In the last two months, the Group of 88 has adopted a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, they have (with the sole exception of Math professor Arlie Petters) defiantly refused to apologize or to even consider the possibility that their April 6 statement might have been ill-considered. On the other, they have fashioned themselves as besieged by “thousands” of anonymous racist or sexist e-mails. Duke administrators, including President Richard Brodhead and Provost Peter Lange, have accepted the second allegation at face value. Both issued statements condemning the e-mails—while also suggesting that such racist and sexist remarks occurred on blogs. (Neither Brodhead nor Lange, however, identified even one blog post that they considered unacceptable.)
In recent articles in the Chronicle and by AP, the Group has become dramatically more expansive regarding their e-mail claim. To the Chronicle, one Group member suggested a conspiracy to silence them. To the AP, Group member Lee Baker claimed “the white supremacists sites have our names and e-mails.”
Such assertions are hard to accept at face value. A conspiracy—an organized campaign—to send harassing e-mails across state lines targeted at African-American faculty could be construed as violating federal civil rights statutes. If the Group had any evidence to substantiate their new, expanded claims, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have filed a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
What, however, of their claim to Steve Veres of the Chronicle, who reported that they had received “thousands of vitriolic, misogynist and racist e-mails”? This case, however, has featured a record of Group members defining hostile e-mails in a way that few people would recognize.
Take, for example, Group member Alex Rosenberg. In an October 27 interview with the New York Sun, the philosophy professor explained that he had signed the statement to protest the prevalence of alcohol on campus (the statement had no mention of alcohol) and because of his outrage at “affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds.” Moreover, he added, I had sent him a hostile e-mail accusing him of prejudging the case.
Yet I had retained the e-mail, and it said nothing of the sort. Instead, I told
The Group’s assertion of hostile “e-mail campaigns” directed against them likewise stretches credulity. I know of only one e-mail campaign directed at the Group, from Friends of Duke organized late last December. That campaign, however, wasn’t targeted at African-American members (as the Group now alleges), and FODU spokesperson Trumpbour went out of his way to say FODU wanted to reach out to the Group. He explicitly urged people to employ respectful language, adding,
We are committed not to forgetting the past, but learning from it and making Duke a better place going forward. The best way to do that is by encouraging the Group of 88 to live up to our best expectations for them rather than our worst and by looking for common ground with them. Also, there is yet a chance for them to make amends by speaking out at this critical time. Let us never forget that the one who has done the most damage to Duke and who has created the divisions within our community is Mike Nifong.
As with my e-mail to
Then there’s Group of 88 leader Wahneema Lubiano. Yesterday, a DIW reader, and Duke alum, sent her the e-mail below:
I have read again that you regret in no way the ad placed in The Chronicle last year. I also know that you most likely received hateful e-mails because of it and your continued stance that it didn't play a part in condemning 45 young men. I do not condone hateful remarks being sent to you. However, I also disagree with you and other professors who signed onto the ad, not because I do not believe there are issues that should be dealt with at Duke, but because all of you used these young men and the rape hoax to do so.
After it has become absolutely clear these young men did not commit a crime, I am surprised you and your peers can not simply apologize for the timing of the ad and the efforts you made to capitalize on unlawful, absurd, hateful charges against these young men. So many more would take your overall efforts at Duke seriously if you and others would simply do that. Just say you're sorry. You are kidding nobody but yourself (and others incapable of admitting a mistake) if you maintain that you did nothing wrong and your efforts will suffer because of it. The very issues you hold dear and want to repair in this world are shining brightly into the eyes of these young men...racism, sexism, profiling...and they are every bit the victims you and your peers want to support. Please do so.
It would be hard to consider this e-mail “vitriolic,” or “misogynist,” or in any way improper. Lubiano, in her pose as a “public intellectual,” had adopted a position, and a Duke graduate was challenging her to defend her views.
But Lubiano interpreted the matter quite differently. She wrote back tartly,
I do not agree with you or your characterizations of my / our actions as you list them below; therefore, I am not going to apologize. You do not need to waste any more of your efforts in this matter.
Now that I've responded to you, I am placing your email address in my email filter so that I do not receive any more email messages from you.
We did not capitalize on unlawful, absurd, hateful charges against these young men.
It was difficult to miss the message in her postscript that she did not consider the charges “unlawful, absurd, [or] hateful.” But, taking at face value the Group’s pronouncements that they wanted dialogue, the DIW reader wrote back:
While you are at it you can place this address in your filter as well I guess. It baffles my mind how an educator of your stature would not engage in some kind of dialogue with an alum of the very University you work for. We are in absolute disagreement over your actions of the past year, there is no doubt about that. However, instead of taking the opportunity to discuss this fact you invoke a childish response of "nah, nah, nah, nah, you can't e-mail me anymore". Fine, instead of coming across as a reasonable person with the ability to, in the very least, TRY and see someone else's point of view, you have simply cemented the argument, with me at least, that you are so far out there the impact of your personal efforts to make real issues better will be minimal at best.The Lubiano response?
What part of "I do not agree with your or your characterizations of my / our actions" do you not understand? I am not engaging in a dialogue with someone who insults me. A number of insults followed by a demand for apology when I do not agree that I have done wrong is not an invitation to a dialogue; it is the beginning of verbal fisticuffs. Find another friend to stalk.
If forced to describe any of these e-mails as hostile, I suspect that almost everyone would point to Lubiano's. And the Group of 88 leader certainly demonstrated a tendency to make baseless charges. The first e-mail contained “insults”? The second suggested “verbal fisticuffs”?
I have no doubt that Group members have received anonymous racist or sexist e-mails. I, too, have received nasty anonymous e-mails, and more than a few equally nasty anonymous comments in various comment threads.
The Group, however, appears to have adopted a strategy of defining hostile, or misogynist, or racist, or engaging in “verbal fisticuffs” in a way that stretches these terms beyond recognition--with the apparent purpose of deflecting any and all criticism that comes their way. Such deception, sadly, is what we have come to expect of the Group.