Saturday, June 30, 2007

a little off to the side

So, I spent the day in Durham, as planned. It had been awhile. My last trip here was back in October 2000, when my sister still lived in town and I stopped over on my way out to Wake Forest for the presidential debate. Yes, back before George W. Bush was president. (Seems like a million years ago, doesn't it?)

Anyway, I'd thought a great deal about Durham over the past year or so as the story about the alleged Duke Lacrosse team rape made its way through the media, potentially "ending" on Monday with the resignation of the DA. It was obviously something that captured the attention of many, but actually spending time in Durham makes the plot (now demonstrated to be untrue) -- of privileged white kids taking advantage of a disadvantaged black woman -- that much more tangible and toxic.

Chapel Hill is a college town. The campus runs right up to the sidewalk of the main street. The school -- a prestigious state school, yet a state school nevertheless -- permeates the town. It's the kind of town where students stick around long after they graduate.

Durham, on the other hand, is NOT a college town. It is a town that has wealthy areas and very very poor areas and a prestigious university plopped down in the middle of it (actually, a little off to the side). The downtown area has as little to do with Duke as you could imagine. It's filled with nonprofit organizations -- many of which serve the poor -- and independently-owned businesses that generally have a shelf life measured in months, not years. Drive around town and you'll see building after building that looks like it hasn't had a new paint job or a new sign or, well, a customer, since the 1950's. Many Duke students barely leave campus and, when they do, it is to go to the locations designated as their own -- or to leave town.

In other words, creating a story that set black against white, privilege against poverty, is not a difficult thing to achieve in Durham. The idea that Mike Nifong, the soon to be former DA, did so for his own gain, is revolting.

Durham deserves better.

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