Yesterday’s N&O featured an op-ed from none other than Group of 88 stalwart Karla Holloway, on a topic linked to her academic specialization—mourning. (Holloway’s books include Passed On: African-American Mourning Stories.) The op-ed’s thesis: society pays more attention to the deaths of young whites than non-whites, seemingly because of racism.
Seeing a Group member suggest that American society is oppressive along lines of race, class, or gender is about as surprising as discovering that Editor Bob Ashley slanted Herald-Sun coverage in Nifong’s favor.
The stories of urban deaths, Holloway writes, “rarely leak out beyond the neighborhood boundaries, rarely capture the attention of national newscasters, rarely occasion the assignment of grief-counselors whom we know are immediately dispatched to suburban schools when an accident, or worse, takes the life of a youngster.”
The Group of 88’er implies, though never states outright, that she equates “suburban” with white or Asian-American, even though, of course, African-Americans and Hispanics live in the suburbs as well.
Holloway’s observations range from the conspiratorial to the banal. For instance,
Our nation has chosen how, and whom to grieve. We see the faces of the soldiers who will never return home from Iraq or Afghanistan. In the United States, they have certainly earned at least a moment of our attention on the national news. But we rarely see more than the blurred images of the mangled, nameless bodies of Iraqis whose loved ones will similarly mourn their passing. We do not know or inquire after their grief.
Racism might be one explanation for this phenomenon. Another might be that the media has easy access to photographs of U.S. soldiers (if not to their caskets), and little or no access to photos of Iraqis killed in the war. A third might be that nations (of all races and types) tend to grieve the deaths of their own citizens more than the deaths of citizens of other countries.
Locally, we come to know the stories of suburban schoolchildren and youths who are victims of drunken drivers or accidents on athletic playing fields or in our parks, and we can anticipate and depend on a pattern of a community's response to this loss. Counselors will be made available. Reporters will interview their families and will be assigned to cover, with a cameraperson, the crowds who come to funeral chapels and churches to mourn the tragedy and grieve with their families.
BUT HOW WELL AND HOW CONSISTENTLY do these same reporters follow the stories of the victims of local tragedies that are tainted with the violence that infects too many urban communities? How often are they assigned to appear at the churches, to follow the families to the gravesites?
How often does this phenomenon occur? Holloway doesn’t say.
Does she know of examples in which young people in “urban communities” (by which she, presumably, means African-Americans and Hispanics, although she isn’t clear on this point and obviously whites and Asian-Americans live in “urban communities” as well) were killed by drunken drivers or in accidental shootings and the story was ignored by the local media?
The Group stalwart, again, doesn’t say. Why let facts interfere with the metanarrative?
More from Holloway:
There is a reason that the phenomenon of T-shirt memorials—clothing with the face and name of a deceased youngster, most often taken violently, most often without even the fleeting attention of any but those close to the tragedy who will mourn their loss—have appeared on the bodies of black and brown youth in urban areas across this country. One reason our children wear their losses as T-shirts covering their bodies is so they might be noticed, and so that those whom they encounter also encounter, and are confronted by, their grief.
Who, exactly, are “our children”? Children of Duke professors? The article identifies Holloway solely as “Arts and Sciences professor of English at Duke University.”
How are the T-shirt memorials that “have appeared on the bodies of black and brown youth” (where else would a T-shirt appear than on a body?) different in purpose from the impromptu roadside memorials, often with photos, that commemorate the deaths of those who died in car accidents?
Holloway, again, doesn’t say. Why let facts interfere with the metanarrative?
Holloway’s thesis, it’s worth noting, might well be correct. But the only example that her op-ed cites--the media attention to the execution-style shooting of three African-American college students in Newark--undermines, not supports, her argument.
By the way, the fall 2007 catalog finds the professor who rebuked the Duke women’s lacrosse players for upholding the presumption of innocence teaching a course in . . . the Law School.
Entitled “Race, Gender, and Privacy” (a/k/a “Group of 88 Does the Law”), the class “is aimed at students interested in the intersections between literary and legal studies, with a particular focus on race and gender. The subject of the class is ‘privacy,’ and we will read extensively in cultural and legal studies that have considered the matters of privacy-both in social histories and in case law, and we will devote some time to theorizing race and gender in literary studies.”
Perhaps, before entering the law classroom this semester, Holloway might want to take a refresher course on due process and the law from one of her Law School colleagues. This is, after all, the same Karla Holloway who:
- proclaimed that innocence and guilt must be “assessed through a metric of race and gender. White innocence means black guilt. Men’s innocence means women’s guilt”;
- passed along, in print, scurrilous fifth-hand gossip about Duke students;
- declared that she would, in a “heartbeat,” re-sign the April 6, 2006 public statement that (based solely on information provided by Mike Nifong and the Durham Police) asserted unequivocally that something happened to Crystal Mangum and thanked protesters who carried “castrate” banners.
Not exactly a record that most would expect from someone teaching a law class.
[Update, 8.51am: Holloway, in an interview with Indy, provided this unusual critique of the public school system for “urban” children:
What we lost with integration was the intimacy between our education and the people who were professionally trained and culturally trained to care about us. Those teachers believed in us, and that is the most important part of a child’s development. Today, teachers say, “If a child has no books at home, what can I do?” My question is, “What do we do to help our teachers understand what our children can do, rather than what they can’t?”]