"You're a racist." She spat out the words with a loud, gleeful disdain, making sure everyone around was aware of her discovery. "I am?" I wasn't surprised by her accusation. It had already come to my attention that this had been a favorite topic of hers. This was just the first time she gave me the courtesy of saying it to my face.
"Yes. You hate black people." This should get interesting, I thought.
"Really? I hate black people? What would ever give you that idea?" In similar encounters, I've found this simple question was often enough to render friendly slanderers incoherent.
"I've read your columns." Oh no, she'd found me out.
"Is there anything in particular I've written that is racist?" Perhaps my column about Christmas?
"Most of your columns have been racist." And to think I still have a job.
"I see. So it's your opinion that The Chronicle felt it needed to fill the racist niche on their editorial pages and that's why they hired me?" Maybe we should take it to the next level and host an annual Aryan-Socialist mixer.
"You just think you're better than everyone else don't you?" I can certainly think of someone I've got beat.
"I can certainly think of someone I've got beat." Like I said.
Now my skin, in addition to being somewhat pasty, is also very thick. I wasn't personally wounded by these remarks. On a moral level, I was disturbed by the private and public slander, by an accusation that was so grotesquely false and baseless; but sadly, it was far from the first time someone had created this paranoid illusion out of the simple fact that I'm a conservative. And, as in every case, the person couldn't, for obvious reasons, produce a single example of anything to offer even the remotest support for their fantasy.
In this case, however, I wanted to address a larger problem at Duke-the fact that people like this can, with relative impunity, accuse conservatives of racism and that secondly, their friends or classmates won't call them out on it. Usually, I'd be happy just making the slanderer look like a fool, which I can promise you, doesn't require much effort. But this time I wanted to address head-on this sort of racially delusional behavior which strikes all too many of our peers. Plus, she'd apparently already spread this dangerous fiction around to anyone she could somehow get to listen. So I explained to her:
"You've got a mental disease." In fairness, it was more of a condition than a disease.
"Excuse me?" What an amazing switch from defamatory to indignant.
"That's right, you have a mental disease. You're obsessed with race. You see everything in terms of race, and you see everyone who disagrees with your worldviews as a racist. And guess what? Almost everybody you've been talking to thinks something is wrong with you. They've come up to me and told me. They're just afraid to tell you what they think because they're worried you'll call them a racist." That should give her pause.
She then started asking other people in the class if they shared my view of her. They were tellingly silent.
Again, I share this story to call attention to a serious problem on our campus. I'm sure everyone's heard a friend or a classmate or a peer make the bizarre leap from knowing someone is a conservative to claiming he or she is a racist. Next time this happens, ask the person to support his or her position. They'll usually turn into a stammering mess.
We live in a society where a single accusation can lead to ruin. Indeed, we've seen on Duke's own campus, with the lacrosse scandal, how truly dangerous an environment of racial paranoia is. When people adopt the outrageous assumption that conservatives, or wealthy white people or successful white people have it in for blacks and other minorities, and we let that assumption stand, we not only do a tremendous disservice to our society in general but also very particularly to these minorities themselves.
If, say, a young black kid thinks that no matter how hard they work wealthy white people are going to hold them back, (which could not be more false; companies in fact often go out of their way to achieve diversity) it saps their motivation and has devastating results on their potential for success.
Yet, the Democrats continue to fuel the destructive vision of a powerful, racist white oppressor from which they need to protect black voters in order to keep their lock on that vote. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for instance, speaking to a black audience said that the Republicans ran Congress like a "plantation, and you know what I mean." It's one of a million examples.
Let's each do our own part on Duke's campus to break down this backward lie and not condescend to those who levy the false racist charge by letting it pass.
Anything short of that is a very real racial injustice.
Stephen Miller is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Monday.