Friday, January 05, 2007

Our Collective Voice - Letter to Davidson

Dr. Davidson,

I am a 3rd year Electrical Engineering Ph.D. student at Duke who has been actively following the Duke Lacrosse case since last March. I recently read the article that you wrote in the News and Observer in which you defended the stance that you and many of your colleagues took towards the situation last Spring. I have not written anyone regarding this case up until this point, but many parts of your article were too concerning to forget about without writing to you about them --- the fact that you are a Duke professor amplified my concern. Just to give you a small amount of background on myself and how I loosely relate to this situation, I am a Caucasian male and am engaged to an African-American female. Certainly, racial issues in America today are very important to me, and I have as much concern for them as I'm sure you do. Though we share such similar concerns, I must express my disappointment towards your use of this Duke Lacrosse case to try to bring racial issues to the national spotlight. I believe that this is causing much more harm than good to race relations, especially since it has no true place in this case.
Below are quotes from your article, followed by my thoughts and concerns:

"Many black students at Duke disappeared into humiliation and rage as the lacrosse players were being elevated to the status of martyrs, innocent victims of reverse racism."

When were these men elevated to the status of innocent victims in those first few weeks/months? The national media crucified them, and fueled by the blatantly-inflammatory and misleading statements by the DA Mike Nifong, they were most definitely dubbed as guilty unless proven innocent. I find this rewriting of history (for all of Durham to read, in a popular local newspaper) as highly irresponsible and damaging.

I also ask....whose fault is it that some black Duke students would "disappear into humiliation and rage" over such a situation (in which race fundamentally was not an issue)? Was it the lacrosse players' fault? Was it my fault as a fellow Duke student, whose student body is supposedly running rampant with racists?

Personally, I interpret their emphasis on the fact that this stripper was black and the lacrosse players were white as racist in itself. Two quotes from the poster that you encouraged last Spring were:

"This is not a different experience for us here at Duke University. We go to class with racist classmates, we go to gym with people who are racists....It’s part of the experience."

"Being a big, black man, it’s hard to walk anywhere at night, and not have a campus police car slowly drive by me."
I ask you......are these legitimate, responsible quotes, and quotes to be encouraged? The first quote is highly inflammatory and potentially racist in itself. Yes, there are racists everywhere --- white racists, black racists, latino racists, asian racists etc. However, what percentage of Duke students are racist? And is the author of this quote not to be deemed as bigoted for making such a generalizing quote?

I find the second quote to be highly paranoid and inwardly-racist --- I would appreciate a poll of the black male Duke students to see just how many of them feel this way --- with such a poll, we could determine whether it truly is a common thought, or whether the author of this quote just needs counseling.

My main point is that the humiliation and rage touched upon by such quotes, in response to the Duke lacrosse case, hold no real weight and certainly have no true connection to the Duke lacrosse situation. These people, with your support, are merely using the coincidental circumstances of different skin tones in this case to bring forth their own personal concerns and issues towards society and I ask you, whose fault is that, and should it be encouraged and actively linked to this case? It is damaging to link such issues to a clear travesty of a case as this one (a clear false accusation of the highest magnitude).

"A team of distinguished athletes at an elite and highly respected university hired two local women to strip at a house filled with men (including those underage) who had been drinking too much. That's sleazy, to say the least. That those women were women of color underscores the appalling power dynamics of the situation."

This woman could have easily worked at Subway or Texas Roadhouse Grill or Walmart or even someplace on her campus at NC Central. She chose to be a member of an "escort service," which, I must emphasize, is much sleazier than just stripping (several unidentified men's semen other than her boyfriend's were found inside her from the DNA tests --- who is the sleazy one?). She actively chose this --- the easy-cash and immoral way out --- and I guarantee you that there are plenty of impoverished young mothers out there (in Durham and elsewhere), even student mothers at that, who choose more difficult, yet much more moral and respectable ways to provide for themselves and their families. There is absolutely no reason to feel the least bit sorry for this woman, the false accuser, and in no way is she a victim of society --- she has brought all of this upon herself by her own decisions and actions. The only victimization that may have occurred with her was later on, if she really did attempt to drop the case and if Nifong refused to allow this. Even if this happened, however, she was the one who brought this situation upon herself, three young men, and the entire Duke and Durham communities, so the full blame rests as much on her shoulders as it does on Nifong's (if not more-so).

Additionally, and more importantly, the color of this woman's skin has absolutely no place in this situation. None whatsoever. I am very disappointed that you (and other members of the Duke faculty and student body, members of Durham, high-influence members of the African American community such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, figureheads in the mainstream media, and most notably, a corrupt and politically-devious DA) would choose to bring such a meaningless part of this situation to the forefront. All it does is damage and hinder the healing of racial tensions in America. These strippers could easily have been white or any other ethnicity, and the same false accusation could have developed. The fact that this woman was black and her victims of false accusation were white is purely coincidental, and academics such as yourself who use this situation as an example of white-against-black racism (or the result of historical racism that keeps African Americans impoverished) are responsible for further unnecessary racial divisions and tensions. This particular aspect of your article, and the infamous advertisement that you pledged support for last Spring, is most concerning to me and I am seriously disappointed that you (and those previously mentioned) are still actively trying to apply it to this case.

"And we live in a situation where a group of white athletes at a prominent university can get drunk and call out for a stripper the way they would a pizza."

Why white? Why put "white" there? We live in a world where any white, black, latino, asian.....any person of any ethnic background....can call up and order a stripper (or escort service), can go and buy a lewd magazine, or can go to an XXX movie theatre or bar. "White" has nothing to do with it. "Athlete" has nothing to do with it. "Privilege," power, wealth has nothing to do with it. The poorest of the poor can access these services as easily as the richest of the rich. By focusing on the fact that these men are "white" and "privileged athletes," you (and those who have put forth similar claims) are yourselves being bigoted, from a certain point of view.

"On the other hand, most of my e-mail comes from right-wing "blog hooligans." These hateful, ranting and sometimes even threatening folks don't care about Duke or the lacrosse players. Their aim is to make academics and liberals look ridiculous and uncaring. They deliberately misrepresent the faculty and manipulate the feelings of those who care about the lacrosse players in order to foster their own demagogic political agenda. They contribute to the problem, not to the solution."

When I read this paragraph, I was amazed at how easily (and fittingly) it could be flipped around. Here is what I mean:

"These harmful and sometimes even racist professors, media figures, and race-relation figureheads don't truly care about Duke or the lacrosse players or even for the supposed victim. They deliberately misrepresent the facts and manipulate the feelings of those who truly care about equality, truth, justice, and harmonious race relations in order to foster their own demagogic political agenda and give themselves national attention (much like Nifong's political agenda). They contribute to the problem, not to the solution, even though they are convinced in their own way that they are helping their cause (racial and feminist equality)."

Just as this false-accuser and this rogue DA have significantly damaged future true rape victims, you are, in fact, actively damaging the healing of historical racial injustices and are making a subtle mockery of all the true racist occurrences that happen in America each day. I fully recognize and respect that you have studied these areas a great deal --- far more than I have.

In light of these concerns that I have from reading your statements, though, and as a person just as concerned about race relations as you, I feel obligated to ask for/suggest the following......Pick and choose your battles, Dr. Davidson. Focus on those racial and feminist situations that truly warrant consideration and national concern. Rushing to judgment and latching on to sensational media stories such as this to actively bring such important issues to the forefront will only serve to damage and set back the cause(s) that you are, for the most part but not presently, nobly fighting for.

Thank you for taking my concerns into consideration. I look forward to any future correspondence that we may have.

Steven Keller


Anonymous said...

Brilliant letter. Sometimes I wonder about the caliber of the professor at Duke. The bloggers and students write with much greater clarity, nuance and conviction than hacks like Baker & Davidson.

joan foster said...

Beautifully articulate! Thanks so much!

bill anderson said...

This was a letter written by a person who is much more mature than any member of the Gang of 88, who insist upon looking at the world in such a small, pathetic way as to be irrelevant.

I am curious to see if some of the faculty members at Duke try to retaliate against this young man. My sense is that he can hold his own.

By the way, the economics faculty members who signed the recent letter are already getting hate mail from other faculty members at Duke (according to my sources, which are sound here).

However, from the tone of that letter and from what I read of Mr. Keller, it seems that the adults at Duke once again are trying to take charge. Time for the children to go to their rooms....

Guy Fox said...

The Gang of 88 remind me a bit of that idiot Ward Churchill, not in message, but rather, in bigotry and shrill denial of facts that don't fit their extremely biased world view. And who knows? If justice is the true aim, they will share his fate.

Anonymous said...

Davidson is right about one thing -I don't care about Duke, Durham, or even Mike Nifong. I am a liberal life long Democrat and do care about due process and justice.

kbp said...


You did a fine job there!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Mr. Keller....THANK YOU!!! As a Duke Lacrosse parent, from the VERY beginning I kept trying to say this had NOTHING to do woth race, NOTHING to do with poor/priveledge. This was about JUSTICE or lack of. This was about, unfortunatley for everyone, about adrug addicted LIAR that did not want to be put away and a DA running for election. Your letter is one of the most articulate letters I have read throuhout this entire ordeal. Again...THANK YOU.

A Duke Lacrosse Parent AND SO VERY PROUD OF IT!!!!!!!!!

Guy Fox said...

I have a suggestion for what should happen to the 88 faculty members. I reflected on disgraced Professor Ward Churchill, who called the 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns". Apparently, he ticked off people enough that they searched through a good number of his writings and found academic misconduct. He ended up being stripped of his tenure and fired. I'm quite certain that a university such as Duke would have no problem whatsoever finding replacements for these individuals as well. They were so eager to condemn people innocent of the crime of which they were accused. Perhaps it's time they learned that libel and slander have real-world consequences. Besides, it's not like they won't be able to join Irving Joyner at NCCU or some other bottom-tier school.

Anonymous said...

I hope someone emails this to Dr. Davidson.
Also,I hope Duke alumni will join me, and stop supporting Duke financially.
There is something deeply wrong with an institution where it's faculty take great satisfaction in harming students under their care.