If there were ever two shining examples of the generation that is next in line to inherit this planet, we saw them this week. Two seemingly disparate groups of kids, united only by their uncommon intelligence, poise and – for want of a better word, class – showed us that grace under fire has not been wasted on the young.
On Tuesday, the women of the Rutgers University basketball team stood up before camera crews, reporters, and millions of people to respond to Don Imus' base remarks with remarkable grace and eloquence. These kids are roughly 20-years-old. Don Imus is 66, and a 40-year veteran of broadcasting. Guess who came out appearing more professional? The young college women were honest and direct, recounting their hurt without vindictiveness or insult. Imus' bravado wilted in the brilliance of their integrity.
The very next day, three former Duke University lacrosse players, whose lives had been not only put on hold but turned upside down, spoke before an army of cameras, reporters and millions of people probably more interested in the prurience of the case than the facts. These three young men, after their year in hell, spoke with intelligence, poise and, especially, gratitude for those who had stood by them. Their character had also been attacked – in their case, not by the words of a shock jock, but by false accusations and an over-zealous district attorney.
Watching these two "press opportunities" produced in me an overwhelming feeling of pride in these young people.
But it also opened my eyes to my own personal prejudices. It made me realize that racism – defined as a "belief in, or a doctrine asserting, racial differences in character, intelligence, etc., and the superiority of one race over another" – cuts both ways.
I know there were a lot of people who were quick to believe the woman who accused the Duke lacrosse players of a crime that night, because of their own pre-conceived notions.
How wrong-headed and dangerous snap opinions can be.
We live in an age of 24/7 instant media coverage which demands snappy headlines, compelling leads, and immediate assessments. But the criminal justice system works much more slowly than a cable news deadline. Patience is not only required, it should be mandatory. However, in the hands of district attorney Mike Nifong, that pace became ridiculously slow, not meticulously diligent. The media would have been wise to follow North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's recommendation to Nifong for "caution" over "bravado." (If you watch Lesley Stahl's interview with Cooper on "60 Minutes" this Sunday, you'll hear even more surprising details about how the accuser's story kept changing.)
Of course, blatant racism and demeaning language should be decried. But so should the more subtle prejudices and preconceptions that can lead us all to an unfair rush to judgment.