Saturday, March 10, 2012


The following is an excerpt from an article by Bernie D. Jones, entitled, "CRITICAL RACE THEORY: NEW STRATEGIES FOR CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM?" (Harvard Black Letter Law Journal, Spring 2002).

The article details Jones' view of the impact that Derrick A. Bell had on Critical Race Theory.  More importantly, Jones specifically addresses Bell's active role as he "began to train the next generation of lawyer activists."  Barack Obama was one of those students, who encouraged his fellow students to "open your hearts and your minds to the words of Derrick Bell."  He also referred to Bell's words as "truth" and proclaimed Bell to be the "Rosa Parks of legal education."

Jones also makes clear that Critical Race Theory explores a bit more than "the intersection of law, race and politics," as Soledad O'Brien suggests.  Note CRT's apparent disgust for the US Constitution, Non-activist Judges and "white benevolence."   Here is an excerpt of Jones' article (with my highlighting):

"White populism meant the rise of the Republican party and rejection of the Democrats, as the coalition between white ethnic laborers in the Northeast and blacks fell apart. Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush made it into the White House, as compared to only Carter and Clinton. As presidential politics began more and more to determine the nature of judicial policy and politics, the Supreme Court reflected this new trend, as Republican presidents nominated like-minded judges to the bench.
*3 The Court became the means by which Republican presidents could ensure the end of liberal civil rights policy because Justices have life tenure. These justices promulgated a formalist position on civil rights that marked a return to narrow concepts of jurisprudence and a rejection of liberal judicial activism. In the eyes of activists, the Supreme Court was no longer an articulate voice in favor of civil rights and liberties; instead, it became a threat, for the justices seemed able to limit precedents or do away with them altogether. Law professors of color such as Derrick Bell were among the first to notice this trend.
Derrick Bell was an activist lawyer in the civil rights movement; he once worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund in fighting for full equality under the law. He believed in an expansive civil rights project which would guarantee protection of African American rights on all fronts. He supported Brown. But in the wake of white conservative populism, the rise in black nationalism and the failure of liberal judicial activism to insure the promise of Brown, he began to question the liberal legal ideal. By this time, Bell was a law professor; both his scholarship and pedagogy reflected his developing perspective.
Bell came to believe Brown was a failure, because the lawyers who litigated the case sought a formal remedy—desegregation—without considering the heart of the true claims African Americans made. Inequality in resource allocation was the true problem, and it was one that could not be disguised by cosmetic remedies. The mere presence of African Americans in all-white institutions meant nothing as long as whites retained full power and control over decision-making processes. African Americans thus remained supplicants to white benevolence, and whites made changes only to the point at which their personal interests were not compromised.
As a legal educator in the early 1970s, Bell transferred his activism to a different milieu. He began to train the next generation of lawyer activists. Harvard Law School hired him because he had practical civil rights experience, and the trend of legal education at the time encouraged the presence of seasoned civil rights veterans. Civic-minded law students were gravitating toward civil rights practice; thus, Bell had a special role. But in addition, his presence as an African American was important, as greater numbers of law students of color started entering law school. The law students looked to him for mentoring and for instruction on what they could expect as civil rights lawyers. They learned his critique of civil rights practice and followed his examples of activism. Bell criticized the law as an institution; insofar as Harvard was part of that institution, he criticized it too and raised the rallying cry of protest.
Bell’s students took the lessons he taught them and critiqued Harvard’s traditional role in society as an elite mainstream institution, responsible for supplying the lawyers who populated the ranks of high court judges, practitioners and legal educators. They blamed Harvard for failing to contribute to a true liberal agenda that would empower communities of color. They followed Bell’s example of legal activism in academia and raised protests within the law school at various times during Bell’s tenure. When Bell took over as dean of the University of Oregon’s law school in 1983, they boycotted a civil rights class being offered, on the *4 ground that there remained no tenured instructors who could serve as effective mentors to students seriously interested in civil rights." 

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