Opinion

If Motives Matter When It Comes To Hate Crimes, Why Not Blackface?

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Posted: Feb 25, 2019 9:35 AM
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If Motives Matter When It Comes To Hate Crimes, Why Not Blackface?

Source: (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Is anything worse than a hate crime? In today’s politically charged era, your first response will probably be “no,” but think about it for a second. What sort of hate crime are we talking about? For perspective, let’s pretend “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s claims are true, that two white Trump supporters really attacked him in that Chicago back alley, poured bleach on him, and even put a noose around his neck. We lambast the liberal media who were quick to pounce on Trump supporters, but even President Trump himself at the time said, “It doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned.”

Horrific for sure. Despicable. Disgusting. But even if the whole sordid tale had been true, does it get worse? How about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, when four Klan members planted and detonated the dynamite that killed four black girls and injured 22 others? How about when white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine and injured another worshipping at a Charleston Church in 2015?

So yeah, we know there IS “worse,” much, much worse. Obviously, there are differences between “hate crimes,” notwithstanding the tendency to cast the latest unsolved swastika drawing, noose sighting (both of which have around a 50 50 chance, if solved, of having been a hoax) or even back-alley fake beating as one step from the KKK parading in force down the streets of New York City to the cheers of adoring crowds.

But let’s take things another step. What if four Ruritan members had firebombed that church in 1963 because they were upset that the church’s leadership refused to allow them to conduct meetings in the fellowship hall? What if a handicapped lesbian Asian had attacked that Charleston church because one of its members looked at her funny before going in for worship? Would those victims be any less dead?

Such comparisons underscore the criticism many freedom-loving types have with so-called “hate crime” legislation and the sentencing enhancements that go with it. To prove such a crime, one must prove the underlying motives behind it, and putting one set of motives above another for something that is already a crime, with real victims, seems patently absurd on its face. Seems like some acts by themselves should constitute “hate,” no matter what the perpetrators’ alleged motives are. Is the victim of a shooting any less dead because they were shot for being the wrong skin color or for simply sporting a bulging wallet? Is a rape victim any more violated if the act occurred because of her skin color or simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Are the perpetrators of any violent crime not “haters,” if even for a moment?

But yet, here we are, living in a world where some crimes are more equal than others, where motives matter in determining punishment, even if the crimes are the same. 

Yet, progressives don’t always believe in taking motives into account, and for an explanation one need only look to another issue that has dominated recent headlines - blackface. Obviously nobody is arguing that blackface is ever OK today, but was there ever a time - say, two or three decades ago - when it wasn’t as taboo? And even then, should the motives of the transgressors matter at all? Not to the New Puritans. 

“But some things should disqualify people from public service — a Nazi salute, sexual assault, preying on children and, yes, dressing as a Klansman or in blackface — and it doesn’t matter if it happened 35 years ago,” wrote Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank on the case of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the controversial picture from his past which may or may not have shown him wearing either blackface or a Klan robe. After his initial apology, the Virginia governor later claimed he wasn’t actually in the photo that appeared on his page, but did admit to blackening his face to portray Michael Jackson once. Even so, Puritans like Milbank say he’s no longer qualified. 

Someone like Northam may consider it “unfair,” argues Milbank, considering his life of public service and devotion to being a good liberal, but it’s just the way it is. Northam and others - like Virginia’s attorney general, who joined the fun by admitting that he too donned blackface in the 80’s to impersonate a black rapper - have committed the unpardonable sin, and they should have hell to pay.

Interestingly, the New Puritans are still busily doing the Lord’s Work as they uncover one decades-old yearbook after another in an attempt to expose the devious miscreants who had anything to do with any pictures of anyone in blackface at any point in the past by anyone living today. Even USA Today editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll got caught up in the sting and was forced to issue an apology for having been involved in the production of a 1989 Arizona State yearbook that showed people in blackface portraying Mike Tyson and Robin Givens. Do you feel safer, now that her transgressions have been exposed? I know I do!

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Interestingly, CNN host Michael Smerconish lamented the Jussie Smollett hoax story, not for falsely slamming Trump supporters, but for taking away from the much more important blackface blasts-from-the-past that he thinks “should have dominated the conversation” (minus the well-known liberal celebrities who did it with zero career consequences, of course). Because finding out who liked Michael Jackson enough to impersonate him in the 80’s and publicly shaming them into oblivion is something the nation should totally be focused on.

Which again brings up the question - does motive matter? At all? Not to the New Puritans, obviously, at least when it comes to blackface and other politically correct mores. But should motive matter to the rest of us normal people? Is there a difference between, say, donning blackface to put down and make fun of black people, as has tragically occurred in our nation’s history, and darkening one’s skin to play a character during a time when it wasn’t universally considered the unpardonable sin it is now? Are we really at a point where we are, with a straight face, saying “no” in response to that question?

Today’s politically correct society has lost all sense of nuance. There are differences in “hate crimes” and even in the debate on whether the term should be used at all. There are also differences of degree on blackface and other politically incorrect sins.

But when it comes to motives, we’ve got it all backwards. The law should be blind when it comes to crimes against human beings, motives being used only to help determine whether the crime occurred. However, when it comes to ‘sinners’ who defy the ‘current year’ mores of political correctness, motives should matter, a whole lot. But they don’t, which says a lot about the impact liberalism has had on our culture.