Monday, January 08, 2007

Our Collective Voice - RodNReg

Dear Ms. Davidson,

I want to believe you. I want to believe that the Listening Statement you and 87 others signed was just about the racial and gender attitudes and not about the lacrosse incident. I want to accept what you call an explicit statement that the ad was not addressed to the police investigation or the rape allegations. Parsing the statement out now, in today’s emotionally sterile environment wiped clean of the presumption of guilt, one may be able to do just that. But the Listening Statement wasn’t issued today. It wasn’t issued in a clean room free of opinion. Instead, it was issued at a time when one of the ugliest images of our history – a privileged white man raping a poor black woman – contaminated public reason and objective thought was tossed aside in favor of a lynch mob mentality.

From that moment you want us to accept that the statement was not about the lacrosse incident and that those who find the ad offensive have not read the ad, misunderstood the ad, or have been misled by “blog hooligans” with a political agenda. Ms. Davidson, I have read the ad and feel very comfortable with my ability to understand the message – both implicit and explicit. I find it beyond the bounds of credulity to believe that 88 highly educated individuals could sign such a document without one asking the question of what exactly it endorsed when it stated that “students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman.” Do you ask us to conclude that at the time when those shouts and whispers were dominated by the cry of “rape” that nobody paused consider that the Listening Statement was endorsing the assumption of guilt?

It’s even more improbable to assume that faculty members from one of the nation’s elite institutions signed a statement expressing gratitude to those speaking individually and collectively for not waiting and for making their voices heard without one signee pausing to ask what the message was that was being carried by those the statement was thanking. One would have to be painfully naïve to buy into the belief that nobody signing the statement noticed the protestors outside of 610 N. Buchanan were carrying signs screaming “CASTRATE” and choreographing chants of “they must be rapists.”

Maybe it’s true. Maybe you and your colleagues who signed the statement weren’t really fully attune to those things. But does that scenario seem remotely plausible, or does it seem more likely that the message was crafted in such a way to support those dominant sentiments of the time without overtly proclaiming guilt? In light of the ever evolving reasoning expressed by your colleague co-signee Alex Rosenberg as his motivation for signing the statement are we to believe him sincere and that the message was not about the lacrosse incident? In light of the recently filed lawsuit alleging your colleague and co-signee Kim Curtis inappropriately gave failing grades to two lacrosse players are we to believe that the message was not about the lacrosse incident? In light of your use of the label “hooligans,” a term that carries a perverse context in this particular situation, are we to believe the message was not about the lacrosse incident?

I’ve read the reasoning you ask us to accept as the motivation and message of the Listening Statement. I’ve read different reasoning from Mr. Rosenberg. The question I’m left with is; Why now? The Listening Statement was controversial from the moment it was published. Yet none of those endorsing the message felt the need for further explanation at that time. None felt the need to clarify to all of us that it wasn’t about the lacrosse incident. Why now? What’s changed – other than the players charged appear to be innocent of the crimes with which they were charged? If this statement was truly only about the culture at Duke and not about the lacrosse incident, why not make that clarification the next day? Why not the next week, the next month, or any of the months prior to this point. The recent desire to “clarify” the intent of the message appears to be inspired by the need to distance the message from those sentiments that didn’t look so misguided when the lacrosse team appeared to be guilty.

What stands out for me in both the original statement and your current reframing are two ironies. First, that you would attribute most of your email as originating from those with an agenda to make academics and liberals look ridiculous and uncaring and; secondly, that the Listening Statement would proudly trumpet the fact that it was turning up the volume in a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down. No doubt, you were turning up the volume. You were turning up the volume to support an agenda of your own which, on the surface may appear to be noble and just. But in the process, you showed no regard for the harm it would cause those who were truly the most vulnerable – those who could potentially lose 30 years of freedom at the hands of a corrupt DA, a willing media, and those who would exploit the situation to promote their own agenda.

In closing I’ll point out that you state it is an educator’s job to bring the lessons of history to bear as we try to understand the social implications of an event. In studying the lessons of history I would recommend that you apply a healthy dose of introspection. So many people have taken exception to the statement you endorsed. Yet rather than take a lesson from that the signees of the statement choose to hide behind the arrogance of “they don’t get it” or the paranoia of “they have an agenda.” There are many lessons for all of us from the lacrosse incident. One is about the rush to judgment and the lengths to which people will go to in order to avoid facing the reality of their actions. Those lessons will continue until one of you steps forward to admit that while not condemning the lacrosse players directly, the statement offered support, encouragement, and even gratitude to those who did.

Ms. Davidson, we’re the ones who are listening now.


Anonymous said...

Terrific post - these folk may never sign a statement again or a check. Keep up the good work,

Anonymous said...

Wow, outstanding essay.

I've never been a fan of blogs until this case. Now I see the power of so many minds and intellects in providing points of view and contexts which help to deconstruct the sterile MSM view of news events.