The Long, Hot Summer of 2013?

Who could have imagined that the summer of 2013 would be largely dominated by stories about racial conflict? To be sure, today’s stories aren’t exactly like the original long, hot summer of 1967, when race riots burned sections of major American cities. And no one is getting lynched or barred from attending school.

Today’s race stories are odd in that they don’t seem to have much to do with race at all. First on the list, of course, is the George Zimmerman murder trial. The case was cast as one that was all about race, but it wasn’t, as the jury recognized. It was a case about a misbehaving teenager who had been suspended from high school for burglary and thought he was a tough guy, who made the mistake of attacking a man who was carrying a gun and beating him to a point where he was in fear for his life. The encounter would have ended the same way had Trayvon Martin been white or, like Zimmerman, Hispanic. And yet America’s “civil rights” leadership grabbed hold of the Martin-Zimmerman case like a life preserver.

Then there was the Riley Cooper case, where an NFL player, drunk at a country music concert, used the N-word, threatening to “fight every nigg*r here.” The world was horrified, and Cooper went into seclusion, not to mention “therapy.” But the truth is that the N-word doesn’t have much shock value anymore, mostly because blacks themselves (not all, of course, but way too many) use it all the time. You can’t listen to rap for more than few minutes without hearing references to “nigg*rs.” When broadcaster Hugh Douglas called a fellow ESPN personality a “house nigg*r,” Douglas was quietly dropped by ESPN, but otherwise the incident didn’t make much of a splash. (It is ironic that the altercation occurred at the National Association of Black Journalists’ convention.)

The low point of the N-word debate occurred when Rachel Jeantel explained to a white audience the key distinction between “nigg*r” and “nigga.” The latter apparently is fine in polite society; or in rap, anyway.

Race has been in the news during the last few days courtesy of multi-billionaire Oprah Winfrey. Interviewer Larry King asked Winfrey whether, despite being rich and famous, she still experiences racism. Oprah could have said, Are you kidding? Life is good, man–I’m worth nearly three billion dollars and people suck up to me everywhere I go! Instead, she told a tale about not being allowed to look at an expensive handbag in a boutique in Zurich because the sales lady assumed she wouldn’t be able to afford it.

But the story blew up in Winfrey’s face, as the sales lady in question vehemently denied that she had somehow discriminated against Oprah:

Speaking anonymously to Sunday newspaper SonntagsBlick, the Italian bag lady said she felt “powerless” and in the grip of a “cyclone” after Winfrey went on TV in America to claim she had been the victim of racism.

Winfrey was in Switzerland in July when she walked into the Trois Pommes boutique in Zurich looking for a handbag to match the outfit she was going to wear to old friend Tina Turner’s wedding.

She claims the sales assistant refused to show her the black crocodile leather bag because – seeing a black woman – she automatically assumed she would not be able to afford it.

Now the saleslady has hit back, stating: “I wasn’t sure what I should present to her when she came in on the afternoon of Saturday July 20 so I showed her some bags from the Jennifer Aniston collection. I explained to her the bags came in different sizes and materials, like I always do.

“She looked at a frame behind me. Far above there was the 35,000 Swiss franc crocodile leather bag. I simply told her that it was like the one I held in my hand, only much more expensive, and that I could show her similar bags. It is absolutely not true that I declined to show her the bag on racist grounds. I even asked her if she wanted to look at the bag.

“She looked around the store again but didn’t say anything else. Then she went with her companion to the lower floor. My colleague saw them to the door. They were not even in the store for five minutes.”

She emphatically denied ever saying to Winfrey: “You don’t want to see this bag. It is too expensive. You cannot afford it.”

The saleslady went on: “This is not true. This is absurd. I would never say something like that to a customer. Really never. Good manners and politeness are the Alpha and the Omega in this business.

“I don’t know why she is making these accusations. She is so powerful and I am just a shop girl.”

The sales lady’s denial seems credible; Zurich is one of the most international cities in the world, and an upper-end boutique there would see a steady stream of non-white customers from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, not to mention Americans like Winfrey. Oprah responded by saying, sensibly, that she was sorry she brought the affair up in the first place, and today tweeted:

Turns out that store clerk did me a favor. Just found out that bag was $38K!!! She was right I was NOT going to buy it.

But the bad taste lingers: why, exactly, does a mega-celebrity like Oprah Winfrey feel obligated to claim that she is a victim of racial bias?

Then we have the case of Alexander Poulides. If you don’t recognize the name, he is the guy who threw a banana in the direction of Baltimore Oriole center fielder Adam Jones. Jones took offense in a tweet, and many people assumed the banana represented a racial reference. The home team San Francisco Giants issued an apology on behalf of their fans. But Poulides says race had nothing to do with it; he was just disgusted that the Giants were getting clobbered:

Alexander Poulides has revealed himself as the man who caused the controversy this weekend, but says the reason for his actions have been misinterpreted.

“Oh, my god,” Poulides told the San Jose Mercury News. “I threw a banana on my way out.”

According to Poulides, he had no intention of throwing the banana towards Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones, who angrily tweeted about the incident on Sunday. The fan claims he threw the piece of fruit out of frustration, and it happened to land by Jones. The Giants lost the contest 10-2 and have fallen into last place, as they try to defend their World Series title.

Apparently when some people see a banana, the first thing that comes to mind is black people. That is not an association that would occur to me. Fans should never throw anything onto the field, but apparently if Poulides had hurled an orange he would have been in the clear.

And we haven’t even gotten to the rodeo clown.

What should we make of the fact that stories like these–some absurd, some not really about race at all–are being given so much attention in the press? I think the conventional wisdom, that self-apppointed civil rights leaders will seize on any purported manifestation of racism in order to stay relevant, no matter how minor or even non-existent such purported manifestations may be, is correct.

But I would go beyond that: I suspect that there is another reason why the press is so fixated on race these days. The left’s agenda is in tatters. Obamacare has crashed on takeoff, after five years of Democratic policies the economy is in the doldrums and we are nearly $17 trillion in debt, and the Obama administration’s foreign policy is is disarray. The Democratic Party, as represented by the press, desperately needs sideshows to 1) rally the party’s faithful, and 2) distract the rest of us from the failures of the liberal agenda. Thus, I don’t think it is a coincidence that liberals are doing their best to portray the summer of 2013 as more or less a replay of 1967. The silliness of the attempt is a measure of how out of ammo liberals are these days.

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