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Editor: Paul L. Caron
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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Jones:  The University of Oregon, Nancy Shurtz, And The Racial Rules That Keep Us Apart

JonesFollowing 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:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/01/jonesthe-university-of-oregon-nancy-shurtz-and-the-racial-rules-that-keep-us-apart.html

Legal Education, Tax | Permalink

Comments

An academic defense of lynching, that's what this is: 'justice' dispensed by a tribe in revenge for all real and perceived offenses by members of another tribe, pour encourager les autres.

"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 [X], she will never be one of us."

Posted by: craig | Jan 5, 2017 4:52:09 AM

Wow. That is one scary essay. I mean in terms of the attitude displayed, even if he thinks she shouldn't be seriously punished.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Jan 5, 2017 4:52:47 AM

"And forever thereafter was the reminder that you are not really one of us even if we do have sleepovers."

In which case, integration is a pipe dream, and dangerous to everyone outside the author's race.

He is a perfect example of why the Chicago beating of a white teenager by four black teenagers happened. He and his Democrat cohorts both white and black enabled it. And acts like this are not rare, as his acceptance of a beat down based on race should show. It happens every day, whether uploaded to Facebook or not.

Posted by: SDN | Jan 5, 2017 5:32:45 AM

For many on university campus, the only safe response is the one many decent Germans, including those in the universities, adopted in the mid-to-late 1930s. They called it "inner immigration." You stayed in Germany because during the Great Depression it would be difficult to make a living elsewhere. But you acted like you lived somewhere else, ignoring all that was happening.

This Oregon law professor got into trouble because she tried to do something about racism and was attacked by a hypersensitive, racial-victim clique. The most sensible response, many will conclude, is to withdraw. Do absolutely nothing, and you will do nothing wrong.

Over time that racial-victim clique is likely to find that its attacks on the innocent have deprived it of friends. Why try to help someone when you'll only be attacked for your troubles?

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jan 5, 2017 5:44:51 AM

This essay is very sensible.

Still, one would think that a middle-aged, highly educated individual should know that wearing black face in public for any reason is a bad move. Seriously, 10 year olds know that.

We see news stories about people in the corporate world losing their jobs for less all the time. And that includes lawyers.

If law professors are supposed to set an example for their students, they should exercise better judgement.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the U.S. is overly sensitive about race.

Fine. Write whatever you want in your scholarship, but when interacting with students, behave like an adult who doesn't burb at the table.

Posted by: Sensible | Jan 5, 2017 5:59:54 AM

Ok, let's get one thing straight. She didn't wear "blackface." Blackface has a particular meaning, and typically refers to theater performances in the 1800's-early 1900's where white people color their skin black as part of a comedic routine. OU's University report even included a historical section on the traditional use of "blackface" as a way of mocking black people. If you are going to use that specific definition to prove its derogatory nature, then you cannot apply it to Nancy Shurtz because that is just not what she did. It was stupid and awkward, and I don't blame people for feeling uncomfortable about it, but it simply was not "blackface." When people refer to it, they should say she wore black makeup.

Posted by: JM | Jan 5, 2017 6:56:38 AM

"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."

Switch white and black around in the above - how is this not everything that we as a culture have been trying to overcome?

Posted by: r | Jan 5, 2017 8:12:02 AM

@JM, Have you seen the picture of her outfit?!? Shurtz professed to be dressed as Damon Tweedy, a doctor and author who in real life sports a cleanly shaved head. Shurtz instead is wearing a ridiculous afro wig, caricaturing a black man by accentuating stereotypical features. Get your facts straight.

Posted by: UO Anon | Jan 5, 2017 10:12:10 AM