creating an enemy

One of the more fascinating phenomenas we’ve witnessed as of late — and remember, “fascinating” doesn’t necessarily equate to good — is this quiet recognition of the benefits of having an enemy. Having an enemy gives us something to fight against. It inflames our passions… makes us rise up… calls us to action!

Or as Jakub Grygiel wrote in The American Interest in 2018,“The enemy provides an organizing principle for our strategy.” We “compete with them and defeat them — yes, of course.” But no doubt before that, “we can benefit from them.” And alas, we can benefit even if the enemy doesn’t really exist.

Look at how we justify talking about politics. It’s almost as if the tribes — I mean parties — encourage viewing the other as the enemy. That goes for the parties, Presidents, pundits, you-name-it. It oft seems they spend more time creating and condemning enemies than actually finding solution to the underlying problems.

The challenge then is that when our leaders resort to such dishonorable behavior, it begins to play out in other circles. Note, for example, what began to unfold last month on the college campus…

Duke’s volleyball team was playing against Brigham Young in Provo, Utah. Rachel Richardson, the only black starter on the team, said after the match that she was “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match.”

She shared this with her godmother, a criminal defense attorney, currently running for office in Texas, who then tweeted: “My Goddaughter is the only black starter for Dukes [sic] volleyball team. While playing yesterday, she was called a [n-word] every time she served. She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus. A police officer had to be put by their bench.”

Over the next two weeks, an enemy was created. The story went viral.

Richardson’s father spoke with multiple media outlets. In his interview with the New York Times, he described an alarming scene. Even though the racial slurs continued, his daughter just tried “to keep her head down and continue playing.” He added, “As the crowd got more hyped and the epithets kept coming, she wanted to respond back but she told me she was afraid that, if she did, the raucous crowd could very well turn into a mob mentality.”

In her own interviews, Rachel herself said that as the match progressed, the “atmosphere of the student section had changed,” growing “more extreme, more intense.” Increasingly more, then, we went after the enemy… 

LeBron James tweeted his emphatic support. The Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, released a statement of disgust. The University of South Carolina women’s basketball team cancelled their upcoming game in November. The Washington Post, CNN, Sports Illustrated, NPR, etc. each published pieces decrying the incident. Note MSNBC’s headline: “The racism on display at Brigham Young Friday fits a historical pattern.”

To their credit, BYU also quickly issued an apology, starting with “All of God’s children deserve love and respect.” Indeed they do. There is no place for racism and bigotry in a wise, thriving society. And not only did BYU apologize, they also swiftly banned the fan deemed primarily responsible from all university athletic venues.

There’s only one rather significant problem. As the weeks and investigation continued, zero evidence has been found of any of the above happening to Richardson or her teammates. There is no evidence of even a single slur. More than 5,000 people were in the arena that day. None of the big cameras covering the court or all the smaller cameras in people’s hands offer evidence supporting Richardson’s account. No one has acknowledged hearing any such utterance.

Let it be said that evidence could still be forthcoming, and again, in no situation should we be supportive of such disparaging behavior. Perhaps, too, Richardson genuinely felt unsafe, but didn’t have an accurate grasp of why.

But let it also be said: what does it say about our journalism when the sources rush to judgment with zero evidence or corroboration? And what does it say about what happens when we create an enemy? There are some reports that the young man banned is mentally disabled.

Fascinating, as well, no doubt, is that the journalistic source that broke the story that there exists no corroborating evidence was none of the media outlets mentioned above. It also wasn’t ABC, CBS, or NBC — none of the national outlets. No. It was the Cougar Chronicle, the BYU student paper.

Remember: fascinating doesn’t necessarily equate to good.