July 23, 2009

Professor Gates lives out wildest racial fantasy

I was lucky enough to witness the Duke Lacrosse Fiasco firsthand, back when I was a starving PhD candidate in the university’s graduate school. While most critics in the media focused their energies on the buffoonish Atticus Fitch wannabe Mike Nifong, I was always much more interested in the bizarre, Gothic fantasies of rape, torture, and miscegenation that much of faculty and student body indulged in for a good year and a half.

As I wrote in The American Conservative, ?Far from coming as a shock, the accusations that white students gang-raped a black stripper reached the [faculty] as a kind of fulfillment of a dream. The case was, for them, an affirmation of what they always knew about Duke, Durham, and American society in general.?

The collective hysteria seemed to feed off a few ?foundational myths.? The most important of these, at least for the white faculty members, was the notion that the alleged rape fit into a grand historical narrative of racial-sexual violence. The idea was best articulated by the then-Chair of my department, William Chafe, who wrote of a kind of ?primal scene? that was reenacted by the lacrosse boys that March night on Buchanan Blvd. According to Chafe:

Sex was an instrument by which racial power was manifested and perpetuated. Why are most African Americans of a lighter hue than Africans from Nigeria? Because at some point in the past, or present, white males have ?had their way? with black women. White slave masters were the initial perpetrators of sexual assault on black women, subsequent generations continued the pattern.

?Subsequent generations,? Chafe intimates, that include the then-accused Reade Seligman and Collin Finnerty.

And Chafe went on, claiming that the 1954 lynching of Emmett Till ?helps to put into context what occurred in Durham.?

Whether or not a rape took place, there is no question that ? white students hired a black woman from an escort service to perform an erotic dance. [Emphasis added]

But then, is that a crime? Chafe always seemed unable to view the lacrosse team?s hiring of a black stripper outside the ?context? of masters? raping and mixing blood with their slaves down on the plantation.

Professor Tim Tyson followed suit, moving the narrative up a few decades:

The spirit of the lynch mob lived in that house on Buchanan Boulevard, regardless of the truth of the most serious charges. [Emphasis added]

Translation: no matter what actually happened, the lacrosse team is guilty of ritually enacting racial-sexual violence.

And there was another fantasy floating around campus, one that speaks to the Henry Lewis Gates controversy that everyone?even our president?is talking about, and which is the subject of this blog?Whitey?s-Out-To-Get-Me! 

As I wrote back in 2007:

Topping them all, at last in terms of rhetorical panache, is Mark Anthony Neal or, as he frequently refers to himself, the ?Thug-Nigga-Intellectual??a ?dangerous nigger and America has never romanticized about its fear of angry ?don?t give a fuck? niggers.? Neal, a professor of English, claims that he must take on this persona because of his alienation from evil white Duke, evidenced by the mean looks he gets while ?chillin? with my homey Gramsci? at Starbucks. Despite his claims, the university has actually ?romanticized about? Professor Neal a great deal, featuring a lengthy article on him in last summer?s alumni magazine.

The myth that Neal lives by informs his claim that whenever he ?rolls into the classroom on the first day of class,? there is always somebody ?in the house quietly utter[ing] ?who?s the nigger??? That a professor heard students whispering the N-word at politically correct Duke approaches the outer limits of credibility. What?s more instructive is Neal?s response: ?I?m the nigga that gonna intellectually choke the living shitt out of you.?

And watch out, dear eternally racist white students, if the Super-Sized ?TNI? ever threatens to intellectually sit on you! 

But all that?s history.

In Henry Louis Gates Jr.?s interview with The Root (a magazine he edits) last Tuesday, his opening line was straight out of the playbook of Seinfeld?s defense attorney, Jackie Chiles??I?m outraged.? He then went on to say, ?I can’t believe that an individual policeman on the Cambridge police force would treat any African-American male this way, and I am astonished that this happened to me.?

But then was Gates really so shocked and chagrined, mortified and stupefied?

While Gates very well might be astonished that all this would happen to him, the incident itself shouldn?t have surprised him in the slightest. Wasn?t this just another case of the white, oppressive, institutionally racist ?System? harassing a poor black man through one of its low-level lackeys, a white copper who?s in on the racket? Indeed, isn?t this ?the black experience,? which Gates has himself chronicled?

What?s truly shocking for Gates is that throughout his years as a tenured professor at Harvard, as the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and as a liver of an altogether supercool life within The Establishment?before his arrest, Gates was filming a PBS documentary in Beijing?he never, ever thought racial oppression would happen to him. And he didn’t want to miss the opportunity! 

The professor certainly had the right to be a bit ticked off for being questioned while trying to get into his own home; however, Gates’s ensuring hysterical eruption?which occurred while the officer was just trying to leave?seems to reveal a man who was finally living out his wildest racial fantasy. 

According to Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer,

Mister Gates was given plenty of opportunities to stop what he was doing. He didn’t. He acted very irrational. He controlled the outcome of that event.

There was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother, something you wouldn’t expect from anybody that should be grateful that you were there investigating a report of a crime in progress, let alone a Harvard University professor.

It?s happening! Oh my God, it?s really happening!

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