Student sex case makes racial history

by Diana Fu

He was 18; she was three months shy of 16. He is sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole; she is the supposed victim of child molestation. He is black; she is white. Georgia’s recent sex case involving Marcus Dixon, a star athlete and scholar accused of raping a white classmate, could not be better timed.

February marks the annual celebration of Black History Month. Copies of the “I Have a Dream” speech are plastered at public institutions, people congregate in harmless celebrations, and a few cynical folks secretly scowl that once more, Americans have to celebrate yet another “minority month.” The Dixon case is a camera shooting the making of contemporary U.S. racial history.

The New York Times story on Dixon’s case ran just one day before Brinton Ahlin’s opinion piece in the Daily, which argued we should pursue King’s original dream of race as a “non-issue.” Ahlin’s article and its ironical timing profoundly disturbed me.

I was conflicted. On one hand, I heartedly agree with Ahlin’s point that race-consciousness is often manipulated as a political trump card. But at the same time, I can not disagree more with Ahlin’s claim that, “The fundamental problem is that the United States is still a race-conscious society” and that Black History Month is “a segregationist idea at heart.” I find it hard to believe racial minorities cling onto their identities so stubbornly and unfoundedly that they themselves perpetuate a problematic race-conscious society. The Dixon case cuts to the very veins of the complexity of racial tensions in the United States today.

Dixon, who lives in Georgia, is a poster child for slum-to-Ivy-League fairy tales captured by films like “Finding Forrester.” His life story caters to the market-driven U.S. media coverage – a 3.96 grade point average, a football scholarship to prestigious Vanderbilt University, a traumatic childhood, two white parents who raised him and most recently, a 10-year sentence for having sex with a white girl on their high school campus. The jury found Dixon guilty of statutory rape, a misdemeanor, and aggravated child molestation, which carried a harsher sentence.

Like the Emitt Till incident in the 1950s, the Dixon case is a drop of water in a pond of living history that sent ripples far beyond Georgia. Civil rights activists and many on the political left cry out this is no less than modern-day lynching. Others deny this case has anything to do with race, insisting justice has been served.

The actual case evidence is ambiguous. On one hand, police failed to look at the condom Dixon said he used and threw away and therefore cannot judge if it is actually a case of rape. The jury acquitted Dixon of rape, aggravated assault and sexual battery. Furthermore, members of the jury publicly announced if they had known that aggravated child molestation carried a minimum of 10 years in prison without parole, they would have voted differently. On the other hand, Dixon has two recorded incidents of past sexual misconduct, which would suggest a pattern of nonconsensual sexual violations.

Based on media coverage alone, I don’t pretend to be a fair judge of which side has a preponderance of evidence. However, I can claim that this case is undeniably racial. During the Dixon trial, the white female victim admitted she only reported the incident because she feared her father would be angry when he found out she had a sexual encounter with a black boy.

Her testimony has many implications for understanding racial tensions in the post-civil rights movement. Black communities feel profoundly injured by incidents like the Dixon case. However, because the U.S. justice system no longer issues rulings in explicitly racial terms, many Americans are confounded and angry at what they see as hypersensitivity of minority groups to interpret every ruling in racial terms. How do you know it has anything to do with race? Why can’t we just be Americans without hyphenations? In short, why do we continue to live in a race conscious society?

Dixon’s case should raise a red flag that race consciousness is not a choice for minorities. Rather, it is a reality imposed on all Americans. From the very founding of our country, U.S. history is a racial history. Dixon’s case proves it continues to be so.

As Martin Luther King posters fly around the country this February, I hope we as U.S. college students can work to turn our racial reality into a non-racial future by engaging in policy change, seeking alternative sources of media coverage, demanding explanation from authorities and conversing openly about race. In the end, Black History Month is not a segregationist idea. It is a reaction to the fundamentally segregationist and racist society we live in today.

Diana Fu is a columnist. She welcomes comments at [email protected]