Racism is on the verge of extinction in this country, judging from the latest evidence.
Science has no way to measure precisely how much is left, but it appears to be in such short supply that we're forced to manufacture an ersatz version to take its place.
Recently, three minority female students at Trinity International University outside Chicago received racist letters, including one that mentioned a gun. Students, faculty and administrators were shocked.
They should have been skeptical. Instead of being the deranged work of some angry white male, law enforcement officials concluded, the letters were fakes -- written by an African-American student who hoped the incident would persuade her parents to let her transfer to another school.
You would think those concerned about racism would breathe a sigh of relief.
Rev. Jesse Jackson somehow managed to convey that the fraud actually proved the presence of bigotry. "Racism, whether it is actual or manipulated, is morally wrong," he declared. "We must work to clean up the environment that makes such a hoax believable, a hoax that does harm to so many individuals and the institution."
Talk about blaming the victim. This was not "manipulated" racism, because there was no racism to manipulate: It was pure fantasy. And the "environment that makes such a hoax believable" is one that Jackson and many other black leaders have assiduously cultivated for decades.
Any institution that includes white people (Trinity's student body is 74 percent white and 13 percent black) is assumed to be simmering with barely suppressed prejudice against African-Americans and other minority groups -- which threatens to erupt at any moment. That's why just about everyone who heard the original allegation assumed that it must be true.
It would have made more sense to assume that it must be false. In recent years, there have been numerous instances in which students and even professors have invented racial threats or attacks. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that "since 1997, more than 20 such hoaxes have been confirmed or suspected." Tawana Brawley inspired a legion of imitators.
In 2003, a Latino freshman at Northwestern University reported finding anti-Hispanic graffiti outside his dorm room and being accosted by a racist attacker who held a knife to his throat. The campus reacted as campuses normally do: with shock, horror and a rally for unity.
A student government officer said, "It's our fault, it's all our faults. What are we doing, here at NU, to make someone feel comfortable about doing this?" One letter to the student newspaper said, "To eliminate racism, we must extricate it from the hidden, seething channels in which it thrives." In time, the supposed victim admitted he had made it all up.
Apparently, hatred was not seething or thriving in Evanston, Ill., after all. But no one was heard saying the hoax proved racism was not a widespread and serious problem at Northwestern. The assumption is that racism is a widespread and serious problem on every college campus.
Racial prejudice still exists in American society, but these are about the least likely places to find it expressed or excused. If there is any subject on which no one dares to raise a peep of dissent at a university, it's that bigotry against people on the basis of race, sex or sexual orientation is absolutely unacceptable.
But hypersensitivity, far from dissolving racial barriers, acts to reinforce them. Racial prejudice will never disappear entirely from college campuses, any more than sloth, lust, greed, envy or any other human vice will ever be eradicated. But when phony hate crimes become more of a problem than real ones, it's time to obsess about something else.