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Facts should come before old stereotypes

The two Duke indictments handed down late Monday - and a handful of inconvenient facts about race, sex and class in the South - have demolished some of our cherished stereotypes and busted the merchants of victimhood.

Ever since news surfaced last month about the alleged rape of an exotic dancer by three members of the Duke lacrosse team, we've been treated to the usual litany of laments from the usual suspects. So familiar is the script by now that most Americans could ad-lib without cue cards.

Where there's a female victim, there's usually a feminist spokesperson making the case against aggressive men. Where there's a black victim, there's usually a black reverend making a case against racism.

Enter the Rev. Jesse Jackson - who has been performing the same gig for so long, he's become a caricature of his caricature - trying to keep the memory of slavery alive.

"The history of white men and black women, and the special fantasies and exploitation, is old and ancient," said Jackson, commenting on the case. "The historical pattern of this behavior arouses so many fears and conjures up so many bad memories."

No one wishes to minimize the pain of slavery or the trauma of rape, whether at the hands of a 19th-century plantation owner or a modern-day lacrosse player, but let's be clear. The historical pattern of Jackson's behavior is what keeps those fears aroused and conjures up bad memories.

If Jackson were an honest dealer in the race card game, he'd have to mention that those ancient fears, though perhaps once justified, are no longer factually relevant.

The U.S. Department of Justice's 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey, which breaks down crime victims and perpetrators by race, indicates that the vast majority of violent crimes, including rape, are intra-racial. Blacks tend to attack blacks, and whites tend to attack whites.

There is no current trend of white men raping black women, in other words. In fact, though sample sizes are considered too small to draw any solid conclusions, the most recent figures show that among white rape victims, 15.5 percent of those rapes were perpetrated by blacks, while 0.0 percent of black victims were raped by white males. (Zero in this case is a rounded figure meaning that the total number of black women raped by white men is between 0 and half of 1 percent of the total.)

Not that anyone's counting. But if we're going to talk about race and crime, we may as well rely on facts rather than ancient memories that serve only to sensationalize and emotionalize what is already a painful episode in Southern history.

Speaking of which, we can't help noting that the two young men thus far indicted are from New York and New Jersey as it turns out. In other words, good ol' boys they ain't.

Meanwhile, Duke University and Durham, located just a few miles from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and smack dab in the center of what's known as the Research Triangle, are about as Southern these days as the Bronx.

Another myth shattered by facts is the claim that the alleged perpetrators belong to a privileged class by virtue of their attendance at Duke University, an expensive private school where tuition and fees run about $40,000 per year.

The impression of privilege is expanded by the perception that lacrosse is a white prep school sport. While true that lacrosse is popular at northern prep schools, it's also a popular sport in northern public schools, and increasingly so down South.

In any case, 40 percent of Duke's students receive financial aid, and minorities represent 37.1 percent of Duke's class of 2009, though only 9 percent are black. Another 21.5 percent are Asian and 6.5 percent are Hispanic. Nevertheless, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has named Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill among the top schools in the nation for blacks.

As of Tuesday, a third person was expected to face indictment in the rape case. Given that all but one of the Duke lacrosse team is white, we can safely bet that the third person to be charged also will be white.

Beyond that, any commentary about race, class and privilege is meaningless - nothing more than the tropes of snake-oil salesmen and rabble-rousers whose time for fretting and strutting upon life's stage has passed.

Kathleen Parker, an Orlando Sentinel columnist, welcomes comments via e-mail at kparker@kparker.com. Her column appears on Friday.