Sunday, April 29, 2007


It seems like that in the last few weeks, we have had event after event that has caused me to pause and wonder a lot about our current human condition. These events, both locally and nationally, have been gripping in their media appeal and ability to dominate the cable news, talk radio and grab the headlines in the print media.

But as one event knocks off the prior one for the top spot, I keep asking myself, what is that we’ve learned? I know that there is no law stating that we have to learn anything from any event, but for a community of thinking people with enormous intellectual capacity and who seem to value social progress, it seems to be a reasonable expectation. It’s as if we must be a living testament to George Santayana’s oft quoted line, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Let’s look at two examples. First, the Duke Lacrosse case, or the stripper false allegation case as some call it. When the case first broke in the media, the uproar was deafening and the responses were certainly predictable. Anger, disgust, outrage, hate, and repugnance were evident and came through in media reports loudly and clearly. The lacrosse players and their coach, and those defending them, appeared to have little support.

People firmly on both sides of the case accused those of us of all sorts of things when cautioned that in situations like this it was best to wait for some facts to come in before reaching a judgment. So when people called from all over our country and asked about the case, I responded that it had all of the ingredients that the media loves: race, sex, class, an elite university, and disreputable employment.

When the North Carolina Attorney General declared the three young men innocent, reactions were just as loud. Of course, some argued that they knew it all the time and others claim that you can’t be innocent when you have a team party with alcohol being served to underage teens while watching an “exotic” dancer. But the key point is that those who knew what they knew in the beginning were just as adamant when this development became public.

Then comes Imus and his non-humorous attempt at humor (he claims) and the Duke story is no longer number one. Again, we have race and a verified assault on a group of young women. People who supported Imus referenced the 1st Amendment and his opponents argued that he had no right to do what he did to those young ladies. No attorney general declared him innocent or guilty, the marketplace did.

When the broadcast sponsors were bombarded with complaints from the public, the TV and radio networks went from a suspension to a firing, but not because they really didn’t like what their star jock said, but because the market forces aligned against them.

What troubles me in this situation is that we didn’t get to discuss more fully the issues raised in this case. In particular, how much discussion has there been about the rest of what Imus said, that the University of Tennessee girls were “cute?” What was he saying? Was it solely because of the absence of tattoos or was it because of straight hair and fair skin? Note that this is not a new race topic that we can’t seem to discuss openly or honestly.

Do you see a pattern? We know what we know and the facts, whenever they surface, are not going to keep some of us from our rush to judgments in hot button cases. There are so many outlets these days like blogs and chat rooms where we can express whatever opinion we have without having any responsibility to know what we are talking about. After all, we have a right to our opinions and therefore the right to be 100% wrong.

But when it comes to both sides of the hot buttons of race, class, sex and other captivating topics, why is it so hard for even people of goodwill to have candid and honest discussions? Hence, I must keep wondering what it is that we’ve learned from these cases. It’s interesting that 30 years ago when the TV docudrama “Roots” first aired, we seemed to be on our way in making some progress towards being able to discuss hard topics. Now, I’m not sure we’ve progressed.

In our local community, we are facing some hard issues like redistricting and the achievement gap where race and class are prominent factors. How can we achieve solutions if we can’t have honest and open discussions? I want to be optimistic that we can show that we’ve learned something constructive and beneficial from these recent events. If we can do that, it would be a good thing.

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