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Keep the race issue out of it

Liz Coffey | Thursday, April 27, 2006

North Carolina – a place where the Civil War was popularly known as “The War of Northern Aggression.” And prior to the war (whatever you choose to call it), it was also a place where hundreds of black slaves labored on tobacco plantations. In modern times, North Carolina has been a site of racial gerrymandering, as the notorious salamander-shaped 12th Congressional District was drawn along the I-85 corridor to give African Americans one black representative, while unfairly diluting African-American voting blocs in other districts.

While North Carolina may be well south of the Mason-Dixon line, not everything there is about race.

On the evening of March 13, a twenty-seven year-old exotic dancer called 911. She claimed that she had been forced into a bathroom and then raped by three Duke lacrosse players. She was black, and they were white. Thus, people pitted the conflict as one in which males from an exclusive “sanctuary of the white man” private school took advantage of a poor black “townie.”

But was this the correct characterization? While Duke may have originally been the stronghold of the southern white male, the demographics of the student body have changed throughout the years. The latest Princeton Review reported that 56 percent of the student body is Caucasian. Moreover, most of the student body hails from outside of North Carolina, and the South in general. The men’s lacrosse team is particularly non-southern, as over half of the team hails from the three northeastern states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Via e-mail, one of these New Jersey natives expressed his desire to invite strippers to his room, kill them and cut off their skin. He didn’t mention that the skin had to be black.

Yet the media infused the conflict with racial undertones. A New York Times article said that a full-page ad in the college newspaper which deemed the happenings a “social disaster” was paid for by “the department of African and African-American studies along with other departments.” Why only mention the black groups? It feeds the racial undertones of the story.

And is this really a “social disaster”? Isn’t it more of a moral disaster?

The player’s e-mail reminds me of the horrifyingly disturbing (and fictional, thank goodness) movie “Hostel,” in which some people paid thousands of dollars to torture and kill people for their own personal enjoyment. One couldn’t help but watch the movie and shudder at the immorality of the acts. Similarly, if this boy wanted to tear off a stripper’s skin, isn’t that a moral problem?

And what about the act of stripping? Exotic dancing is not considered a moral activity by most standards. Moreover, the 27-year-old woman was also a mother! What kind of a mother is also a stripper?

But many failed to consider that, and instead played the race card. Those who play that card in this story are no better than baseball player Sammy Sosa, who claimed, in the midst of a sub-par 2004 season, that Chicago fans were turning against him not because of his poor batting average, but because of the color of his skin.

Those who play the race card are also no better than those who claimed that the firing of Tyrone Willingham after a sub-par 2005 Notre Dame football season was not because of his team’s poor win-loss record, but because of the color of his skin. (And what are those people are thinking now, after Charlie Weis led practically the same team to a BCS bowl?)

Recent DNA tests connected zero of the forty-six white lacrosse players to the rape. So what if the rape never happened in the first place?

If the young woman did fabricate her story, she’d be no better than the Missouri couple who faked the birth of sextuplets in order to receive donations from compassionate people. But instead of exploiting the generosity of others, this exotic dancer will have exploited American sympathies regarding the race conflict. Then we’d have an altogether different moral problem on our hands.

Regardless of the case’s outcome, if any social problems have been clearly exposed, it is the problem of student-athletes and the amount of extra leeway they are given in most colleges. While Notre Dame prides itself in maintaining high standards for its student-athletes, the University seems to be a rare exception these days. The Duke rape scandal may be another story in a series that includes Coach Gary Barnett and the Colorado football recruiting scandal of 2004, in which recruits were given sex, money and alcohol as a means of luring them on to the university’s football team.

Race brought on the Civil War (or the “War of Northern Aggression,” whichever you prefer). Race brought on unfair redistricting. But race may not have brought about this heinous crime. Not all incidents in North Carolina are race-related. Sometimes, they’re just about morality.

Liz Coffey is a junior American Studies major. She is studying in Washington, D.C. for the semester and can be contacted at ecoffey@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.