Making false allegations of racism is egregious and morally bankrupt. We should reject demagogues who exploit and inflate racism for political gain.
Sixty-five years ago this month, there was a whiplash-level turning point in history. An exasperated attorney for the Army was tired of hard-charging Communist-exposer Senator Joseph McCarthy outing the names of alleged communists during a televised hearing. That lawyer asked the question many others were thinking: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?“
Communism was and is serious business. It was the executioner’s theme for millions murdered in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. McCarthy used that specter to punish his enemies and amass political power.
Many historians identify that moment as the first stumble in McCarthyism’s downfall. But McCarthy’s true blunder was shaming with too broad a stroke, as some accusations were well-founded. When the Iron Curtain tumbled down, official documentation emerged that verified what many suspected all along: there were Soviet spies in our government. So, if McCarthy was substantively correct, why did so many turn their backs to him?
My family’s name was on the line: Oberlin bakery owner: Gibson’s Bakery paid a high cost for an unfairly damaged reputation
By overstating the problem and overplaying his hand, he overlooked the need to be responsible with such an important topic. His credibility collapsed like a bad alibi.
History has arranged a similar pivot point to coincide with the anniversary of that incident. Earlier this month, jurors in Northeast Ohio called out a different kind of attempt to exploit a serious issue — racism. And it was Oberlin College called to account.
A $44 million mistake
The Gibson family bakery and store has served the Oberlin town and gown for more than a century. If students shoplift there, the store presses charge — without regard to skin color. Townspeople revere the family, now staffed by three generations of Gibsons.
In 2016, when three underage black students tried to steal alcohol from the store, an owner confronted them, which led to the students assaulting him. The students at Oberlin initially cried racism. Later, when they admitted guilt in court, they acknowledged the bakery’s staff had not acted in a racially motivated manner.
This happened right after President Trump’s election, when the campus was in full political pout. Despite no evidence of racism by the store, the already-agitated campus erupted in protests. The Gibsons were targeted with death threats and loss of business. Surprisingly, the college egged on the demonstrations, even after they knew racism wasn’t involved. College staff distributes flyers falsely alleging racial profiling by the Gibsons and ended a program where the bakery provided food for student dining. Emails showed some college administrators acting as irresponsibly as many students.
Battle for the quad: I was assaulted at Berkeley because I’m conservative. Free speech is under attack.
Unlike many tainted by false accusations, the Gibson family didn’t let these slanderous slurs slide. At a time when accountability seems like a quaint notion of the past, they sued and the jury ordered the college to pay $44 million in damages. It’s as if the jurors turned to college officials and their student cohorts and asked them, “have you no decency?”
The lesson? Making false allegations of racism is egregious and morally bankrupt.
Racism is a problem, but not in every heart
When I was a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, I worked on heinous cases where innocent people were abused because of their skin color. Racism is a sin against God’s own notion that we’re all equal and created in his image. It’s a genuine problem. Only the ignorant or ignoble deny this.
Yet racism does not reside in every heart, it cannot be found around every corner, and it has unquestionably lessened dramatically as America found its footing of fairness following the Civil War of the 1860s and the Civil Rights reforms of the 1960s. Only the ignorant or ignoble will deny that.
Sadly, Oberlin College’s actions aren’t unique. Their accomplices across America, and in grimy corners of the internet, regularly brandish false allegations of racism. Worse yet, they do it to punish enemies and amass political power. This despicably dishonors heroes like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King.
Just as Americans rebuffed the demagoguery of McCarthy when he exploited and inflated the indisputable problem of Communist infiltration to expand his power, we should reject those demagogues who exploit and inflate racism for political gain.
These jurors, imbued with common sense and common decency, may have activated the turn signal in what could be a national lane change in a country where — sadly — insults masquerade as logic and victimhood impersonates character. Like the man who called out McCarthy, they deserve our gratitude.
Mark R. Weaver is the author of the book “A Wordsmith’s Work” and he previously served as the deputy attorney general of Ohio. This column originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Twitter: @MarkRWeaver.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/06/30/oberlin-college-gibsons-bakery-racism-mccarthy-column/1597386001/