Thursday, December 30, 2010

The AHA's Shame

[Update, 3 Jan. 2011, 3.32pm: From the comments section, I completely agree with Bill Anderson's observation: "The thing to remember here is that a number of the worst academic offenders in this case have received rewards afterward. Some faculty members have been promoted to deans, others have been given high-profile promotions or have been hired away by 'elite' universities, and Wood now has a prestigious award.

"This is not an accident. This is how the 'elites' at the top of the academic food chain see things. They really wanted these young men to go to prison simply because of who they were, as to a person these faculty members knew there was no rape or assault.

"Why anyone would send their children to sit under people like this, I never will know. I hope I never am guilty as a faculty member of showing such contempt toward my own students."]

I have a piece at Minding the Campus on the latest embarrassment to academia that the lacrosse case has produced--the American Historical Association conferred upon Peter Wood (yes, that Peter Wood) the Eugene Asher Award, given annually to one history teacher for having "inspired" his or her students.

That would be the same Peter Wood who repeatedly, and publicly, maligned students from his classes. I'm not sure why the AHA considered such behavior to be acceptable for an Asher Award winner, though I'm sure DIW readers can offer some informed speculation.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quote for the Day

Early on, Easley’s attorneys had asked Kenerly for a chance to speak with him before he made any final decision on how to proceed in the case.

Kenerly agreed to make himself available, mainly because he didn’t want to miss something that could be crucial.

“I didn’t want to make a Mike Nifong mistake,” Kenerly says, referring to the former Durham County DA’s handling of the Duke University lacrosse case.

--from a Salisbury Post profile about retiring DA Bill Kenerly's handling of the Mike Easley case

Of all of the disgraced Mike Nifong's ethical misdeeds (lying to the court, withholding exculpatory DNA evidence, making improper public statements, ordering the police to violate their own procedures and instead run a suspects-only lineup), perhaps the most inexplicable was his refusal (on three separate occasions) to meet with defense attorneys who said they possessed evidence of their clients' innocence. It's hard to come up with an innocent explanation for that Nifong maneuver--because, of course, there isn't one.

So it's good to see that, at the very least, Nifong is remembered as an example of grossly unethical conduct for all high-profile prosecutors to avoid.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Durham Way

Final thoughts on the last few weeks:

Given all that we’ve seen of Durham’s attitudes toward criminal justice—reflected best in the nomination and then election of Mike Nifong, followed by the nomination and election of his deputy, Tracey Cline—the verdict in the case should come as little surprise. True, false accuser Crystal Mangum didn’t deny that she had set the fire in her house’s bathroom. And, also true, the jury saw a contemporaneous video of her confessing to setting the fire. But this is the same city in which a near-majority of voters appeared unconvinced by a videotape showing Reade Seligmann someplace else at the time Mike Nifong claimed he committed a horrific crime. In Durham, it seems, normal laws of space and time don’t apply—or at least a lot of the residents wish it could be so, when it would serve their ideological interests.

(1) Even given this environment, I was surprised by the post-trial comments of the Mangum case judge, Abe Jones. After seeing Mangum convicted on a misdemeanor count of child abuse, Jones lifted a previous court order and allowed Mangum to regain custody of her three children. The false accuser, he suggested, was a good mother, and the fire-setting incident was an exception in her treatment of her children.

Whatever investigation North Carolina children’s services conducted of Mangum remains confidential. But considerable documentation—spread across four years—casts considerable doubt about Mangum’s fitness as a mother. The lacrosse case file included contemporaneous documents (such as statements from Mangum and her “drivers”) that detailed a woman who spent late nights on “dates” in hotel rooms and most of the time left her children with her parents and, on one occasion, her “driver.” The AG’s report indicated that Mangum showed up to one 2007 interview behaving erratically and testing positive for (among other drugs) methadone, a drug frequently proscribed for patients with heroin addictions. And in 2010, Mangum’s own attorney admitted that her client set clothes in the bathroom on fire (with her kids down the hall) and then didn’t tell police officers what she had done, even as her kids remained in the house.

While reasonable people can disagree over whether the record outlined above would justify a loss of custody, surely few would suggest that the clothes-burning incident was an exception in Mangum’s parenting skills. But, then again, in North Carolina, judges are elected, and Judge Jones has to face the same electorate that voted into office first Mike Nifong and then Tracey Cline.

(2) It was interesting to see who in Durham rose to Mangum’s defense—or who defended her defenders—and who took a pass on the case. Foremost, of course, in the latter category was the Group of 88. Though each and every member of the Group remains on record as publicly affirming that something “happened” to Mangum the night of the lacrosse party, and though each and every member of the Group remains publicly committed to “turn up the volume no matter what the police say or the court decides,” it appears as if no Group member gave a public statement sympathizing with Mangum or contributed to her legal defense fund. Unlike the lacrosse case, in this matter the Group saw no advantage in exploiting Mangum’s position.

Also quiet was the Durham professional Left. The leadership of the People’s Alliance, the “progressive” PAC whose voters did so much to ensure first Nifong’s and then Cline’s victory, shied away from defending Mangum. Even as they did so, however, the group’s spokesperson, Milo Pyne, announced his continued “sympathy” for Nifong, making Durham perhaps the only city in the country where left-wing activists express sympathy for a figure who committed massive prosecutorial misconduct in trying to send innocent people to jail.

Today’s news suggests that indifference to prosecutorial misconduct extends beyond the Group of 88 and the People’s Alliance, to the very core of Durham’s “minister of justice.” DA Tracey Cline—Nifong’s would-be second chair if the lacrosse case went to trial—has dismissed ADA Mitchell Garrell, after previously cutting his pay. Garrell, it’s worth remembering, had opposed Cline in the four-way 2008 race for the DA’s nomination, when he ran on a campaign calling for the “minister of justice” to behave ethically. According to the N&O, his dismissal occurred after he behaved ethically—he turned over, as he should have, all case-related material to the defense in the case of Derrick Allen. Unfortunately for Garrell, these files included material suggesting that “Minister of Justice” Cline had misled the court.

[In 2008, Cline was nominated courtesy of the “Nifong coalition” (which gave Nifong his victory first in the 2006 primary and then the general election)—Durham’s “progressive” whites, plus most African-Americans.]

(3) Silence from the Group and the PA left defense of Mangum to a motley crew of professional race-baiters—figures like Durham’s most prominent homophobe, Victoria Peterson; ex-school board member Jackie Wagstaff, whose courtroom behavior yielded her a 10-day sentence for contempt; and Steven Matherly, a PA “activist” who told the N&O that he considered his own previous brushes with the law a “badge of honor.”

Matherly repeatedly made the . . . peculiar . . . assertion that the attorney general (the state’s chief law enforcement officer) lacks the power to declare innocent people in his state who are falsely accused. He supplemented this legal “analysis” with a wild claim that those who did Ms. Magnum wrong (including, as he referenced in one post, the behavior of the lacrosse players) created a Durham environment, 2006-2010, that resembled the anti-black South of the 1920s and 1930s, in which lynchings occurred. Those looking to Matherly, however, for the 1920s/1930s Southern equivalents of Mike Nifong (a prosecutor who violated rules to keep alive a criminal claim from an African-American) or the Group of 88 (members of the local Establishment who tied their professional prestige to a criminal claim from an African-American) would still be waiting. I doubt that Matherly will provide any such examples in the future.

Given Matherly’s ignorance of both legal procedure and history, defending him is no easy task. But into the breach stepped Duke professor Robert Zimmerman, a prominent apologist for the Group of 88. Prof. Zimmerman, who in 2007 spent months hinting that he possessed secret evidence that would show the Group of 88’s statement wasn’t about the lacrosse case (ultimately, he produced no such evidence), made a surprise re-appearance in the DIW comment thread. His entertaining submissions featured his usual combination of a (as one commenter noticed) “passive-aggressive” attitude with Amelia Bedelia-style textual analysis.

(4) As the nation’s highest-profile false rape accuser faced trial on unrelated charges, two other blows challenged the ultra-feminist claim that women never lie about rape. In New York City, weather reporter Heidi Jones was charged with filing a false claim of rape after she gave police an inconsistency-riddled tale of a mysterious Hispanic man first raping her and threatening her. And in Sweden, even Wendy Murphy (“I never, ever met a false rape claim") expressed doubt about sexual assault charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

(5) Finally, in a classic example of how the academy’s lack of accountability has broader effects, Mangum’s legal proceedings coincided with the nomination of Group of 88’er Cathy Davidson to a position on the NEH’s advisory board. That would be the same Cathy Davidson, it’s worth reiterating, who published a January 2007 op-ed that was either lying or delusional in its description of the March 2006 environment at Duke.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Times Sports Editor Reassigned; Mangum Trial Updates

[Update, Friday, 9.19pm: Mangum's five misdemeanor convictions included child abuse. And yet, reports Emery Delasio of the AP, Mangum "was allowed to regain custody of her children, who have been in the care of a friend since a different judge decided last summer Mangum was violating visitation terms."

[Update, 5.13pm: Race-baiter Jackie Wagstaff was sentenced to 10 days in jail for contempt. The Mangum jury deadlocked, 9-3, on the felony arson charge (the charge for which the jury was shown a video of Mangum describing how she started the fire). A mistrial resulted; a retrial seems highly unlikely. It would be interesting to know the backgrounds of the jurors who found Mangum not guilty.]

[Update, 3.30pm, Friday: Durham resident race-baiter Jackie Wagstaff is facing the possibility of contempt charges for muttering "this is ridiculous" as the judge gave additional instructions to the Mangum jury.]

[Update, 1.25pm, Friday: Via the Milliken twitter feed: the jury is on a lunch break. It has decided on four of the counts, but remains divided, 8-4, on the arson charge, despite having witnessed a video in which Mangum admitted she set clothes on fire in her bathroom.]

The New York Post reports that Tom Jolly, the Times sports editor who oversaw the paper's disgraced early coverage of the lacrosse case--for which he subsequently apologized--has been reassigned. The Times did not name a replacement. Fittingly, the Post lists the paper's mishandling of the lacrosse case as item number one in Jolly's legacy.

And, as I noted below, one of my classes has an exam this afternoon, and so I will be off-line most of the afternoon; Matthew Milliken is back in court covering the Mangum trial, and you can follow his twitter feed.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Mangum Trial Continues [with updates]

[Update, Thurs., 11.58am: One of my classes has an exam this afternoon, and so I will be off-line most of the afternoon; Matthew Milliken is back in court, and you can follow his twitter feed.]

[Update, Thurs., 10.17am: The Mangum case has gone to the jury. And here's a remarkable update from the twitter feed of H-S reporter Matthew Milliken, who covered the trial yesterday: "Jackie Wagstaff [a race-baiting former school board member, and outspoken Nifong supporter] overheard during recess: 'They are not understanding the nature of the black household.' Not sure if she's referring to [the racially-mixed] jury." Only in Durham could we get the insinuation that a mother burning clothes in a room near to where her children were sleeping is part of the "nature of the black household."]

[Update, Wed., 9.40am: The N&O reports: "In a videotaped interrogation shown to the jury Tuesday morning, Crystal Mangum confessed to smashing her boyfriend Milton Walker’s windshield with a vacuum cleaner, slashing his tires and setting his clothes on fire because she says he punched her in the face repeatedly." Mangum's attorney tried and failed to get the confession excluded from evidence, on grounds that at the time, the false accuser "was medicated after a spinal tap for headache treatment and hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous two nights."]

The first week of the Crystal Mangum trial (on charges of arson, injury to personal property, contributing to the delinquency of her three children, and resisting arrest) has concluded in Durham. The trial raises one obvious question: namely, what criteria the North Carolina children’s services department possibly could have used to keep Mangum’s three children in the same house with her, given that the record of the lacrosse case proved that she either was a monster, willing to lie and send innocent people to jail for decades, or a person so mentally disturbed that she believed her lies. It’s perfectly clear from the record of the trial that the children were not well-served by remaining in Mangum’s custody.

A few items:

(1) A courtroom observer passes on news that upon her arrest, Mangum (falsely) told officers that she was pregnant. She also, of course, lied to the officers about her identity.

(2) Mangum’s intriguing defense amounts to a version of entrapment: (a) that police officers, having received a desperate 911 call from one of Mangum’s children, should have trusted the assurances of this mentally imbalanced woman that everything was OK, and not entered the premises; and (b) that, having been arrested, Mangum had no obligation to inform police officers that she had set clothes on fire in the bathroom, even as her three children were in a nearby room.

(3) For those desiring a peek inside the pro-Mangum fantasy world, Steve Matherly is attending the trial. In a recent post, the People’s Alliance “activist” has taken a break from defending Mangum, and instead has launched into the character attacks on the lacrosse players that were so common from figures like Cathy Davidson and her Group of 88 comrades. Matherly made the mindboggling claim that the role of the lacrosse players in the lacrosse case is comparable to “the racist riots of the 1920s and 30s.”

Yes, because as any student of U.S. history knows, in the 1920s and 1930s, local prosecutors throughout the South were—like Mike Nifong in the lacrosse case—willing to violate myriad ethical procedures in order to imprison innocent white people, despite baseless charges from a local African-American woman.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Astonishing news from the Duke public relations office: Group of 88 member—and later apologist—Cathy Davidson has been nominated to the 26-member the National Council of Humanities, which advises the NEH. The position requires Senate confirmation; I would hope that at least one senator would ask Davidson about her record in the lacrosse case—both her rush to judgment in spring 2006 and her willful dissembling about her actions in January 2007.

To review Davidson’s record:

On April 6, 2006—based solely on information about the case supplied by the media and rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong—she and 87 colleagues signed the “Group of 88” statement. The guilt-presuming document publicly affirmed that something “happened” to (false) accuser Crystal Mangum.

The signatories also appeared to express indifference to any evidence that might contradict their race/class/gender-dominated vision, announcing that they would be “turning up the volume” regardless of “what the police say or the court decides.”

And, in perhaps the statement’s most stunning passage, Davidson and her colleagues publicly thanked campus protesters for two things: “for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.” At the time of the statement, the two highest-profile campus protests were a March 26, 2006 protest in front of the lacrosse captains’ house at which protesters carried banners proclaiming “CASTRATE” and a March 29, 2006 “Take Back the Night” event at which protesters blanketed the campus with a wanted poster containing the lacrosse players’ photos.

Neither Davidson nor any other Group member ever explained why they thanked the protesters “for not waiting.” Many months later, Davidson and a few other Duke faculty bizarrely claimed that when they thanked protesters “for making yourselves heard” they were referring not to the two highest-profile anti-lacrosse protests but to other anti-lacrosse protests occurring on campus at the time. No contemporaneous evidence exists to sustain this claim.

As the months passed, the sexual assault case to which Davidson and her like-minded colleagues collapsed. And as it did, the Group came under increasing criticism from the media, from Duke alumni, and from some Duke students.

In response, Davidson took to the pages of the Raleigh News & Observer on January 5, 2007, to offer an apologia for the Group’s actions. As she conceded in a mass e-mail, she wrote the column after consulting with an attorney and being informed that she and her colleagues could be vulnerable to a lawsuit from the lacrosse players.

Rather than apologizing for her rush to judgment, Davidson’s essay combined self-pitying passages regarding criticism of her and other Duke faculty from “blog hooligans” with continued character assaults on the “sleazy” lacrosse players and a ringing defense of Crystal Mangum. Davidson chastised those who labeled Mangum a liar (as, by this point, had been clearly established), and instead mused, “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.”

Perhaps most troubling for the qualifications of her soon-to-be position, however, was Davidson’s description of spring 2006 events on campus. Her January 2007 claims demonstrated a tendency for either outright fabrication or existence in a cocooned world in which no alternative narratives ever penetrated. Neither characteristic would serve the NEH well.

Davidson unconvincingly denied that the Group’s statement—which affirmed that something happened to Mangum and thanked protesters who had labeled the lacrosse players rapists—presumed guilt. She then invented an alternative reality in which the statement provided a needed corrective to a late March 2006 media environment in which black Duke students were being attacked by racist “insults” from fellow Duke students and in which most on campus and in the media were defending the lacrosse players, elevating them “to the status of martyrs, innocent victims of reverse racism.”

Needless to say, no evidence exists for either of these descriptions; at the time, nearly all articles on the case either were neutral (if critical of the lacrosse players’ character) or presumed guilt. And the administration of Duke president Richard Brodhead went out of its way to meet with (some would say appease) black student groups on campus. Racially charged events certainly existed—Group of 88’er Houston Baker’s screed against the white lacrosse players, black Duke students surrounding lacrosse player Bo Carrington on the campus quad demanding that he turn in the rapists—but these were events in which African-Americans, not whites on campus, were in the wrong.

After ringing defenses of herself, her colleagues, and Crystal Mangum, Davidson’s January 2007 essay concluded with milquetoast statements that Nifong might have committed prosecutorial misconduct and that she favored “impartial legal proceedings” for the falsely accused lacrosse players.

A major premise of this blog has been a lament that no accountability appears to exist in the academy, that the Group of 88 members suffered no consequences for their actions. Outside of the academy, I have repeatedly implied, behavior such as we witnessed from the Group of 88 would have consequences. With this nomination, it appears as if I erred in that assumption.


A coda, featuring Cathy Davidson in her own words:

"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."
--N&O, January 2007

"To the students speaking individually and to the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard."
--Group of 88 statement, April 2006

Imagine if Professor Davidson did not believe in "the necessity for fair and impartial legal proceedings for David, Collin and Reade."

The Mangum Trial

The trial of false accuser Crystal Mangum is underway in Duham; the serial fabricator stands charged with arson, injury to personal property, contributing to the delinquency of her three children, and resisting arrest.

A few items: (1) Prosecutors agreed that they wouldn’t bring up Mangum’s myriad lies in the lacrosse case to undermine the credibility of her tales regarding the criminal charges against her.

(2) In the seating of the jury, Mangum’s attorney seemed determined to use preemptive challenges against people tied to Duke, especially Duke students. I can see where Duke students wouldn’t be likely to ignore the evidence to bolster Mangum’s position, but I’m not sure about Duke employees or administrators. Certainly, the false accuser would have been incredibly lucky if one of the Group of 88 had somehow slipped through to the jury.

Reported the N&O, Mangum’s attorney asked the judge “to release the eighth juror interviewed because his family has strong ties to Duke and his wife, a university employee, sat on a committee charged with helping the campus deal with the lacrosse scandal.

The mentioned committee was presumably the Campus Culture Initiative—a body dominated by the Group of 88 and its allies. It would seem that this juror would be ideal for the false accuser.

(3) The pro-Mangum People’s Alliance activist Steve Matherly has a blog that gives the party line on the trial from Durham’s extreme left. Matherly has posts complaining about the prosecutor’s issuing preemptive challenge to jurors who seemed disinclined to value circumstantial evidence. But he spends most of his time playing the race card, offering conspiratorial rants about the media’s “racism” in its reporting on Mangum (this is the same “media” that included the Times and the Herald-Sun, which propped up Mangum’s bogus charges for months after it was clear they were false) and wildly demanding that Mangum’s defense attorney be allowed to question every white juror regarding what they “think[] about black folks.”

Intriguingly, Matherly claims that Mangum still possesses considerable “support” at North Carolina Central—which, if true, would be astonishing.

(4) And, one final point worth reiterating; Matherly is a minor player in the People’s Alliance. But Milo Pyne is a significant actor, co-chairing the PA’s PAC and serving as the group’s spokesperson. This is the man, again, who just announced his “sympathy” for Mike Nifong.

I’d be hard pressed to come up with any other case in which local liberal leaders publicly, and repeatedly, sided with the perpetrator of prosecutorial misconduct. In this respect, the actions of figures such as Matherly and Pyne cast an ugly light on the sincerity of “progressives” in Durham.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sporting Analysis

The lacrosse case featured some . . . unusual . . . sports-related commentary from members of the Group of 88. Karla Holloway produced an essay for Scholar and Feminist Online denouncing the women’s lacrosse team for publicly supporting their falsely accused men’s colleagues. Grant Farred penned a book advancing the preposterous argument that Houston Rockets center Yao Ming constituted “the most profound threat to American empire.”

It turns out that this sort of bizarre perspective on athletics isn’t confined to the Group of 88; like-minded colleagues at other institutions offer similar views. Indeed, the journal Sport in Society is filled with Group of 88-style, race/class/gender analysis of sports-related questions.

Take, for instance, the work of Miami (Ohio) professor Mary McDonald, who describes herself as among the critical sport scholars” who use tools from such fields as women’s studies, ethnic studies, and cultural studies to produce scholarship “concerned with issues of inequality and social justice.” McDonald’s roster of courses includes “Introduction to the History of Activism”; “Critical Perspectives of the Body”; and “Women, Gender Relations & Sport.”

In the August edition of SiS, McDonald (with one of her graduate students) penned an article entitled, “Dressed for success? The NBA's dress code, the workings of whiteness and corporate culture.” The article purports to analyze the 2005 decision by NBA commissioner David Stern to implement a dress-code policy for the league’s players. The move came after a string of bad publicity for the league, most notably an ugly event in Detroit in which former Indiana Pacer Ron Artest went into the stands and brawled with fans.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to determine why the NBA adopted its policy. It needed to appease its largely white fan base. Or, in McDonald’s academic jargon: “the dress code helps position the white-dominated ownership structure and its white fan base as necessary arbitrators of ‘appropriate’ moral behaviour.” And given that most employers have the authority to institute dress codes over their employees, McDonald has to concede that the dress code might fall under the heading of “seemingly trivial practices and policies,” even if, she breathlessly notes, “has its own Wikipedia page.”

McDonald explains that despite focusing on a seemingly banal policy, her essay will explicate the alternate meanings, “the broader pedagogical functions at work through the introduction of this policy, that is—to explore the dominant meanings the initiation of this policy conveys and attempts to teach.” And what do these broader pedagogical functions reveal? “Far from a simple policy that requires a particular style of dress we read the NBA dress code critically, demonstrating its relationship to racialized, classed and gendered meanings and attempts at capital accumulation.” Of course.

McDonald’s essay combines academic jargon with a desire to analyze anything and everything through the prism of race, class, and gender. The dress code, she maintains, shows how “the social construction of race legitimates a system of privileges that accrue to bodies racialized as white . . . This perspective additionally acknowledges whiteness both within and beyond the case of the dress code.” McDonald laments that “the dress code represents an example of the NBA's continuing attempts at surveillance and control of its predominately African-American playing force, in this case by promoting conventional styles of dress and expression at the expense of hip-hop styles”—while also representing “an attempt to normalize white middle-class ideologies to legitimate the accumulation of capital.”

Her article’s goal, McDonald continues (impenetrably), is to provide “alternative interpretations linking an everyday cultural practice such as the dress code to normalizing strategies within contemporary neo-liberal capitalist mandates. Stated differently, in recontextualizing the dress code this paper maps out and makes visible the complex processes which both venerate and demonize the athleticism and entertainment value of black masculine bodies, and simultaneously deny the salience of political, social and economic processes that produce discourses of a commercialized white normativity,” all the while seeking “to promote new understandings in the quest for social justice.”

Alas, McDonald laments, the league’s installation of the dress code “additionally directs attention away from the actions and material advantages of white bodies while further perpetuating: ‘a cycle of stigmatization, assimilation and subordination’.”

In this respect, while “seemingly innocent,” the dress code “actually serves as a mechanism which combines with other forms of white cultural capital to safeguard the political and economic interests of whites and the dominant social class,” and so “the dress code can thus be understood as a type of whitewash” even as the NBA’s “black bodies serve as hot commodities in the global marketplace.”

McDonald repeatedly argues that the dress code wanted to distance the NBA and its players from hip-hop culture. During this period, however, the NBA promoted hip-hop artist Jay-Z, who even owned a small share of New Jersey Nets.

How to explain this apparent contradiction in her argument? McDonald notes that “music such as his not only reinforces the racial status quo via essentialistic imagery but additionally helps promote dominant gender ideologies.” In this way, “elements of hip-hop are ideologically aligned with dominant gender relations and images of hypersexuality which are also remade through elite professional sport which continues to promote masculine hegemony.” Indeed, “read from within the context of contemporary capitalist marketing strategies, like those employed by the NBA and promoted in the corporate media, the aesthetic signifiers of hip-hop are increasingly celebrated apart from the very material conditions of inequality that some forms of hip-hop seek to critique.” In other words: hip-hop is an admirable, genuine expression of black culture—except when it’s not.

Even as she admits hip-hop’s sexism and homophobia, however, McDonald can’t quite bring herself to criticize the music. While she concedes that “rap and hip-hop lyrics contain misogynistic and violent overtones,” the real problems are the “censorship campaigns such as those in the 1990s lead by Tipper Gore(!)” (who also ignored the dangers posed by “the US prison-industrial complex”) and other critics who lack a “sophisticated understanding of the corporate and political interests involved in promoting one-dimensional images of street life.” In any event, McDonald muses, “sexism and homophobia . . . are also widely prevalent in almost every other musical form.”

(McDonald regularly employs an “everyone-else-does-it” arguing style. At another point in the essay, she offers the following non-sequitur: she suggests that dress codes as a whole don’t really matter, since “Jeffrey Skillings and Ken Ley regularly wore business suits as they oversaw the corruption promoted by energy corporation Enron, while thousands of Enron employees and shareholders lost thousands of dollars, life savings and pensions upon Enron's collapse.”)

McDonald frames the debate over the dress code—or at least what debate existed—as part “of broader patterns of white racist preoccupation with the allegedly threatening and inferior character of black masculinity, preoccupations that can be traced back to slavery and reconstruction, and which have been frequently used by whites to legitimate the political status quo in relation to black cultural and political inequity.” And the debate goes well beyond the NBA: “the presumption of white superiority continues to fuel and justify racist treatment including the contemporary dismantling of social welfare programs.” As McDonald links the NBA’s policy to programs for society’s neediest, it’s worth remembering that she’s writing about a league in which the average player’s salary is $3.4 million.

The linkage to welfare policy isn’t the only time in which McDonald’s arguments raise questions about whether she exists in an alternate universe. In the late 1970s, the NBA seemed to be on the ropes, in large part because of widespread drug use among the league’s players (a majority of whom were African-American). The NBA’s unsurprising, common-sense response? The league instituted a drug-testing policy, and also launched a marketing campaign portraying the players positively, as embodiments of the American Dream. What should the NBA have done instead, implies McDonald? “[C]onfronting stereotypical notions of blackness promoted to maintain white cultural and political advantages.”

Or take this passage:

The imposition of the dress code can thus be understood as yet the latest attempt at a peculiar form of “diversity management” designed to both manage, but ultimately profit from, stereotypical images of urban black masculinity as immature, uncontrollable, greedy and egotistical Other attempts to control similar connotations include the imposition of a first year player salary cap which limits compensation to rookies and the instigation of an age restriction limiting the league to players aged 19 years or older.

Whatever the merits of the dress-code policy (and, as I noted above, the policy seemed like a no-brainer), any linkage between it and the first-year salary cap or the age-limitation policy seems tenuous at best and non-existent at worst. The first-year salary cap was pretty strictly a financial decision and an issue of older vs. younger players; while the age limit policy was primarily a competition question. Neither policy had much (if anything) to do with the image dilemma that motivated the dress code.

Or take McDonald’s criticism of Commissioner David Stern’s decision to suspend Ron Artest for the season after the Detroit brawl. The commissioner’s response, she contends, “fails to address structural and ideological inequities” between blacks and whites in American society.

After a week in which the NCAA issued the astonishing ruling that a star player’s father demanding bribes to send him to a particular university isn’t grounds for ruling the player ineligible, there’s certainly a need for in-depth, scholarly analysis of sport and society. Alas, the chances of receiving this type of analysis from the contemporary academy are, to put it charitably, remote.

Hat tip: D.B.