Since March 14, race and racism have played a consistent, and sometimes depressingly noticeable, role in this case. In the Wilmington Journal, Cash Michaels has frequently quoted from anonymous racist e-mails that he has received; on the Duke campus, Karla Holloway has claimed to have received similar e-mails. Anonymous e-mails of any type, it seems to me, should be criticized; racist emails are contemptible.
That said, I’ve received dozens of anonymous, race-baiting e-mails since starting this blog; I don’t consider those e-mails any more representative of the Group of 88’s thinking than I would consider anonymous racist e-mails to reflect the mindset of the Group’s critics.
Beyond the one lacrosse player and these anonymous e-mails, however, evidence of anti-black racism as applied to this case has been difficult to discern. In her controversial N&O op-ed, Cathy Davidson claimed that the Group of 88 reacted to racist statements defending the three players Mike Nifong ultimately targeted. She stated,
The ad said that we faculty were listening to the anguish of students who felt demeaned by racist and sexist remarks swirling around in the media and on the campus quad in the aftermath of what happened on March 13 in the lacrosse house.
The insults, at that time, were rampant. It was as if defending David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann necessitated reverting to pernicious stereotypes about African-Americans, especially poor black women.
I’ve spoken to dozens of people at Duke, and have received a consistent reaction: none are aware of any defenses, much less racist ones, of the three players between March 24 and April 6, when the Group of 88’s statement appeared. More broadly, I have struggled to find a record of anyone who was aggressively defending any of the lacrosse players “on the campus quad” between March 24 and April 6, much less anyone who was doing so by “reverting to pernicious stereotypes about African-American women.”
It is deeply unfortunate that Davidson elected to trivialize real instances of racism—of which there are far too many in American society—by seeming to invent episodes of racist behavior by Duke students to justify the Group of 88’s dubious conduct.
Over the past ten months, we have witnessed public instances of racist behavior, most of which has passed unrebuked, certainly by people like the Group of 88.
1.) Double-standard racism.
i.) After welcoming to Durham the New Black Panthers, certified as a hate group by both the SPLC and the ADL, Victoria Peterson was personally celebrated by Mike Nifong after she signed on as chair of his “citizens’ committee.” To my knowledge, this action received no rebuke from any prominent Durham black leader, from the state NAACP, from the black press, or from a member of the Group of 88.
Imagine the opposite: an allegation of black-on-white crime prompted a visit from the KKK, and the chair of the DA’s “citizens’ committee” had shared the platform with the KKK Grand Dragon. Does anyone think
ii.) Karla Holloway, then-chair of the “race subgroup” of the Campus Culture Initiative, published an article condemning the women’s lacrosse players and suggesting that Nifong’s critics were arguing that “white innocence means black guilt.” Her remarks passed without rebuke from anyone at Duke, and she remained in her CCI position until last week, when she resigned to protest the lifting of Reade Seligmann’s and Collin Finnerty’s suspensions.
Imagine the opposite: after an allegation of black-on-white crime and a DA who engaged in the same type of misconduct that Nifong has, a right-of-center white professor tasked with improving “campus culture” published an article suggesting that the DA’s critics believed that “black innocence means white guilt.” Does anyone think the administration wouldn’t have immediately demanded the professor’s resignation as “race subgroup” chair?
2.) Conspiracy of silence.
Over the past several months, several Durham African-Americans of some prominence have made blatantly racist remarks. Last spring, NCCU student Chan Hall demanded that Duke students be prosecuted “whether it happened or not,” to provide “justice for things that happened in the past.” Just after the election, Nifong supporter and former Durham Democratic Party official Harris Johnson rejoiced that the result showed “that justice can’t be bought by a bunch of rich white boys from
With Nifong himself so frequently resorting to race-baiting rhetoric, it’s little surprise that such remarks occurred in
Does anyone believe that we would have seen such a reaction if a leading white member of Duke’s student government, a former GOP city official, and a white member of the H-S editorial staff had uttered the reverse of the Hall/Johnson/Childress comments?
3.) Unthinking racism.
A recent article by Gregory Kane on Black America Web illustrates the approach. In mocking terms, he described himself as unaffected by Nifong’s decision to drop the rape charges against the targeted Duke students. Kane was “compelled to write about how I’m so not feeling any sympathy for these guys. I say again, they got off easy.”
Why, says Kane? Because 23 years ago, a black man named Calvin Johnson was falsely accused of rape. Kane claims that no one in the media paid attention when Johnson was charged, or when an all-white jury in
“Those who continue to defend” the Duke players, concludes Johnson, “can holla at me after they’ve done 16 years on a jive humble charge.”
In other words: because black people in the South have been wrongly convicted in the past, it is wrong to worry if whites, or Asians, or Hispanics are railroaded for political reasons today. The contempt that Kane feels for the Duke students, just because of who they are, is palpable.
There’s no question that innocent people are wrongfully convicted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct. There’s also no question that those so affected are disproportionately poor and minorities.
If the abuses in the Calvin Johnson case—or any case handled by the Innocence Project—had come to light during or before the trial, would a media and popular outcry have been justified? According to Kane’s logic, no. Because innocent blacks have spent years or decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, others should experience the same fate. This line of argument is perverse.
Kane’s basic viewpoint has appeared with depressing frequency throughout this case. On Friday’s Paula Zahn broadcast, black talk show host Joe Madison asserted, “I’m not crying tears over these guys.” On campus, political science professor and Group of 88 member Paula McClaim—who had previously rationalized Nifong’s behavior and claimed that the administration’s approach to the lacrosse was “depressing and demoralizing for [African-American] faculty”—was asked over the summer whether she would speak out in favor of due process for the three players. Her one-word answer: “NO.”
Remember, again, what occurred in this case: a prosecutor deliberately exploited racial tensions, and profited politically from doing so. On this day, of all days, that record should outrage everyone.