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Let the Punishment Fit the Crime, Even if the Crime is Imaginary

Summary:
This can’t be healthy: Matthew Halls was removed as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival following an incident in which he imitated a southern American accent while talking to his longstanding friend, the African-American classical singer Reginald Mobley. It is understood a white woman who overheard the joke reported it to officials at the University of Oregon, which runs the festival, claiming it amounted to a racial slur. Here are the mechanics of the process: But Mobley maintains that while racism should be challenged and ethnic groups made aware of each other’s sensitivities, his friend has been the victim of misunderstanding and overreaction. Halls and Mobley had been chatting at a reception held last month during this year’s Oregon Bach

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This can’t be healthy:

Matthew Halls was removed as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival following an incident in which he imitated a southern American accent while talking to his longstanding friend, the African-American classical singer Reginald Mobley.

It is understood a white woman who overheard the joke reported it to officials at the University of Oregon, which runs the festival, claiming it amounted to a racial slur.

Here are the mechanics of the process:

But Mobley maintains that while racism should be challenged and ethnic groups made aware of each other’s sensitivities, his friend has been the victim of misunderstanding and overreaction.

Halls and Mobley had been chatting at a reception held last month during this year’s Oregon Bach Festival, when the subject turned to a concert in London in which Mobley had performed.

The singer, who was born and raised in the southern state of Florida, said the concert had an “antebellum” feel to it, of the sort associated with Gone With the Wind and other rose-tinted representations of the pre-Civil War south.

In response Mobley says that Halls “apologised on behalf of England”, before putting on an exaggerated southern accent and joking: “Do you want some grits?”, in a reference to the ground corn dish popular in the south.

“I’m from the deep south and Matthew often makes fun of the southern accent just as I often make fun of his British accent,” said Mobley. “Race was not an issue. He was imitating a southern accent, not putting on a black accent, and there was nothing racist or malicious about it.”

But the singer suspects that a white woman who overheard their conversation and spoke to him moments later went on to report it to the university, alleging Halls had made a racist joke.

An internal inquiry into the incident is understood to have been held as a result of the complaint.

However, Mobley was not invited to give evidence and he says there is a deep irony in the fact the authorities appear to have assumed on his behalf that he would have objected to the joke.

“I’m the subject of a falsified story, without having the chance to have my say,” he said. “My voice has been taken away in a conversation about race that involved me, and technically that’s racist.”

Fortunately, the process is clear and transparent:

Responding to the claims a spokesman for Oregon Bach Festival, said: “The University considers many factors when deciding whether to continue a contract. Regarding Reggie Mobley, it doesn’t appear he was involved in the University’s decision. Having said that, it would be inappropriate for the University to disclose details about a personnel matter.

“While I anticipate that more information will be available soon, I’m afraid that’s all I can say on the matter right now.”

This is reminiscent of the college student who got suspended for rape, despite the fact that the supposed victim kept insisting no rape had occurred.

Mike Kimel
An economist for a large corporation and author of Presimetrics blog and the book Presimetrics: How Democratic and Republican Administrations Measure Up on the Issues We Care About published August, 2010.

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