Thursday, October 26, 2006

Duke Case: Yes, Please "Tar and Feather" Them


Professor Steven Baldwin wrote an apology for his choice of some words in his letter criticizing the Duke administration's mismanagement of the lacrosse scandal.

Professor Baldwin's apology:

An editorial that I wrote appeared in The Chronicle Tuesday that was critical of the way the lacrosse incident has been handled by the Duke administration. Although my position is unchanged, I now realize that some of the language I used in the editorial was insensitive and inappropriate. I truly regret that my words have caused pain for some members of our community.

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.

I deeply regret that what for me is a totally non-racial issue has assumed that character. I wish I had used other language; I wish I had bounced a draft of the document off someone who might have steered me straight....

I am very sorry that my naivety has offended any members of the Duke community. That was entirely unintentional and I should have been more careful in my selection of words.
On Tuesday, Baldwin said in his next-to last paragraph:
I mention this because I believe the young man would not mind my describing him in these terms. On the other hand I do not believe that a faculty member publicly describing any student in pejorative terms is ever justified. To do so is mean-spirited, petty and unprofessional, at the very least. The faculty who publicly savaged the character and reputations of specific men's lacrosse players last spring should be ashamed of themselves.

They should be tarred and feathered, ridden out of town on a rail and removed from the academy. Their comments were despicable. I suspect they were also slanderous, but we'll hear more about that later.

Finally, I urge the Duke community to take a reality check. Speak your minds. Do what you think is right. Tell the administration that you are not satisfied with the way they have handled the lacrosse affair. Demand better.
So some thin-skinned wimps on the Duke faculty think the phrases, "tarred and feathered," and "ridden out of town on a rail," should be removed from discussions of American issues? That is bull.

Wikipedia says:
Tarring and feathering is a physical punishment, at least as old as the Crusades, used to enforce formal justice in feudal Europe and informal justice in Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, as well as the early American frontier, mostly as a type of mob vengeance (compare Lynch law) ....

Metaphorical uses

The image of the tarred-and-feathered outlaw is so vivid that the expression remains a metaphor for a humiliating public castigation, many years after the practice disappeared. An example (in a story serial in a web forum) is: "The last episode was meant to be a cliffhanger, but readers' comments showed that they would tar and feather me if I did not quickly rescue the hero and show what happened next."
There is no indication that the phrase has a racial connotation in the Wikipedia entry.

The New York Times has used the phrase "tarred and feathered" in about 90 articles since 1981.

Google has about 221,00 references to the phrase "tarred and feathered" and it has around 20,000 references to the keywords "George Bush" + "tarred and feathered"

The nation was founded by men who wanted to "tar and feather" the British. Today it is a totally valid metaphor for "humiliating public castigation."

Wikipedia on the phrase "Riding the rail" -
...though few have been tarred and feathered or ridden out of town on a rail in recent years, the expression remains to describe anyone subjected to indignity and infamy. From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson
There is no racial connotation for "ridden out of town on a rail." The NY Times has used the exact expression nine times.

Has the First Amendment now been suspended on the Duke campus? We know the Fourth Amendment has already been suspended. This is absurd political correctness and censorship.

See this Wikipedia entry:
Freedom of speech is the concept of being able to speak freely without censorship. It is often regarded as an integral concept in modern liberal democracies...

Later: The Duke Conservative Union commented on the PC policing:
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"...

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.
TJN - Policing Vile Metaphors & Idiot Professors:
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...

'Insensitive' language unintentional [Steven Baldwin |, Oct. 25, 2006]
The administration's mismanagement of lacrosse [Steven Baldwin |, Oct. 24, 2006]
Police enter Edens for interviews [, April 17, 2006]
The Word "Tar" Causes Trouble Once Again [, Oct. 25, 2006]

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