Wahneema Lubiano, whose last scholarly publication was entitled “Interview with Wahneema Lubiano,” recently took a break from her two “forthcoming” manuscripts, Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor and Messing with the Machine. Both of these manuscripts, it’s worth remembering, have now been “forthcoming”—a designation that normally means completed and under contract—for eleven years.
Lubiano joined fellow Group member Michael Hardt and “clarifying” professor Robyn Weigman to co-author a scholarly article (published in a Duke University Press journal called Social Text) designed to . . . defend the Group of 88. This piece joined Charlie Piot’s effort as at least the second “scholarly” Group apologia—providing an unintentional commentary on what passes for scholarship among the Group of 88.
Lubiano, Weigman, and Hardt had little difficulty in identifying the true victims of 2006-2007 events in Durham—themselves, and their fellow members of the Group of 88.
The victimizers? Not Mike Nifong, or Sgt. Gottlieb, or Duke administrators who failed to enforce the Faculty Handbook. Not the Duke professors who rushed to judgment or abused their classroom authority. No, the victimizers, according to the Lubiano Trio, were “the blogs.”
According to the Lubiano Trio, “the most extreme marginalization was reserved for the faculty whose professional expertise made them most competent to engage the discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident — scholars of African American and women’s studies. Instead, administrators, like the bloggers themselves, operated under the assumption that everyone was an expert on matters of race and gender, while actually existing academic expertise was recast as either bias or a commitment to preconceived notions about the legal case. Some faculty thus found themselves in the unenviable position of being the targets of public discourse (and disparaged for their expertise on race and gender) without being legitimate participants in it.”
If the Group’s expertise made its members “most competent to engage the discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident,” there was nothing, to my knowledge, to prevent them from doing so. Instead, of course, Group members by and large pursued an opposite approach. They rushed to judgment in issuing their statement when most people presumed the lacrosse players guilty—and then, when the case started to collapse, they either refused to explain their earlier position or offered almost comical rationalizations for their spring 2006 statements and actions.
The Lubiano Trio’s new narrative requires some . . . creative . . . re-interpretations of the past. To take some examples:
The Group of 88’s Ad
Here’s how the Lubiano Trio’s article described the Group of 88’s ad: It “sought to grapple with issues of campus life and the cultures of privilege sustained by elite institutions such as Duke University.”
Yet here’s how Lubiano herself described the ad in early April 2006, when she invited people to sign: “African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident [emphasis added] . . . We will not be listing the names on the ad itself (only the supporting departments and program units).”
The Lubiano Trio’s article makes no mention of this inviting e-mail, nor the ad’s unequivocal assertion that something “happened” to Crystal Mangum, nor the ad’s thanking—“for not waiting and for making yourselves heard”—the protesters who had presumed guilt, nor the ad’s claim that five departments officially endorsed its contents even though none of the departments actually voted on the matter. It remains unclear how any of the above items relate to “issues of campus life and the cultures of privilege sustained by elite institutions such as Duke University.”
Intoned the Lubiano Trio, “The latter framing [focusing on the accuracy of the allegations] was embodied most prominently by Friends of Duke University, an organization formed to raise money for the defendants.”
What are they talking about? FODU, a grassroots organization of Duke alumni and supporters, was created in summer 2006 not to raise money for the defendants but to urge the Duke administration to publicly demand that Durham authorities accord to Duke students the same due process rights granted to all other Durham residents.
The Lubiano Trio appears to have confused FODU (which wasn’t a fundraising organization) with the Association for Truth and Fairness, the organization that did raise money to help defray the defendants’ legal bills.
The only problem: the ATF wasn’t a blog—which makes its existence irrelevant to the Lubiano Trio’s commentary on the blogosphere.
The Media’s Role
The Lubiano Trio informed their readers that “the television newsweekly 60 Minutes aired five segments on the topic, and stories appeared in the New Yorker, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Sports Illustrated, on the editorial pages of every major newspaper in the country, and on local and national evening newscasts.”
Actually, 60 Minutes ran three, not five, segments on the topic. And the New York Times, which most people (especially, I suspect, members of the Group of 88) would consider a “major newspaper in the country,” did not publish an editorial on the case.
The Defense Attorneys and the Group of 88
After scouring the defense attorneys’ change-of-venue motion, the Lubiano Trio concluded, “Since its publication, the ad has figured prominently in both campus and media debate and was cited as evidence in a defense motion for change of venue, on the assertion that the accused players could not receive a fair trial in a town in which prominent community members, including faculty, had failed publicly to defend their innocence.”
In fact, the December 2006 defense motion contained no such assertion. (The Lubiano Trio’s article contains a footnote citing the defense motion, but the authors, perhaps unsurprisingly, elected not to specify a page number in which this assertion allegedly was made.) To my knowledge, no defense lawyer, at any stage of the case, stated that “prominent community members, including faculty, had failed publicly to defend [the players’] innocence.” Defense attorneys spoke about the presumption of innocence—a far different thing than an outright declaration of innocence. And many critics of the Group of 88, including me, spoke of the need for academics, of all groups in American society, to speak up for due process—which is also a far different thing than an outright declaration of innocence.
That the Lubiano Trio equated calls for professors to defend due process and the presumption of innocence with demands that academics actually affirm the players’ innocence gives a sense of how skewed were Group members’ conception of the justice system.
The Nature of the Internet
Asserted the Lubiano Trio, “The faculty who had signed the ad and were outspoken about long-standing problems in student culture became targets of hate mail and even death threats, especially those with affiliations in African American studies and women’s studies. Many found their e-mail and home addresses published on blog sites, facilitating an incessant flood of anonymous e-mails that were often personally vicious in nature.”
Even in North Carolina, death threats are against the law. It remains unclear why authorities elected not to prosecute those who made such threats against Group members.
Anonymous, vile e-mails are contemptible. They’re also, sadly, a way of life in the internet era. The Group members, however, prefer to imagine a reality in which they and only they were subject to such attacks. As usual, the facts contradict their preferred version of events.
Resolution of the Case
The Lubiano Trio still can’t bring themselves to admit that the whole case was a fraud. “By April 2007,” they write, “all charges against the players were dropped. In June 2007, Nifong was disbarred, and the report from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office found that “there was no credible evidence to support the allegation that a crime had occurred.’”
In fact, Attorney General Roy Cooper issued an all-but-unprecedented declaration of absolute innocence.
Blog Criticism of the Group
Blogs, according to the Lubiano Trio, used “powerful tactics of harassment” against members of the Group. “Typically we [Group members] should . . . work as maids for the players’ families [or] return to the slave quarters.” Group members “have also been found guilty of numerous crimes, including treason, sedition, and tax evasion(!).”
Although the Lubiano Trio’s article does contain footnotes, the Group members elected to supply not even one citation for any of these outlandish claims. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out why.
What does the inclusion of these unsourced ramblings say about the editorial policies of the Duke University Press journal Social Text?
In a wonderfully worded passage, the Lubiano Trio situates the lacrosse case “right-leaning blogs” as part of “right-wing attacks on the university,” which were “deliberate orchestrations of a battle with earlier Left projects to define who and what will constitute the public that universities simultaneously serve and engage.”
In fact, in terms of readership, the two most significant blogs were DIW (published by, as I have noted before, an early supporter of Barack Obama who also backs gay marriage and abortion rights) and Liestoppers (a blog originally founded as part of the effort to elect the line of the Lewis Cheek—a Democrat—as Durham County D.A.).
How many people would consider either of those viewpoints to represent the right wing? That the Group of 88 does consider these viewpoints right-wing gives a sense of just how skewed the Group’s ideological perspective is.
The Lubiano Trio fumed that the case resulted in “the denigration of faculty labor, especially the intellectual labor of faculty in fields inaugurated by twentieth-century social movements (African American studies, women’s studies, sexuality studies, ethnic studies).”
In light of that lament, it’s worth reiterating that the Lubiano/Weigman/Hardt article is what the Lubiano Trio considers an example of scholarship (or, in the words of the Trio, “intellectual labor of faculty”) in their fields.hat tips: E.F., B.A.