Following up on my previous posts (links below): TaxProf Blog op-ed: The Racial Rules That Keep Us Apart, by Darryll K. Jones (Florida A&M):
What are Nancy Shurtz’ colleagues of color, particularly her African American colleagues, to think about (1) her having dressed up as a “Black Man in a White Coat,” and (2) the reaction to what she did? She has a friendly smile with genuine eyes, and she teaches Tax. But I only know that from picture and her bio. If we ever met I don’t remember. But I accept, as has her University and even her colleagues who want her out, that she intended no offense and indeed is a strong supporter of diversity and other issues generally thought to involve restorative justice for America’s racism.
Somehow, I am made to feel defensive by calls for her punishment. It just makes me very uncomfortable and I don’t want her stoned in the public square for my vindication. If I were on the faculty at Oregon I would feel compelled to protest the crowd’s outrage ostensibly expressed in recognition of my heritage and feelings. But I might just sit, quietly grinding my teeth and hoping that the whole thing would just die down. It is the punishment, the demand for this poor woman’s head on a platter that makes me uncomfortable. There are clear dangers in an African American saying so. I imagine that some colleagues might shake their heads in disgust at my own lack of outrage. There is always the danger of being labeled an “uncle tom” or an apologist for racists if one doesn’t adopt the hot tone of indignation. Or just plain ignorant.
Don’t misunderstand me, I would have been extremely bothered had I arrived at her party to see her in black face. I can’t imagine whose idea that must have been. And because she has, on other occasions, portrayed herself (accurately or not) as a champion for issues of restorative justice does not give her a pass. I can sum it up with one example from many an African American boy’s memory. It would be like a young white boy uttering the N word amongst his exclusively or mostly black friends, thinking himself one of them because they always hang out and listen to the same music. “We might be cool and everything, but you are not one of us like that!” Cultural rules required the kid take a beat down for his offense no matter how much he might previously have been a member of our crew. It was a painful thing to witness, knowing that the kid thought and wanted himself to be so much one of us that he would repeat a word reserved to us exclusively. And forever thereafter was the reminder that you are not really one of us even if we do have sleepovers. Both parties are sadder for the realization.
Once it is accepted that she intended no offense (though that was the result) but rather wanted to bring attention to a book she clearly must have enjoyed, so much so that she felt like she was “one of us” and wanted to prove it, the response ought to move from retribution to dialogue and education. She made a huge mistake and in doing so likely exposed what? Secret hatred or just incredible idealism in thinking she had chips enough in the Black community that she could dress as a character she admired from a book she apparently relished. She read a “Harry Potter” of sorts and like the kids who are so into Harry, wanted to dress up like one of the characters in admiration of that character.
But history distorts her actions and makes it as if she uttered the N word amongst her closest friends who happen to be African American, thinking she has crossed the cultural divide. The rules require that she take a beat down and that those of us who ought to have been offended by her mistake participate in that beat down. From now on, she won’t forget and we won’t let her forget; no matter how much she admires our culture, the fortitude with which we have earned our rights in this society, no matter how much she secretly wishes she too had participated in civil rights marches, or had been the pioneer in a literary worthy racial struggle, she will never be one of us. Everyone ought to be sadder for that fact. Meanwhile I don’t want to participate in the beat down even if the rules say I must.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- 23 Oregon Law Profs Call On Colleague To Resign For Wearing Blackface At Halloween Party (Nov. 3, 2016)
- Oregon Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz Says She Wore Blackface To Halloween Party To Teach Lesson As Author Of Black Man In A White Coat (Nov. 3, 2016)
- Volokh: Oregon Law Profs' Attempt To End Colleague's Career Over Halloween Blackface Costume Marks 'Dangerous Place In American University Life' (Nov. 4, 2016)
- Oregon Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz Issues Apology For Wearing Blackface To Halloween Party; Dueling Online Petitions Seek Signatories (Nov. 5, 2016)
- Professor Althouse, Dean Amar & President Schill On Oregon Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz's Wearing Blackface To Halloween Party (Nov. 8, 2016)
- Oregonian Editorial, 'Cowering Oregon Law Faculty Need To Learn What Decency, Tolerance And Diversity Really Look Like' (Nov. 12, 2016)
- University Of Oregon Report: Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz Violated Anti-Discrimination Policy By Wearing Blackface To Halloween Party; Any Disciplinary Action Is Confidential (Dec. 22, 2016)
- Blackman: University of Oregon Trampled The First Amendment To Punish Law Prof For Wearing Blackface To Halloween Party In Her Home (Dec. 22, 2016)
- Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz Blasts University Of Oregon For Improperly Releasing Error Filled Report As 'Public Retaliation And Shaming' (Dec. 24, 2016)
- Volokh: Punishment Of Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz Means The End Of Free Speech At The University of Oregon (Dec. 27, 2016)
- Volokh: University Of Oregon's Punishment Of Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz May Signal The End Of Free Speech For All Professors At All Universities (Jan. 3, 2017)