On Al Jazeera America, political science professor Jason Johnson discusses recent media scrutiny of GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson’s biography.
When you have a town of people with bite marks on their butts, nobody likes the boy who cries wolf. And that’s how the black community generally reacts to anybody who cries about a racial incident who turns out to be lying. There are so many scars and welts from real racial incidents that we are baffled that anyone could be so callous. Lies like these damage our credibility to others (White folks) who will NEVER believe us again when we claim housing/educational/employment or judicial discrimination.
The case of University of Virginia student Johnathan Perkins is no different.
On March 31st Perkins claimed that while walking home from final call, two officers drove up to him, accused him of looking like a ‘suspect’ and proceeded to put him against the squad car while rifling through his wallet.When they found he was ‘innocent’ they followed him home to make sure he didn’t get into anymore trouble. As much as many black men would like to say they’re going to be Ice Cube from Higher Learning when it comes to racial profiling the reality is that most men do what they are told rather than risk getting beaten or shot by the local constabulary. As a 3rd year law student, Perkins figured the pen was mightier than the billy club and wrote a letter to the student paper detailing his ordeal which he hoped would ‘bring awareness’ to the issue of racial profiling at UVA even though he felt he “had no recourse” for dealing with the cops other than a letter.
After his editorial appeared in the Virginia Law Weekly on April 22nd the University of Virginia administration, hoping to not have yet another racial incident on campus, sprung into action. They spurred the local police to do an internal investigation as faculty and staff started asking questions. Even current President of the local NAACP and former Dean of African American affairs Rick Turner sought out Perkins via email to give him support.
“Look, it disturbed, me, it really did that this intelligent young man, a law student would say that he had no recourse. There’s always recourse, “ he said when I spoke with him. “The UVA police department, the president anyone. I just wanted to make sure he understood that.” But the email communication with Perkins was short lived. “He emailed me to say due to personal reasons that he couldn’t meet me for breakfast.” Turner said. It turned out those personal issues were the fact that Perkins story was unraveling.
As more questions started to be asked, Perkin’s story was beginning to make less and less sense. What street did this occur on? What did the policemen look like? Badge numbers? What time did this happen? Eventually Perkins stopped doing interviews with local press and finally admitted to making the whole thing up.
Needless to say many African Americans and others were angered, embarrassed and confused about why someone only weeks away from graduating from one of America’s most prestigious law schools would do something so destructive and bizarre. Not to mention the effect that his false accusation might have on the credibility of others who may come forward in the future.
Let’s be honest, this notion that “Now No ONE will EVER believe us” because one person lied is naïve and ahistorical on so many levels. It is akin to saying that when one rape accuser is found to be lying that somehow puts all other rape accusations under a microscope. The fact is that the majority will believe what they wish to believe no matter what, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Rather than worry about how Johnathan Perkins’ lies are going to affect how certain white people view the black community, why not focus on what we need to say and do internally when these events occur? When a racial accusation turns out to be false the wisest course of action is to condemn the liar and then point out the context in which the lie was made and why it was believable to begin with. Does anyone believe that Skip Gates was a model citizen when dealing with that cop?Of course not, but we also know that any black man dealing with the police in Boston is justifiably on edge. Was everyone disappointed Crystal Mangum was lying in the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case?Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that conviction rates for black women accusing white men of rape is the lowest amongst any group in America.
There are other issues that are going to be dealt with regarding Johnathan Perkins. Since he didn’t file a police report, or cite any names the Charlottesville Police won’t press charges against him for accusations in a student newspaper. However, the oft-cited and deeply feared UVA honor code (lying cheating, or stealing results in expulsion) might still have something to say about whether he graduates or retains his degree. Moreover as a legal issue, how comfortable can the University of Virginia Law school be about graduating a future LAWYER who can so blatantly lie. I don’t want this guy representing me in court.
However, the lingering issue, of how we as black people deal with our own internal race hustlers can be changed. It’s time to stop giving so much power to the occasional man or woman who, usually in reaction to real racial animus, may fabricate or exaggerate a story that eventually blows up. They no more represent us as a people than Susan Smith represents whites, or Seung Hui-Cho (Virginia Tech killer)represents Asians. Johnathan Perkins is a guy who lied about a racial incident and got caught. The only indictment of the black community out of that is if we let his poor behavior shackle the rest of us for calling out injustice when it happens.
This article originally appeared in TheLoop21.com under the headline “How To Handle UVA’s Johnathan Perkins and Race Hoax Hustlers.”