Race, sex, class and the Duke case

As editor of this page, I searched the Internet for insightful commentary on the Duke lacrosse players case. Sad to say, such comments have been all too few.

Most seized the opportunity to throw sand in our eyes, to downplay the racism, sexism and class privilege that poison our society.

Here are two outstanding exceptions.

ABC’s Nightline anchor Terry Moran, a veteran journalist based in Washington, D.C., had the guts to point to the race and class issues at play.

In a blog commentary headlined, “Don’t feel too sorry for the Dukies,” Moran began by saying that the prosecutor “may well be properly disbarred,” the accuser “has been shown to be either a vicious liar or a troubled fantasist,” and the three lacrosse players “are truly innocent of the charges brought against them according to the North Carolina attorney general and the investigation led by his office.”

But, he continued, “perhaps the outpouring of sympathy for Reade Seligman, Collin Finnerty and David Evans is just a bit misplaced. They got special treatment in the justice system — both negative and positive. The conduct of the lacrosse team of which they were members was not admirable on the night of the incident, to say the least. And there are so many other victims of prosecutorial misconduct in this country who never get the high-priced legal representation and the high-profile, high-minded vindication that it strikes me as just a bit unseemly to heap praise and sympathy on these particular men.

“So as we rightly cover the vindication of these young men and focus on the genuine ordeal they have endured, let us also remember a few other things:

“They were part of a team that collected $800 to purchase the time of two strippers.

“Their team specifically requested at least one white stripper.

“During the incident, racial epithets were hurled at the strippers.

“Collin Finnerty was charged with assault in Washington, D.C., in 2005.

“The young men were able to retain a battery of top-flight attorneys, investigators and media strategists.

“As students of Duke University or other elite institutions, these young men will get on with their privileged lives. There is a very large cushion under them — the one that softens the blows of life for most of those who go to Duke or similar places, and have connections through family, friends and school to all kinds of prospects for success. They are very differently situated in life from, say, the young women of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.

“And, MOST IMPORTANT, there are many, many cases of prosecutorial misconduct across our country every year. The media covers few, if any, of these cases. Most of the victims in these cases are poor or minority Americans — or both. I would hate to say the color of their skin is one reason journalists do not focus on these victims of injustices perpetrated by police and prosecutors, but I am afraid if we ask ourselves the question honestly, we would likely find that it is.”

Terry Moran is white.

Tonyaa Weathersbee, an award-winning African American columnist for the Florida Times-Union, wrote a thoughtful commentary for BlackAmericaWeb before the charges were dropped. Its title: “Either way, Duke accuser a victim — of having to do the worst to attain the best.”

Regardless of the outcome, Weathersbee wrote, “I see her as a victim of limited means — of not having enough resources to pursue her education at North Carolina Central University without resorting to getting naked in front of a bunch of racist jocks. Or maybe she’s a victim of her own shortsightedness, of seeing stripping as an easier route to making extra money than waiting tables.

“Or maybe she’s a victim of a culture that has, over the years, glamorized stripping as a desirable option for needy women to make money to achieve their goals instead of downplaying it as a last desperate resort.”

Wethersbee wrote further:

“I really don’t like how when men pay exotic dancers to perform at parties such as the one held by the Duke lacrosse team, they expect to lob all their perverse fantasies at them — to reduce them to a piece of meat conditioned to endure racial slurs and other degrading comments for the hours that they own them. When a couple of young women are confronted with that kind of abuse in a room full of drunk, horny men, stripping then becomes a dangerous means to make ends meet.

“That’s why the woman who says she was raped by the Duke lacrosse jocks will still be a victim no matter what the outcome.”

Moran and Wethersbee have raised profound issues that our nation must confront.

Susan Webb (suewebb @ pww.org) is a member of the People’s Weekly World editorial board.