One outrageous act of vigilante censorship got lost in the burst of news regarding the case over the last week. But it was still an ugly stinking little turd in the First Amendment coffee cup that deserves more flushing. That was Duke Professor Robyn Wiegman unilaterally banning the use of the phrase "tarred and feathered" on the Duke campus.
Her letter to the Duke Chronicle made it clear that this metaphor was now unacceptable:
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?Ms. Wiegman's changing the generally accepted meaning of the phrase "tarred and feathered" from a metaphor meaning "humiliating public castigation" to something regarding "the language of lynching" is rubbish.
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.
Margaret Taylor Smith Director Women's Studies
But, apparently she gets away with intimidating everyone at Duke to never use the phrase again for fear of riling her up.
Professor Baldwin even apologized:
In particular, in the next-to-last paragraph of the editorial I used some terms that I have now learned have racial connotations for some. I certainly did not intend them that way. I grew up in the western U.S. and, quite frankly, associate the terms I used with the western frontier of the late 1800s. I saw a lot of cowboy movies as a kid.The Duke Conservative Union commented on Wiegman's PC metaphor policing action:
I deeply regret that what for me is a totally non-racial issue has assumed that character.
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.But, it still looks like Ms. Wiegman has ridden the "tarred and feathered" metaphor out of Duke on a rail. Apparently no one on the Duke faculty has said anything against her vigilante censorship.
Since Ms. Wiegman is now throwing vile metaphors, like "tarred and feathered," off the Duke campus here are a few more metaphors/expressions she can expel:
- "throw the baby out with the bath water" - disgusting on so many different levels that this must be purged immediately from all academia
- "gore the ox" - references to bloodsport must be eliminated, it is medieval thinking
- "pissing in the wind" - public urination cannot be condoned, especially at Duke
- "lame duck" - animal rights activists don't want to hear this
- "smoke and mirrors" - secondhand metaphorical smoke is dangerous and must be eliminated for the safety of the children
- "rug rat" - children are not rodents, it is demeaning
- "couch potato" - a third of the people in this country are obese, it is an illness, and it is not funny
Cultivate community of critical thought [Robyn Wiegman |DukeChronicle.com, Oct. 25, 2006]
The administration's mismanagement of lacrosse [Steven Baldwin | DukeChronicle.com, Oct. 24, 2006]
'Insensitive' language unintentional [Steven Baldwin | DukeChronicle.com, Oct. 25, 2006]
The Word "Tar" Causes Trouble Once Again [DukeNewSense.com, Oct. 25, 2006]
Duke Case: Yes, Please "Tar and Feather" Them [TJN, Oct. 26, 2006]