A string of racist graffiti last fall at Eastern Michigan University prompted a plethora of reactions.
Students marched and protested. Administrators lamented, lectured and produced programs. They carted out the requisite psychological counseling.
A year later, a suspect: Former student Eddie Curlin – who is black.
Turns out the incident, made to appear as if it came from white supremacists, was more than a horrible hoax. It was another in a sad series of cynical and successful attempts to divide Americans more than we already are.
It’s no less reprehensible than actual racism.
The unfortunate episode highlights what has become at once a national pastime and a national crisis: a penchant for overreacting.
To nearly everything.
In an age of instant communications, and snowflakes, safe spaces and “trigger” words that set people off – as well as an odd impulse to believe the absolute worst in each other at the drop of a hat – we must be very careful and judicious in our responses to what we see and hear.
Overreacting has become one of this country’s biggest problems.
The president tweets recklessly. The media respond breathlessly. Say the wrong word at the wrong time and you’re a bigot or fascist or insensitive or worse. Somewhere a cell phone spies what appears to be an outrage. It may not be fair – what happened before the video is never captured – but it’s available to a waiting world in mere seconds.
The search for victims and victimhood is as endless and fruitful as a beachcomber’s quest for seashells. Something always seems to wash up.
Arthur C. Brooks noted in The New York Times that author Robert Hughes had predicted all this in 1993 – as perhaps many of us did. Brooks writes that in Hughes’ book Culture of Complaint, “he predicted that America was doomed to become increasingly an ‘infantilized culture’ of victimhood. It was a rant against what he saw as a grievance industry appearing all across the political spectrum.”
Infantilized? You be the judge: A new verb making the rounds among 20-somethings is “adulting” – the act of being a responsible adult. UrbanDictionary.com uses it in a sentence: “Jane is adulting quite well today as she is on time for work promptly at 8 a.m. and appears well groomed.”
Moreover, consider: Who overreacts better than a toddler?
“Unfortunately, the intervening two decades have made Mr. Hughes look prophetic,” Brooks writes.
As a society, we’ve only recently begun to give most true victims their long-belated due. But as psychologist David J. Ley writes, there’s a danger in going too far.
In short, overreacting.
“For many years, victims have been bullied, shamed and blamed, which worsens the effects of their experience,” Ley writes. “Unfortunately, in a swing to the opposite side, victimhood has now become a protected class in our society, a trend fed by well-intended, but potentially harmful, therapists, activists and daytime talk shows.”
With 24-hour news holes to fill, ubiquitous cameras and phones, a hyper-reactive Internet and more, our ability to react has outpaced our responsibility to reflect. All this immediacy means we’re often quicker to respond than to reason.
We need a national chill pill – and maybe a little more faith in each other.