Skip to comments.In the aftermath of a social disaster
Posted on 01/05/2007 7:56:09 AM PST by freespirited
DURHAM - Last April I added my name to an ad published in the Duke Chronicle. The ad said that we faculty were listening to the anguish of students who felt demeaned by racist and sexist remarks swirling around in the media and on the campus quad in the aftermath of what happened on March 13 in the lacrosse house. The insults, at that time, were rampant. It was as if defending David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann necessitated reverting to pernicious stereotypes about African-Americans, especially poor black women. Many black students at Duke disappeared into humiliation and rage as the lacrosse players were being elevated to the status of martyrs, innocent victims of reverse racism.
As it turned out, 87 other faculty members were alarmed at this distressing side-effect of the lacrosse incident and signed the ad. I am positive I am not the only professor who was and continues to be adamant about the necessity for fair and impartial legal proceedings for David, Collin and Reade while also being dismayed by the glaring social disparities implicit in what we know happened on March 13.
A team of distinguished athletes at an elite and highly respected university hired two local women to strip at a house filled with men (including those underage) who had been drinking too much. That's sleazy, to say the least. That those women were women of color underscores the appalling power dynamics of the situation.
As a professor at Duke, I felt shame when the media's account of the behavior in the lacrosse house came to stand for all Duke students and the institution itself. So many students, faculty and administrators here work hard to live down our unflattering old segregation nickname, "the Plantation." Yet after March 13, Duke again came to symbolize (seemingly for the entire world) the most lurid and sexualized form of race privilege.
The ad we signed explicitly was not addressed to the police investigation or the rape allegations. The ad focused on racial and gender attitudes all too evident in the weeks after March 13. It decried prejudice and inequality in the society at large. "It isn't just Duke, it isn't everybody, and it isn't just individuals making this disaster," the ad insisted.
The lacrosse incident is a textbook example of what Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson calls "social disaster" (a phrase used in the ad). "Social disaster" refers to complex power arrangements that underpin even minor events and give those events symbolic (and disturbing) meaning for society as a whole.
The lacrosse incident became one of the top news stories of 2006 because Americans saw the case as symbolic of many of their deepest social concerns. Race, gender, sexuality, class, athletics, the South, poverty, privilege, the younger generation: those are some features of the brew that captured the world's attention and fed its moral voyeurism.
Like the other faculty members who signed the ad, I constantly receive e-mails asking me to rescind my signature. Some people write out of real misery for their children, Duke students who are distraught that their friends may have been falsely accused and unfairly treated. They believe professors have sided against the lacrosse players, and they are outraged. If we had written what they suppose, we would deserve their anger. But we didn't.
I empathize deeply with these parents and friends. I regret the additional pain they felt when they heard about this ad. However, when I send them the actual ad, they are often surprised that it does not condemn the lacrosse players but focuses on larger campus and national concerns. I was touched, recently, when one mother concluded our thoughtful exchange by noting that she still didn't like the ad, but hoped that her daughter would have the opportunity to take a class with me someday.
On the other hand, most of my e-mail comes from right-wing "blog hooligans." These hateful, ranting and sometimes even threatening folks don't care about Duke or the lacrosse players. Their aim is to make academics and liberals look ridiculous and uncaring. They deliberately misrepresent the faculty and manipulate the feelings of those who care about the lacrosse players in order to foster their own demagogic political agenda. They contribute to the problem, not to the solution.
We are in the midst of a social disaster where 18 percent of the American population lives below the poverty line and a disproportionate number of those are African-American. We live in the midst of a social disaster where 30 percent of our students do not graduate from high school (making the U.S. No. 17 in the world). We live in the midst of a social disaster where women's salaries for similar jobs are substantially less than men's (and, as of this year, starting to go down again, not up). We live in the midst of a social disaster where we do not have national health care or affordable childcare. And we live in a situation where a group of white athletes at a prominent university can get drunk and call out for a stripper the way they would a pizza.
Who is that exotic dancer? A single mother who takes off her clothes for hire partly to pay for tuition at a distinguished historically black college. Of course the lacrosse story makes Americans of conscience cringe.
There is also a different kind of social disaster in this incident, one that we didn't know about in April. I refer to a prosecutor who may well have acted unprofessionally, irresponsibly and unethically, possibly from the most cynical political motives. If it turns out that Mike Nifong has no evidence (as he insisted he did back in the spring), he will have betrayed the trust of an entire community and caused torment to these young men and their families. He will have added greater skepticism at every imaginable level to an already shaky legal system.
Nor is it only the lacrosse players who will be marked forever by this case. Will future rape victims dare to step forward after such a spectacle? Will African-Americans with legitimate grievances be willing to demand justice in the wake of this public debacle? On every level, this has been a social disaster.
That is why I signed the ad. It is an educator's job to bring the lessons of history to bear as we try to understand the full and on-going social implications of what happened long before March 13, 2006, and will continue long after. Studying this social disaster must be on the lesson plan for our future, no matter what happens next in this miserable incident.
Yes - what we need is socialism - it has always worked in the past...
What a self-serving load of drek.
Commentary by KC Johnson:
Commentary by a Duke engineer:
At least the dirt-bag DA had a reason for his actions.......however sleazy.
The university administration and all the frickin High minded professors, screwed the Lacrosse team just in the name of political "correctness".. NO F___ING EXCUSE, WHATSOEVER.
How come socialism does not work in countries that are majority black?
Exactly! What a bunch of me-first, egocentric trash!
Cathy N. Davidson
Interim Director and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Ruth F. Devarney Professor of English Office Location: 203 JH Franklin Center
Office Phone: 919-684-8472
Email Address: email@example.com
Education and Interests:
Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Northwestern University
Ph.D., State University of New York at Binghamton
Cathy Davidson has published numerous books, including Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (Oxford, 1986; Expanded Edition 2004), Reading in America: Literature and Social History (Hopkins, 1989), The Book of Love: Writers and Their Love Letters (Pocket/Simon and Schuster, 1992), Thirty-Six Views of Mount Funi: On Finding Myself in Japan (Dutton/Penguin, 1993; New Edition with Afterword, 2006, Duke U Press), and, with Linda Wagner-Martin, The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995) and The Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States (1995). In collaboration with photographer Bill Bamberger, her most recent book is Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (Norton, 1998). She is General Editor of the Oxford University Press Early American Women Writers series, past President of the American Studies Association, and past editor of American Literature. She was Duke University (and the nation's) first Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies from 1999-2006, and is co-founder of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke. She is also the co-founder of HASTAC ("haystack"), the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory and on the Board of Advisors to the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation "Digital Media and Learning" initiative. Her current research interests include an essay on Olaudah Equiano and the controversy over origins, a MacArthur Foundation occasional paper on "The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age" (with David Theo Goldberg), and a study of the social and scientific history of learning disabilities. Cathy Davidson is also the Interim Director and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies.
Representative Publications (More Publications) (search)
"Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself". forthcoming.
Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory. W. W. Norton, 1997. (With photographs by Bill Bamberger)
"Critical Fictions." PMLA (Sept. 1996).
C. N. Davidson and Michael Moon, eds.. Subjects and Citizens: Nation, Race, and Gender from "Oroonoko" to Anita Hill. Duke UP, 1995.
C. N. Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin, eds.. Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States. Oxford UP, 1995.
"18 percent of the American population lives below the poverty line and a disproportionate number of those are African-American."
50% of African Americans drop out of high school. Of those left over 80% cannot read after all those years at school.
Should uneducated, un-moviated, lazy people live above proverity
And how hard can this be?
This is one of the most embarrassing essays I have ever seen coming out of a university, and I have seen a fair amount. Repeat after me, Professor Davidson: The victims in this affair are the falsely accused lacrosse players, not "misrepresented faculty" or the dancer who filed the false charges. Mr. Nifong, with a fair amount of early interference run by officials and faculty at Duke, has made their lives miserable. No son of mine would get away with ordering strippers while awash in booze, but that is stupidity, not a criminal offense.
It should be emphasized, and repeatedly, that there would be NO race problem at Duke, except that a politically ambitious DEMOCRAT DA wanted to create race problems to assure his re-election.
And each and every African-American in that district should be aware that the man they most likely voted for is a race-baiter who is more than willing to create race hatred against them for his political power.
They should be reminded, over and over again, that voting for Nagin is no different than voting for a Ku Klux Klan leader for public office.
As it turned out, . . .
. . . that is exactly what they were!
This "educator" misunderstands "the lessons of history" and should be condemned for using this incident to further her political agenda masquerading as scholarship.
I turned down a tenure track position at an urban university (almost 20 years ago) because I did not want to deal with such people almost every working day. It was one of the best career moves I ever made.
The Professor sounds like another white man filled with guilt that he was born white. He has no problem condemning White students.
These men who hired the stripper were pretty stupid ,but the strippers werent excatly brain surgeons either. This woman who was assumedly raped obviously had another show that night also. Somewhere she laid around and allowed at least 5 men to spray her with semen without penetration.None of this matched anyone at the first party. A real lady like thing to do.
She too is a University student,but I dont hear him condemning her or her University.
I think you mean't to say Nifong, not Nagin although the same arguement could be applied universally to both.
Everything is a "social disaster" to these guys. Why not just ask whether justice is being done? That's all we're talking about here.
That's sleazy, to say the least. That those women were women of color underscores the appalling power dynamics of the situation.
I think the young men are scum typical of what you'd expect to find in their situation but don't pull this power dynamics garbage. What if the whores were white? Don't you think that the ones making a business out of these actions are more to blame? At worst it's mutual exploitation and I don't consider that to be exploitation at all. It's greedy people who can't or won't involve themselves in healthy relationships.
No, you snivelling twit, the lacrosse incident became one of the top news stories of 2006 for the same reason that the Tawana Brawley incident became one of the top stories of 1987:
An ambitious politico (Nifong in 2006, Sharpton in 1987) took an outrageous, unsubstantiated allegation made by a lying, female member of the Black race against completely innocent males of the White race and made political hay out of it.
So sing the Jets! We all saw "Roots" and wrung our collective hands regarding slavery but living in the past is not the answer. Just ask Walter Williams and Sowell about the plight of Negros in American, (pardon the French!).
Why is the illegimatcy rate 75% in the Black community. Are they being denied values or have they chosen an "easy" lifestyle because they don't attend church and eschew family values?
Big problem that social disease!!!
'brainless lefty moonbat' hahahahha. You are too funny. I liked the 'blog hooligans' moniker myself. A nice by-line. Frankly, when I see the words 'social construct' and etc., I don't have to read further.
Interesting, tho, that the Moonbat 88 are in defensive mode. I suspect that they are about to be sued. Well, I hope.
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