As Stalin, a leading authority on such matters, once observed, “A single death is a tragedy, million deaths is a statistic.”
This important but subtle distinction between major tragedies and mere statistics certainly arises during any examination of our decade-long discussion of “hate crimes,” especially those involving race or ethnicity.
As is well known, whenever a group of whites brutalizes or murders one or more blacks, the result is frequently an orgy of national hand-wringing and media attention. Such media coverage even sometimes continues unabated even if the crime wave in question is quickly revealed to be media fiction, such as was the case in the national “epidemic” of black church burnings back in 1996.
However, the reverse situation—in which a group of blacks attacks or kills one or more whites—tends to be virtually invisible to our national media, even when the actual details of the crime in question are equally or more horrific. This is true despite the fact that a casual glance at the data contained in any White Nationalist newsletter—or the federal Uniform Crime Report—reveals that these latter cases vastly outnumber those of the other kind.
A very similar distinction between major national news stories and mere local statistics may be revealing itself in unfolding events in Colorado, in which a long-time Latino immigrant-rights activist named Rita Montero is leading an initiative campaign to desegregate Colorado schools.
As I have mentioned previously, the wide lead that this measure, Amendment 31, had long enjoyed in public opinion polls has now been largely reduced to a dead-heat by a massive opposition advertising campaign, funded entirely by a somewhat eccentric white billionaire heiress named Pat Stryker, whose political contribution of $3M is far and away the largest in Colorado history.
As was also mentioned, the massive advertising campaign funded by that white billionaire seems intended to play on the unsubtle fears of white conservative voters, running visually-gripping ads featuring throbbing doomsday music while an announcer claims “We know that Amendment 31 will knowingly force children who can barely speak English into regular classrooms, creating chaos and disrupting learning.”
As the AdWatch column of the local Denver Rocky Mountain News column reasonably observed “The hint at a swarming immigrant horde threatening the educations of everyone else’s children is inexcusable.”
More recently, the multi-million-dollar advertising campaign has shifted to false allegations that the desegregation policies proposed by Amendment 31 would lead to huge additional costs for the schools and hence tax increases for Colorado’s largely white taxpayer base.
This rather spurious link between immigrant schooling and high taxes for whites recalls the
very successful tactics used by Gov. Pete Wilson in his 1994 California reelection campaign built around Proposition 187, which carried him to a landslide victory.
Now massive advertising campaigns intended to provoke fearful and base reactions among white voters may have obvious consequences, even if some of those particular consequences are not entirely intended by the billionaires funding the campaigns. Given these facts, we should not be wholly astonished at the breaking news stories now starting to appear in the Colorado media.
On Friday night, for example, Rita Montero’s car was fire-bombed outside her modest home in Denver, and the police have confirmed arson as the cause of the nine-foot-high flames. Added to the pattern of late-night menacing phone calls, garbage thrown into the yards of Amendment 31 supporters, signs torn down, and jobs threatened, Colorado seems almost to be bizarrely heading down the path of reenacting some television documentary of the desegregation struggles of 1965 Mississippi.
Even more troubling is the report that just days after a young Latina immigrant girl was shown on the local television news expressing her desire to be moved from segregated Spanish-only classes to regular classes with white students, the embarrassed Denver school in question did exactly that, but the white teacher in her new white classroom immediately burned her hand with the open flames of a Bunsen Burner, allegedly as part of a science lesson intended to teach her “how molecules expand.”
Although not seriously injured, the immigrant girl was certainly traumatized by the incident, as was her family, whose ambiguous immigration status left them unable to consider pressing legal charges against the school district.
Although district administrators have now publicly confirmed the reality of this shocking incident, they have taken no administrative action against the white teacher in question, and have declared the matter closed.
Perhaps coincidentally, Elaine Gantz Berman, President of the Denver Board of Education, is one of Colorado’s leading opponents of Amendment 31 and successfully persuaded her Board to unanimously oppose the desegregation measure in question.
Some of these unfolding events are discussed in the article contained below from Saturday’s Denver Rocky Mountain News, whose print edition carried photos of the charred remains of Ms. Montero’s car under appropriately large headlines.
I should note that the editorial page of that same paper strongly opposed Amendment 31, announcing its unexpected position just days after reporting the $3M donation, and has just published yet another editorial again urging a No vote.
Under normal circumstances, billionaires funding massive advertising campaigns advocating racial segregation and stoking immigration fears, advocacy soon followed by fire-bombings directed against immigrant rights activists and attacks on immigrant Latino students by white teachers might seems stories of considerable interest to our always ratings-hungry national media. But as yet, very little of this has been covered.
One exception was Friday’s strong editorial in Investors Business Daily, which I am attaching below. I am also attaching an excellent column on the nature of the Colorado No campaign by Al Knight, an editorial writer for the Denver Post, and a similar column by Mike Rosen, a local commentator.
As mentioned earlier, there is a huge historical difference between gripping tragedy and dry statistics. But sometimes that difference merely amounts to whether television camera happen to be pointing in a particular direction or not.
- Bilingual feud turns fiery
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Saturday, October 19, 2002
- Separate But Equal?, Editorial
Investor’s Business Daily, Friday, October 18, 2002
- Bilingual deception by Al Knight
Denver Post, Sunday, October 13, 2002
- Using the language of fear by Mike Rosen
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Friday, September 27, 2002
- $3 million donation makes big difference
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Saturday, October 12, 2002