman. But gender is incidental here. Storro didn’t get a potential date on Oprah and worldwide outpouring of sympathy because her fantasy attacker was a Black woman, but an African American. Race, again, trumps everything in the public eye.
The wishful thought was that Obama’s election buried once and for all negative racial typecasting and the perennial threat of whites lying about being put upon by Black marauders, and in some cases, getting away with it. It did no such thing. Immediately after Obama’s election and months before Storro’s falsified attack, teams of researchers from several major universities found that many of the old stereotypes about poverty and crime and blacks remain just as frozen in time. The study found that much of the public still perceives those most likely to commit crimes are poor, jobless and Black. The study did more than affirm that race and poverty and crime are firmly rammed together in the public mind. It also showed that once the stereotype is planted, it’s virtually impossible to root out. That’s hardly new either.
In 2003 Penn State University researchers conducted a landmark study on the link between crime and public perceptions of who is most likely to commit crime. The study found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of Blacks with violent crime. This was no surprise given the relentless media depictions of young Blacks as dysfunctional, dope peddling, gang bangers and drive by shooters.
University researchers were plainly fascinated by this result. Five years later they wanted to see if that stereotype still held sway, even as Obama’s political star rose, and legions of whites said that they liked him, and would vote for him, and meant it. Researchers still found public attitudes on crime and race unchanged. The majority of whites still overwhelmingly fingered blacks as the most likely to commit crimes, even when they didn’t commit them. That’s especially important to say, since the fall back line on racial stereotypes is that to link race and crime is not to stereotype since blacks commit the majority of street crimes. The Penn State study found that even when blacks didn’t commit a specific crime; whites still misidentified the perpetrator as an African-American.
The bulging numbers of Blacks in America’s jails and prisons reinforce the perception that crime and violence in America invariably comes with a young, Black male and increasingly female face. And it doesn’t much matter how prominent, wealthy, or celebrated the black is. That stereotype is an idée fixee in much of America’s psyche.
While Black men are media-typed as violent, drug dealing gangsters, black women are typed as sexually loose, conniving, untrustworthy, welfare queens. Then there’s the popular public and media profile of the drugged-out, derelict black woman.
The notion is that these women are dangerous women. The police slayings of black women in some cities, the upswing in violent crimes by women, and Hollywood films that show black women as swaggering, trash talking, gun-toting, and vengeful stoke public jitters about these women. One in four women is now imprisoned for violent crimes, and half of them are black. http://www.prisonactivist.org/articles/women-prison
The relentless, non-stop race tinged battering of First Lady Michelle Obama by the endless pack of webbers, bloggers, and right wing talk show jocks for everything from her appearance to her trips is sad proof that black females are just as susceptible to racial mugging as black males.
The Storro debacle shows that much of the public still sees crime through narrow racial lens. But even that’s not the end to this sorry story. After Storro’s hoax came unraveled, she still got sympathy in some quarters. There was the obligatory mea culpa from her, a litany of friends, acquaintances and her parents, said how teary eyed remorseful she was. And police officials and prosecutors for their part seemed genuinely stumped or at least hesitant over what if any charges they’d file against Storro.
Is it any wonder then that Oprah and everyone else swallowed Storro’s lie that a black did it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter.