The Word “Tar” Causes Trouble Once Again

You may remember how White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was criticized for using the phrase “hug the tar baby” in a May press conference. Well, now the phrase “tar and feather” is also taboo. In response to Professor Steven Baldwin’s excellent editorial in yesterday’s Chronicle criticizing the Duke administration and faculty for its treatment of our student athletes, Professor Robyn Wiegman has a letter in the Chronicle today taking Baldwin to task for his use of the phrase “tar and feather”:

Cultivate community of critical thought

I read with amazement Tuesday’s Chronicle and the opinion by my colleague Steven Baldwin, who finds the faculty response to the Duke lacrosse scandal one that warrants their being “tarred and feathered, ridden out of town on a rail and removed from the academy.” In a guest column in the same issue as a story about the panel at the law school last Friday, in which many participants proclaimed the over emphasis of media reportage of race, class, gender and privilege last spring, one can only wonder what symbolic world is being culled here and denied all at once?

Being tarred and feathered is the language of lynching, and the practice of lynching was rarely one that eventuated in a court case of any kind, let alone one in which the defendants claim 10 minutes on one of the most important television programs in the United States. My disappointment in Duke right now is that it wants to avoid the analysis of the language and history of race, instead of using this moment-in its broad social implications-to actually study it. We can all have our opinions about the court case, but the time now is for engaging, as a university, the harder project of cultivating a community of actors who value and perform studied critical thought. Journalism can aspire to that as well.

Robyn Wiegman
Margaret Taylor Smith Director Women’s Studies
Professor, Women’s Studies and Literature

Apparently knowledge of history isn’t required in Wiegman’s “community of critical thought,” because if it were, she would know that the act of tarring and feathering someone has a long history largely separate from race. American colonists did it as a punishment and a deterrent to British Loyalists and officials, such as tax collectors; see here and here. The practice didn’t stop with the colonial days, though; for example, an International Workers of the World (I.W.W. or “Wobblie”) organizer was tarred and feathered in 1918. I don’t doubt that this form of harassment may have been used against blacks, but as I see it–and please, anyone with more knowledge of history should feel free to correct me–the term “tar and feather” has about as much of a racial overtone as “hanging” or “mob violence” do–that is, none. Moreover, Baldwin is obviously using the phrase as a metaphor for public censure. In fact, he also has a letter in today’s Chronicle, graciously apologizing for any misunderstanding over the language he used, which he did not intend to be racial. All he meant was that we should shame these faculty that were so unfair to the lacrosse players. It’s not “the language of lynching”; it’s merely a common phrase that is not symbolic of anything racial.

It’s ironic not only that a professor of literature doesn’t understand metaphors, but also that someone urging “critical thought” fails to think critically, and prefers to make a silly ad hominem attack rather than actually respond to the substance of her colleague’s arguments. Making every little thing into a racial offense does not bring the issue out into the open and force us to confront something we may have been avoiding, as Wiegman ostensibly hopes it will. Rather, it only makes it harder for us to discuss race if we always have to be worried about using language or expressing ideas that are deemed politically incorrect. Those who really care about an honest discussion of race–or any issue, for that matter, since Baldwin’s article was unrelated to race–would do better to analyze other people’s arguments on their merits than to smear them as users of “the language of lynching” because of some imaginary offense.

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Duke Dems Fail to ‘Filibuster’ Alito

Today, of course, Samuel Alito finally received the Senate vote that he deserved, and he is now America’s 110th Supreme Court justice. Moderation and objective Constitutional interpretation have triumphed while obstructionism has fallen from grace.

Two weeks ago, the Duke Democrats staged a mock filibuster on the Chapel Quad to protest the Senate’s impending confirmation vote. Members harshly criticized Alito and distributed handbills to passers-by.

The text of this handbill is representative of the message trumpeted by today’s leaders in the Democratic Party: Americans (in this case, Duke students) are not fully capable of thinking for themselves. We require a script to explain why Justice Alito “does not fit with the way [we] interpret [our] rights.”

“[sample script]
Hi, my name is [my name] and I am from [my hometown]. I am calling today to voice my opinions on the Alito confirmation. Sam Alito does not fit with the way I interpret the rights given to me in the constitution [sic], and I hope that the Senator will express my opinion on the Senate floor and will vote against Alito. If confirmation seems likely, I encourage my Senator to filibuster in order to protect my rights. Thank you for your time.”

The Duke Democrats don’t trust the average Duke student to have a political opinion of his/her own. This campus organization believes that “Alito’s America is not our America.”

If they support a judiciary that bases its decisions on the text of the Constitution, however, then they are utterly mistaken. Alito’s America is our America!

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David Kleban: Needs a Reality Check

In his Chronicle column, “Leather-Bound Books,” (1/26), David Kleban encourages campus liberals to reject their “position of powerlessness” and “recognize the upper hand they’ve been given.” Of course, since a lopsided majority of the Duke faculty and administration hold liberal political views, I find this exhortation to “recognize the upper hand” more than a little disturbing.

In his attack of the Duke Conservative Union (DCU), Kleban rages on about how conservatives should not try to “squelch the ideas they feel threatened by” and should cease their “Ignorant attacks on ‘radical’ speakers.”

This charge can only be perceived as a crude form of reverse psychology. Indeed, it is the overwhelming liberal majority in the administration and faculty that have ‘squelched’ conservative ideas.

Look at the vast number of courses which obsess over leftist activists and thinkers: Marcuse, Friedan, Sanger, and others. Celebrated statesmen and intellectuals from the Right, however, are consistently ignored. Do we see classes like “The Free Market and Hayek” or “Winning the Cold War” or “Rags to Riches: An Overview of American Greatness.” No, we do not.

Droves of liberal speakers are invited to Duke every year, and University funds are used to cover their expenses. For the past five MLK Commemorations, we have experienced an unbroken string of radical leftist speakers. Some of these speakers have run for office on the Communist Party ticket while others have stood beside world leaders who torture and imprison their political opponents.

Mr. Kleban, just because Martin Luther King, Jr. was an ‘extremist’ in the disgraceful racial environment of the 1950s doesn’t mean he would be dancing Calypso with Castro today (like his companion Mr. Belafonte). I would argue that African-Americans who have risen to positions of prominence in American society, and have done so because of the gains in racial equality that King achieved, would be excellent choices for speakers. This is not to say that ‘activists’ of all political persuasions are not appreciated or necessary, but the monotonous selection of Marxist speakers has turned the event into a laughingstock.

And while the MLK Committee might have $45,000 to bring in one or two speakers who hate America, the DCU must use their shoe-string annual budget (in the ballpark of ~40-45 times less) to bring in speakers for an entire year.

Although Kleban may accuse the DCU of attempting to “shut…down” political discussion and “squelch” opposing ideas, reality is far different than his ravings suggest. In truth, the DCU’s campaign to shed light on Belafonte’s extremist views and racist comments was met with hostility and annoyance by campus liberals (like Kleban) who found it more expedient to whine about the DCU than to defend Belafonte “with intelligent discourse of their own.”

According to Kleban, conservatives at Duke are “on the defensive.” As with nearly every other claim he made, there could be nothing further from the truth.

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Moving Forward

Welcome to Duke New Sense! This blog is a conservative forum and news source for members of the Duke University community and informed readers everywhere. We hope to provide insightful political commentary and campus news to a student body that grows more digitally-oriented every year. One only need look at reports of plummeting print newspaper circulation to realize the importance of internet news outlets and blogs in today’s society. There is every indication that this trend will continue.

We members of the Duke Conservative Union hope to raise our voice above the dusty heaps of campus journals in publication bins. After a trail period extending from late November through December, we plan to start blogging regularly in January. By moving from magazine to blog, we will expand our potential readership; increase our accessibility to alumni; communicate news, upcoming events, and commentary in a timely fashion; and join the growing movement toward web-based political discussion and analysis.

Reluctance for change has characterized historical conservatism. For the Duke Conservative Union, however, pragmatism has triumphed over nostalgia, and a new era has begun.

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