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Blown out of Proportion

DISSENT

The staff position dutifully piles onto the pack of commentators who justifiably criticize the behavior of the University of Pennsylvania administration in the water buffalo incident. To be sure, free speech on college campuses must be vigorously protected, and restrictive speech codes are a very bad idea.

But the staff position ignores the more intriguing question of why so much media space was devoted to the water buffalo incident, why so many people discussed the story with such enthusiasm. Our guess is this:

People take a sick pleasure in finding out that some incidents of alleged racism really are nothing of the sort. People derive collective satisfaction when they learn that water buffalo are from Asia, not Africa. It makes them feel better.

After all, they reason, the racism they hear about may be just a figment of minority students' imagination. Regardless of the facts in any particular case, some people find it much easier to believe that Black sorority women were oversensitive than to believe that a white man made racist remarks.

Granted, hypersensitivity is a problem on college campuses, and charges of racism do fly with alarming frequency. Nevertheless, for every "water buffalo" comment that is blown out of proportion by minorities or by the media, there are dozens of "nigger" comments and genuine discriminatory actions that don't make it onto the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal or The Harvard Crimson.

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