By Frida Ghitis
Updated 6:52 PM ET, Thu November 9, 2017
Frida Ghitis says the finding that an Air Force Academy prep school incident was a hoax doesn’t invalidate the message of Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria’s viral anti-racism speech
Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent Opinion contributor to CNN and The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
(CNN)Americans on the far right could hardly contain their excitement, judging by their effusive comments on social media. A widely publicized incident, which appeared to have been a hate crime, turned out to have been a hoax. It was time to celebrate for extremists, and for others who have joined President Donald Trump in claiming that anyone whose message they dislike is a purveyor of “fake news.”
The incident in question occurred in late October [sic, actually September] at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, when someone wrote ugly graffiti outside the dorm room of black cadets in the Academy’s prep school, scrawling messages including, “Go home N–.” In response, the head of the Academy, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, summoned everyone there for a stirring speech, a defense of tolerance and civility that quickly went viral. “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect,” he told them, “then get out.”
The speech has garnered well over a million views — and for good reason. It is a passionate defense of America’s true values. Everyone should watch it.
That remains absolutely true even after the school revealed this week that the offensive graffiti was written by an African-American cadet, one of the students it was supposed to have targeted. “The individual admitted responsibility,” has “received administrative punishment” and is no longer attending the preparatory school, according to the Academy.
In the porous logic of prejudice, hoaxes are leveraged to undermine any and all claims of racist attacks.
I was one of the people who wrote about Gen. Silveria’s speech and, not surprisingly, I was called upon to “retract” my article by a number of people on social media. But I find little, if anything, to retract in what I wrote. The news definitely demands updating the story. But I still believe the most powerful lesson from what occurred remains unchanged:
Silveria’s speech went viral because Americans are yearning to hear a message of inclusion and tolerance from their leaders. That is true no matter what caused the general to call an all-hands meeting that day at the Air Force Academy.
And it’s no secret why there’s such a hunger for principled, enlightened leadership. The reason is that the election of President Donald Trump lifted the rock under which much of the hatred had hidden, allowing it to squirm out into the light. …
Regardless of who wrote the racist messages at the Air Force Academy, Gen. Silveria’s message remains as valid today as it ever was.
… Far right groups like to dismiss all such accusations, brandishing the hoaxes as evidence that any person or organization with which they disagree lacks credibility. But there was no false reporting on the Air Force Academy case. Graffiti was found, a speech was given, and when the perpetrator was discovered it was reported. Gen. Silveria says his speech is as valid and necessary today as it was six weeks ago. He’s absolutely right.
Racists may rejoice in the discovery of a hoax. The rest of us can rejoice in seeing the message of tolerance and civility winning the battle of ideas.