Wahneema Lubiano Replies to Taylor and Johnson

Wahneema Lubiano

Some Corrections (expanded) to Stuart Taylor’s and KC Johnson’s Lies, Mistakes, Distortions, Omissions, and Innuendo in Their Co-authored Until Proven Innocent

Listed here is everything that I could see (guided by the book’s index) that doesn’t simply constitute the authors’ evaluation of my productivity or their characterizations, interpretations, or analyses of my scholarship, field, or teaching. I don’t address those things or most of the authors’ attributions of motives to me; they are certainly entitled to their opinions. Nor do I address the more numerous lies and/or instances of distortions, omissions, and innuendo that circulate in KC Johnson’s blog and in his responses to particular comments on his blog. And I don’t address what is written about any other faculty. That is work for another decade and multiple workers.

[Note: The numbers within parentheses are page numbers from Until Proven Innocent]:

To begin, two smaller mistakes, lies, or distortions:

(112) The book states that Professor Karla Holloway and I converted a student gathering on black masculinity to a discussion of the lacrosse case. Actually, we didn’t convert anything; the event was organized and changed by Professor Mark Neal. He decided to change the topic given students’ interest in the on-going discussions on campus.  

[Professor Mark Neal in African & African American Studies can be contacted about this.]

(115) The book mistakenly states that I “celebrated the Ebonics movement.” This language is, I suppose, a reference to an essay I wrote that is actually about the use of black American vernacular (which is not at all the same thing as Ebonics or the Ebonics movement) in one of Toni Morrison’s novels and which draws on the work of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It does not address the “Ebonics movement” at all; it was written and published, in fact, before that term and movement began to circulate as such in national discussions. 

[See Wahneema Lubiano, “The Postmodernist Rag: Political Identity and the Vernacular in Song of Solomon in Valerie Smith’s New Essays on Song of Solomon.]

* * * * * * * * * * *

The bulk of what the authors write in reference to me are larger lies, distortions, innuendo, incomplete references, or references stripped of the context that made them quite different from what they report–and often those things are, in fact, the opposite of what is implied or described. Of course, some of those things could simply be mistakes. Given the context and the tenor of the writing about me and other faculty, the reader can decide. 

[I’m adding citations to my own writing referred to in these comments; the book does not provide those sources.  For some of these events for which the book offers an authoritative account that I dispute, there is no official documentation one way or the other, and I so indicate.  For some such events I’m offering my own first person account of meetings that I attended and at which I spoke.] 

(112) The book asserts, in its description of the student gathering from which the quotes in the listening ad were drawn, that the “overwhelmingly African-American audience spoke of the rape as an established fact.” (Note, please, that in writing this sentence, their own words of description of the event, the authors forgot to put the word “accusation” after the word “rape.” I’m sure that this was a mistake on their part.) No, the audience did not, as a collectivity, speak of the alleged rape as an established fact.  Different speakers spoke in different ways about the rape accusation; most of the speakers present, including the students quoted, addressed larger, complex, and long-standing issues of racism, classism, and sexual violence at Duke.    

[There is no newspaper account of the meeting that matches the authors’ description.  And since the authors were not themselves present, they must necessarily be relying on whatever someone has said to them.  That someone is not identified in the book.  This is my account.]

The book further asserts that I never produced my notes of speakers’ (the students that I quoted) words from that gathering and later used in the ad, and that I did not state how I determined that the speakers were Duke undergraduates. The truth is that The Chronicle, as a condition of publication, made us document every student quote. The respective students had to email the newspaper from their Duke email accounts and indicate that he or she was the author of those particular words and was quoted correctly. The Chronicle stated that they would respect the students’ anonymity but required the documentation for their own legal protection. Mr. Johnson emailed the chair of African & African American Studies (AAAS) and queried him specifically about the process by which the student quotes were obtained and verified. The chair responded to that query and gave him the correct information. If Mr. Johnson was unconvinced by the chair’s response to his email query, then I don’t know why Mr. Johnson chose not to follow up with the newspaper’s ad office itself–others have done so. He did have, however, well in advance of the book’s publication, information that countered what is implied in the book and what is continually returned to in his blog posts and comments about the ad. He chose not to correct the record.   

[Feel free to contact the Chronicle ad office for information about their guidelines for ads with anonymous quoted material.  Contact the chair of AAAS if you are interested in ascertaining whether or not he responded to an email from KC Johnson about the ad and the students’ quotes.]

Further, when the book asserts that I never stated how I determined that the speakers were Duke undergraduates, it is implying that the ad identified all the quoted the speakers as undergraduates when, in fact, the ad refers to “our students” more generally. Some of those students were undergraduates, some were graduate students; most of the students’ quotes were indeed from undergraduates. And, by virtue of the required documentation demanded by the newspaper, I did “determine” that the speakers were students by asking the speakers themselves (some of whom I knew, some I did not).    

[Since the book asserts (on page 112) that I never stated how I made such a determination, I am now so stating.  And again, the newspaper’s ad office can verify its guidelines for quoted material attributed to students.  As to the means by which I “determined” that they were students, anyone is free to disbelieve that I spoke to the students.  There might be other ways that such information could have been ascertained.  For the record, I did not read their minds.  And the fact remains that the students’ quotes and the students’ statuses as students were documented as such to the satisfaction of the newspaper.]

(114) The book states that I am “active in gay and lesbian causes.” I don’t know what being active in gay and lesbian causes is supposed to mean in the larger context of the book, and I’m not sure what such activity has to do with writing or signing the listening ad. I suppose that for homophobes, at least, it could be seen as part of the larger general denigration of my work, teaching, and the other things that the book states makes me an ideal candidate for “diversity hires.” I’m not sure what work that reference to my activity around gay and lesbian causes does for other readers of the book.   

[I do not have any idea of the source for the authors’ determination that I am active on behalf of gay and lesbian issues.  They don’t provide one.  And I don’t pretend to read their minds in order to ascertain, as I am at pains to indicate above, what such activity might mean.]

(135) The book asserts that three professors dominated the Academic Council meeting with President Brodhead and includes me among them. No. I addressed the president one time with two brief comments in that one encounter. Some professors spoke more than once and many spoke at much greater length.   

[Now, this is one of those instances where the authors have an opinion about what happened in a meeting that they didn’t attend, and I am asserting something quite different.  Because transcripts of Academic Council meetings are not made public, there is no official documentation of the meeting that is available for public persual.  Yep, this is a classic case of they said/she said.]

The book states that in that council meeting with President Brodhead I demanded a statement from the president denouncing the players. I did not. I asked the president to consider, given what many people were expressing–their anger with a sub-culture of racism, sexual violence, and class entitlement (since many people had already spoken at the point that I raised my hand), a different rhetorical strategy rather than continuing simply to repeat what he was saying already. I suggested that he think about a rhetorical approach that would address what would happen if the charges turned out to be true since he was already addressing, quite clearly and consistently, the other possibility. I said that doing so would be a way to speak to the larger social issues with which people were concerned instead of simply continuing what he was doing in the face of what some faculty were trying to get him to address.   [Please see my note at the end of the paragraph above about the inaccessible official documentation of the meeting.  Again, I am offering my account of a meeting that I attended against the book’s unsourced account of the same meeting.]

(145) The book states: “In Lubiano’s mind, the players could never be cleared, no matter what the evidence.” I never said any such thing. The authors are not able to read my mind, therefore, this statement is as groundless as the claim that “she expressed pleasure ‘ that the Duke administration is getting the point.’” My actual quoted words, “that the Duke administration is getting the point,” are taken completely out of context from a piece that I wrote for the News and Observer that addressed what I thought that people were asking for in the wake of the on-going discussion. I was referring in that newspaper article to Duke administration’s understanding that people were upset about many things that were evoked by the incident. The language, “she expressed pleasure,” is a product of the authors’ imaginations.  

 [The book does not offer a source for its understanding of my mind.  I offer here a different reading of my mind.  And I also offer a link to the News and Observer article from which my out-of-context language is quoted:  http://www.newsobserver.com/690/story/436725.html]

(145) The book distorts what the ad actually says. It leaves out, for example, the language that ad uses to make it clear that we’re listening to what the students are talking about. It refers to eleven quotes “purporting to come from students” thereby repeating the lie that is implied on page 112 about the students’ quotes. 

 [Feel free to Google the ad online or email me and request a pdf of the ad.]

(145) The book asserts that I gave colleagues a deadline of 48 hours to decide whether to sign the statement and that some had only six hours.

In fact, people had at least a week to get some suggestions to me about the ad language; they had many days to actually sign on as individuals because my emails told everyone that in order to sign individually they were to send their names to AAAS to be posted on the website and could even do so for a short period of time after the ad was printed in the newspaper. Some faculty who signed actually didn’t send their names until after the ad ran. Departments had a few days prior to publication to decide whether or not to endorse. What the authors have done is mix up, inaccurately, a few things that I said in response to a question at the “Shut Up and Teach?” event based on what someone reported to one or both of them.   

 [I am contending here that the book’s source(s), which are not named in the book, are incorrect; however, I am not going to provide copies of my emails to dispute this.  So, you are, of course, free to be unconvinced.  In this instance neither the book nor I are naming sources.  However, if you are part of the Duke community and have a research project, please contact the chair of AAAS about viewing the videotape.]

(p. 145) The book uses some sentences taken from a piece that I wrote on spectacularity and the idea of “perfect offenders” and a “perfect victim,” and then prints those sentences out of context, distorts their meanings, and excludes my attempt in the essay to interrupt that quest for perfection. Then, a few sentences later, the authors report that I only suggested an alternate reading many months later. Nonsense: the essay itself provides that “reading.”  

In fact, in the piece from which the book quotes, I make the argument that supporters of the alleged victim needed to see the players as “perfect offenders” to affirm their support for her and that supporters of the players needed to see a “perfect victim” before they could imagine that a crime had even occurred. I was not arguing for myself, I was trying to describe a dynamic that over-simplified every possible element of the discussion. The book ends its reference to that language by saying that my “crusade” to transform Duke would continue “regardless of the ‘truth’ established . . . about the incident” and “whatever happens with the court case.” The authors omit the context in which I was describing what Duke needed to consider apart from the court case because the issues that people were raising in various fora were not tied to the incident but were illuminated in the spotlight on the incident.   

 [Here is a link to the original essay as it appears on Professor Neal’s blogspot:  http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2006_04_01_archive.html]

167) The book asserts that in a blog posting three days after the DNA revelations, I dismissed the news as part of a “demand for perfect evidence on the part of the defenders of the team.” I did no such thing. I never wrote any blog posting about the DNA, and I never referred to the DNA in the essay on “perfect offenders” that is referred to earlier and which here is being mistakenly called my blog posting. It is the same essay that the book references ealier (and which Professor Mark Neal posted on his blog). By referring to it as a blog post by me written three days after the DNA revelations, the authors imply that it is a separate piece in which I speak to the DNA. It isn’t a separate piece, and it makes no reference to the DNA because in that essay I was speaking about the rhetorical structure of “perfection” with regard to debates about alleged offenders and the alleged victim.    [Please see the essay at the Mark Neal blogspot link that I post in the paragraph immediately above.]

The book is consistently sloppy in its references to me, but it isn’t simply sloppiness. It mixes up things in such a fashion that I am characterized consistently in vituperative fashion.

( 336) The book refers to our event title–Shut Up and Teach?”–and omits the question mark after the word “Teach” that was printed on the flyer for the event, a question mark about which I spoke at the event. This punctuation omission might seem to be a small mistake, but the question mark is something that I actually referred to and addressed at the event because we wanted to address whether that was what many of the people emailing and writing to and about us wanted us to do. And if that was indeed what we were being asked to do, we wondered what that shutting up might mean for the relation of critical scholarship and teaching to larger social issues.    

[For a comment regarding a source for this, please see the note that follows the paragraphs addressing page 337.]

(337) The book states that “Lubiano, looking forward to the day when ‘we’ll all get together after the revolution’s over,’ promised to run to the barricades–to save her job, at least–if the university adopted policies that she opposed.” That isn’t what I actually said and, as is often the case in this book, both the quoted language and the paraphrased additional language is stripped of the larger context (including humor) in which I spoke to a question from a student about the necessity and difficulties of having conversations around social issues before we could all be completely comfortable.

Here the book purports to be quoting (it places actual quotation marks around the language) from an event that AAAS did not allow to be videotaped, photographed, or recorded by anyone other than the department itself or the representative of the student newspaper. And it does so after the authors’ earlier admonishment to the department and the faculty present for not allowing video and audio taping. That prohibition prevented people from having documentation of the event except for the limited reportage from the Chronicle’s account of the event, reportage that didn’t report on my language. That lack of documentation means that the book can’t quote what was said there with any accuracy; therefore, whatever they say is unsupported rumor. (The chair of AAAS has responded to anyone asking to see the video that any member of the Duke community doing research was welcome to look at the video in our offices but that the department would not make that videotape available to the general public.)

Here, then, I am being accused of having said something of which the book has no proof. If the authors are relying on an audio tape made surreptitiously by some audience member (something that could well be the case), given the room’s acoustics and uneven microphone placement, the bad quality of such a bootleg tape might well account for mistakes in the book’s account of the event and of what I was purported to have said.  But even that explanation would not explain the book’s omission of the question mark at the end of “Shut Up and Teach?” printed on the paper flyers and electronic flyers (widely circulated beforehand and available at the event), and even spoken about in my introduction to the event, an introduction which was posted in its entirety at the AAAS website (for the entirety of spring semester 2007), a website that Mr. Johnson has referred to in his blog posts and which discussed what we meant by our title.    

[The book’s sources are not indicated, and I’ve just discussed why there is no documentation for the book’s claims.  However, I am happy to send a flyer and a copy of my introduction to the event to anyone who requests them.  Please contact me through the offices of AAAS.]

Why am I dwelling on these things? Because such lies, distortions, mistakes, innuendo, and omissions are part of the book’s continual building of momentum for continued denunciations of me. They are part of the bad faith of this account.

(342) Finally, the end, at long last, for me. And here the book asserts, one last time, that I called the lacrosse players “perfect offenders.” I did not. See above notes for my correction of this and for a link to the essay.


One Response to “Wahneema Lubiano Replies to Taylor and Johnson”

  1. One pile after another: building a bullshit Wonderland | Re:harmonized Says:

    […] that results. Despite her reputation (on DIW, anyway) as jargony and incomprehensible, she’s summarized her analysis quite clearly: I make the argument that supporters of the alleged victim needed to see the players as […]

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