Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Farred Clips

Members of the faculty expect Duke students to meet high standards of performance and behavior. It is only appropriate, therefore, that the faculty adheres to comparably high standards in dealing with students . . . Students are fellow members of the university community, deserving of respect and consideration in their dealings with the faculty.

--Chapter Six, Duke Faculty Handbook

Even in an atmosphere of extreme and indefensible statements by members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty, Literature professor Grant Farred has distinguished himself for his extreme and indefensible statements. The Group of 88 stalwart published what is arguably the most outrageous faculty op-ed of the entire case, denouncing the hundreds of Duke students who registered to vote in Durham as carriers of “secret racism.”

Farred, who currently has a visiting appointment at Williams College, recently gave a talk about the lacrosse case; EphBlog posted comprehensive notes on the talk, which were invaluable in making some sense of Farred’s often impenetrable prose. (An example: at one point, Farred spoke of “the wanton presence of the other; of the other who is not the other, of the other who is, who strikingly resembles—who is made to resemble—the self. The other who will not remain other. The other who is sometimes as myself, as other.”)

Farred’s basic thesis: the players were guilty, maybe not of rape, but of “white privilege,” and so Roy Cooper’s decision to pronounce them “innocent” was wrong. Meanwhile, the players were—according to Farred—perjurers who might have been guilty of a hate crime, and who are modern-day versions of old-time Southern racists.

Trivializing the American Past

“Cooper’s ‘innocent,’ then, reveals not a truly innocent,” maintained Farred. “These three players, an entire team, a team with an unsavory history. The history of the lacrosse team is the history of being inhospitable. The history of being bad neighbors to the Durham community. At the heart of the lacrosse team’s behavior is the racist history of the South.”

View the team’s behavior in the worst possible light, assuming every allegation about their pre-March 13 behavior to be true: they partied too much and too loudly, often using alcohol. This behavior might alienate the dorm neighbors of the 75 percent who live on campus. But these students were likely to be—in Farred’s parlance—white and privileged also. Those who lived off campus might have irked the residents of Trinity Park—also generally white and privileged.

Can a tenured professor at Duke seriously maintain that college students angering their (mostly white) neighbors through loud partying illustrates the “racist history of the South”? Such a claim is embarrassing and insulting.

Denying Reality

The findings of the Coleman Committee were clear: the lacrosse players were good students and good athletes, with a good record of community service. They had a strong bond with the women’s lacrosse team and no record of racist or sexist behavior. Many drank much too much—on a campus where hundreds of students drank much too much—but even here, their offenses tended to be minor, such as underage drinking or open container violations.

If the facts don’t fit preconceptions, Farred’s approach appears to be just to make up some new facts. In his Williams address, he cited the team’s “tendency toward misogyny and arrogant sexual prowess, especially if the fall 2006 Rolling Stone story is to be believed, proclivities that all have been complicated by race and racism.” That article, of course, is the Bible of the Group of 88: it is one of just two publications cited in the Campus Culture Initiative report, and was required reading in Anne Allison’s “Group of 88 for Credit” class this spring.

So, which is more credible: a comprehensive investigation undertaken by seven colleagues, interviewing dozens of named witnesses; or a widely panned article allegedly quoting four anonymous Duke students? Most people would say the former. Not Farred.

Reinventing History

“The Duke lacrosse program is indicted here,” Farred informed his Williams listeners, “not for what it did, on the night of the 13th of March, 2006, or for what its members did not do that night, but for its past behavior, a blemished past made even uglier.”

Really? That’s not what Farred and his colleagues in the Group of 88 were saying on April 6, 2006, when they took out their full-page ad in the Chronicle. Then, they spoke of the events of “March 13.” They talked about “what the police say or what the court decides.” They thanked protesters who similarly “indicted” the team for what the potbangers were certain occurred on the night of March 13th, protesters who carried “castrate” banners.

The Group’s statement, meanwhile, contained no mention that some lacrosse players had been cited for the “past behavior” of underage drinking.

But Farred is no longer talking about the Group of 88. In response to a question on the issue, Farred said that for “legal” reasons he could not discuss the ad.

Kim Roberts, J.D.

Farred quoted from Roberts’ exchange with a few players as the party dispersed. “Roberts called the players ‘short-dicked white boys.’ One player shouted, ‘We asked for whites, not niggers.’ ‘That’s a racial slur, a hate crime,’ Roberts responded. Does ‘innocent’ cover, and eviscerate from the law’s memory, hate crimes? Or do strippers not have equal protection under the law? Do hate crimes matter?”

Alas, despite Farred’s contention, Kim Roberts is not a jurist, and I know of no jurisdiction in which responding to a racial taunt with a racial slur is considered a “hate crime.” Even Mike Nifong didn’t make such an absurd suggestion.

Unsubstantiated Allegations

“It is precisely because the lacrosse event began before it began,” Farred bizarrely asserted, “that the intended announcement of ‘innocent’ invoked the haunting specter of something else: silence, injustice, guilt, perjury, indecision, evidence—sufficient or not. [emphasis added] There is a vast, darkened edge of innocence, a determination to forget—to make history, both in the immediate, and the long dureĆ©, not matter. The timing of the event, even and because it constitutes its own history, opens up into history and opens up history—the history of Southern racism, of educational indulgence.”

The evidence presented by Farred that the lacrosse players were guilty of “perjury”? None.

“To be declared innocent,” Farred fumed, “is to invent a history that is not the history of this particular event. What is the trajectory of innocence? [Unclear.] Innocent of bad judgment? Does the event demand, not only the responsibility . . .be assumed not only for that for which the accused is pronounced innocent, but also for that for which it appears the accused are no longer asked to stand to account. Those other transgressions are bad neighborliness, to racism, for perpetuating the history of Southern racism.”

The evidence presented by Farred that Reade Seligmann, Dave Evans, or Collin Finnerty ever did anything to suggest racist behavior? None.

Assault on the Law

“It is because the law knows that it cannot achieve foreclosure, because it cannot be cannot be the last word,” remarked Farred. “There is something terrible—a hidden hint of terror in the language of the law.”

Translation: Farred didn’t like Cooper’s decision. Therefore, the decision cannot be the final word on the case, and the law which rendered this decision must be in some way at fault.

Denigrating Reade Seligmann

“In the event of Duke lacrosse . . . it was the players, those now innocent, who refused foreclosure, specifically Reade Seligmann,” said Farred, mispronouncing Seligmann’s name. “I quote Seligmann, ‘If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they would do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves.’”

“Seligmann [the mispronunciation continued], in the act of being proclaimed innocent, in the act of being released, in the sovereignty of the law, by the law itself, intentionally turned the issue, the consequence of the law’s finding, to what it is conspicuous of the event: race, class, gender.” [emphasis in original]

Farred was just getting warmed up. The man who published a book declaring Houston Rockets center Yao Ming “the most profound threat to American empire” now contended that Seligmann (the mispronunciation continued)—the “perfect white self”—inserted “itself . . . into the location of the other. The self—the white, male self—in an act of rhetorical flourish, making common cause with the other. The white self speaking as, presumably, phantasmatically, the black other. The law, apparently, can make the self other, to itself.”

To Farred, Reade Seligmann is not an individual—and, indeed, cannot be an individual. He is a white male—no more, no less.


Farred concluded his remarks by linking the three falsely accused players with two prominent white men who made racist statements—Don Imus and Michael Richards. That none of the three players made any racist statements—and that no one apart from the utterly discredited Nifong and (sometimes) Mangum has ever accused the players of making any racist statements—appears not to have troubled Farred. After all, the three players represent “white privilege.” So they cannot be innocent.

“Cooper’s declaration of ‘innocent,’” proclaimed the Group of 88 stalwart, “will always be contaminated by something other than its imagined purity.”

Indeed it will be: by the remarks of people like Grant Farred.