Racial strife not restrictive to Durham

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I knew it was going to happen.

Following the alleged rape at Duke University by members of the school’s lacrosse team and the racial slurs some of the players have been accused of using, I prepared myself for the oncoming firestorm. I knew it was only a matter of time before the national media would start fanning the flames of racism and brand the city of Durham and the state of North Carolina as racist, even though the majority of the lacrosse players are from the Northeast or the Mid-Atlantic.

I hesitated to weigh in on this subject because of the widespread coverage and questionable journalism on display, but after reading a comment earlier this week from a prospective Duke student, I couldn’t keep quiet anymore.

The prospective student from California was visiting Duke and admitted she was paying &uot;close attention to the social atmosphere on campus, looking for racial tension.&uot;

&uot;It’s a little weird because this is my first time in the South,&uot; she said.

After reading her statement, I felt like she might as well have been saying &uot;this is my first trip to Mars and I am wondering where the little green men are.&uot;

After growing up in North Carolina and then living and working outside of the South, I quickly learned the region still has a negative reputation. I felt branded by some people I came into contact with just because of where I grew up and I found their stereotyping of other people based on geographic birthplace as ironic and hypocritical.

I recognize the South’s and this nation’s painful history of racism and I readily admit it still exists, but it exists everywhere. As long as people identify and distinguish themselves based on ethnicity or religious preference, racism and intolerance will always exist.

&uot;I was making a list of pros and cons,&uot; another prospective Duke student visiting the campus from Brooklyn, N.Y. said. &uot;For con, I wrote down on my paper, who knows what the South is really like?&uot;

I can’t be sure, but I feel strongly that if she attends Duke, she will learn that the racial tensions existing in Durham are evident in Brooklyn as well.

I have no idea what really happened at that house and I am trying to remain objective as the story unfolds. I admit I have followed the story from the beginning and I’m not completely sure why. I like to think it’s the mystery and plot lines surrounding the story and not the morbid details.

However, the commentary about Durham and its relationship with Duke University and the broader implications of this case continue to peak my interest.

Unlike many of the reporters and news crews that have descended upon the Bull City, I lived and worked in Durham for about a year and a half. I recognize I am far from an expert on the city, but I believe the time I spent there provides a certain level of prospective on the city.

I never felt like there was a relationship between Duke and Durham and the students didn’t venture far from the campus from what I observed. With all of the problems facing Durham, crime and poverty being the most obvious, I couldn’t help but think what a missed opportunity this lack of relationship exposed. The highly intelligent and well-educated Duke graduates could do wonders for the city, but unfortunately most leave the area upon graduating.

As this drama continues to unfold, I wonder if people will view all Duke students negatively because of the alleged actions of three people and if the allegations prove to be false, will people view all students from North Carolina Central negatively?

Ultimately, the people who would make those types of blanket generalizations made up their minds a long time ago, but hopefully this tragic event will bring some much needed cooperation between the university and the city.