In America, the term race relations seems to me to be an oxymoron. The phrase contradicts itself. I am sad to say that the two principal races, of this country and this campus, don't do too much relating or interacting. The gulf between these two peoples is vast, and is most significantly measured in terms of political power and economic status.
There is talk, I suppose, of bringing people together, but time after time the talk amounts to a hollow mouthing of high-sounding principles. Like the talk of promoting diversity on a campus that has failed to denounce acts of overt racism and failed to meet its own race quotas and retain or attract black faculty and administrators, or indeed, of any color. When the Beacon ran the story on the alleged rape last week, it sparked great controversy. Predictably, the core of the issue involved some of the same throbbing fears and psychological inadequacies that have plagued this country and have murdered many of its citizens, in the South particularly, for so very long. This is the almost permanently taboo issue of black men having sex with white women. But naturally this firestorm deals with much larger issues of media perceptions of black people and the emotional stability of a community.
In and of itself the story is fine. But I recoiled when I read it because I am helpless to avoid seeing or interpreting what the story means, what it might give rise to, what it may silently support. People were bothered by the prominence of race descriptors. As the paper stated recently, the race of unapprehended alleged perpetrators is categorically relevant, and that of the victim is not. And, in light of the current crime spree on campus, a story about such an attack will always be at least considered for print. Some have questioned whether or not this case would have been as newsworthy had it involved white members of Greek clubs. I think that it would have been front page, and in fact, several years ago such occurrences were and they involved the use of pills that rendered the victims unconscious.
It is important to consider and this is a crucial issue which speaks to the idea of journalistic care and discretion that there is a voracious sensationalism which can hardly be separated from the need to report on serious crimes, and both concerns serve to promote papers. That goal is in some sense unconcerned with race.
Now, there is legitimate irritation at this story for several reasons: Why lead-story front page, (which implicitly accords a kind of believable gravity to the incident, regardless of the word alleged) when there are some grave inconsistencies in the victim's allegations that should be easily spotted? Why not wait a day or so until the UTPD have more of a case, or what is our responsibility as journalists in reporting this story when the victim won't press charges and refuses medical attention? Why mention the laughter bit, which is of questionable importance? I don't know, really. There are serious professional concerns about the validity of this case, and though it disturbs me to have to consider them because I don't believe the female completely fabricated the attack, they must be addressed.
Race tension has been high since the hateful scrawlings in the residence hall hallway. The same tension has been aggravated by recent crimes which involved black perpetrators. Unaware of this phenomenon as the reader may be, our history near and distant has fostered a kind of goose and gander effect vis-ˆ-vis black people and offenses imagined or real. For instance, as it has been told to me, one black shoplifter removed in cuffs from the store often makes other black shoppers really uneasy, and this is more than paranoia. In effect, vengeance and penalties tend to be exacted on communities rather than individuals, both psychologically and in tangible terms. Some black men on campus are now justifiably concerned about walking near white women at night. This may seem absurd to white collegians. But such a view merely reflects ingrained misunderstandings across the color line. What some of my paler brethren may not see is the irreducible larger animal of this issue, which is so difficult to talk about or remedy. It has to do with this volatile though somewhat muted social context into which the story was thrust, and so the finite details of one article involve more than just relevance or policy.
This story may have been irresponsible for the haste with which it was printed so visibly. It was carefully considered for its consequences, I am told. Ultimately, it has inspired some form of dialogue, but more saliently it seems to have strengthened race barriers and brought on anger and reinforced distrust effects which are tragically hard for the dominant culture to understand or admit to. But everyone must try.
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Opinion: Race controversy is more elaborate than it appears
From the series UNTITLED COLUMN by Nate Arthur
Thu Oct 26, 2000 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 03:18 p.m.