9 March 2012
Reaching Critical Mass
In one of the funnier, or scarier, videos I have seen recently, Breitbart.com’s Editor-In-Chief Joel Pollak acquits himself well in a heated discussion with Soledad O'Brien of CNN about critical race theory. A major point of contention revolved around the description of CRT:
“What part of that was the bombshell? Because I missed it. I don’t get it,” O’Brien exclaimed. “What was a bombshell?”
“Well, the bombshell is the revelation of the relationship between Obama and Derrick Bell,” Pollak pointed out.
“Okay, so he’s a Harvard Law student and a Harvard Law Professor, yeah.” O’Brien added.
“Derrick Bell is the Jeremiah Wright of academia,” Pollak stated. “He passed away last year, but during his lifetime, he developed a theory called critical race theory, which holds that the civil rights movement was a sham and that white supremacy is the order and it must be overthrown.”
“So that is a complete misreading,” O’Brien interrupted. “I’ll stop you there for a second — then I’ll let you continue. That is a complete misreading of critical race theory. That’s an actual theory. You could Google it and some would give you a good definition. So that’s not correct. But keep going.”
“In what way is it a critical misreading?” Pollak countered. “Can you explain to me? Explain to your readers (sic) what it is,”
Eventually, Ms. O'Brien delivered her perspective (probably with help from the earbud):
“Critical race theory looks into the intersection of race and politics and the law and as a legal academic who would study this and write about it, he would advance the theory about what exactly happened when the law was examined in terms of racial politics,” O’Brien explained. “There is no white supremacy in that. It is a theory. It’s an academic theory and as one of the leading academics at Harvard Law School, he was one of the people as part of that conversation. So that is a short definition.”
Uh huh. And Rush Limbaugh sometimes comments on the intersection of public policy and sexual mores. Nothing to see here.
Pollak fired back:
“I’m glad we’ve got you saying that on tape because that’s a complete misrepresentation,” Pollak hit back. “Critical race theory is all about white supremacy. Critical race theory holds that civil rights laws are ineffective, that racial equality is impossible, because the legal and Constitutional in America is white supremacist.”
Perhaps we can adjudicate this. Is CRT oriented around some notion of white dominance or white supremacy? I think we can count on the NY Times to present critical race theory in as gauzy and flattering a focus as possible, so let's see how they described it over the years. That specific phrase is returned fourteen times since 1981 by the Times search engine. The first mention is from 1993:
Two New Law Journals Plan To Focus on Asian Americans
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 28— University of California students in Los Angeles and Berkeley are working separately to produce the nation's first two journals that will focus on legal issues of concern to Asian Americans.
..."At U.C.L.A., there's the Black Law Journal, which discusses African-American issues, there's the Chicano Law Review, which deals with Latino issues, and other journals that deal with trade and the environment," said Theresa Han, a third-year law student at U.C.L.A. and co-editor in chief of the university's Asian American and Pacific Islands Law Journal. "What we're talking about are issues that specifically affect the Asian-American community, like voting rights, how admission policies at universities affect Asian Americans or how civil-rights legislation affects Asian Americans."
Both journals have adopted as their approach to legal analysis a young and controversial area of legal scholarship known as "critical race theory." The theory holds that to properly understand law in American society, one must recognize that it has systematically subordinated non-whites.
"Law is not just neutral, to be used by good and bad people," said Angela Harris, a Berkeley law professor and adviser to the Asian Law Journal. She noted, for example, how economic competition between Chinese and white laborers near the turn of the century led to the Exclusionary Acts, which suspended Chinese immigration. "Subordination of people of color is woven into the law," she said.
Pollak 1, O'Brien 0. The obitiuary of W. Haywood Burns mentions he taught CRT courses but offers no definition.
Here is a 1996 book review:
THE COMING RACE WAR?
And Other Apocalyptic Tales of America After Affirmative Action and Welfare.
By Richard Delgado.
New York University, $24.95.
Richard Delgado, who teaches law at the University of Colorado, is an exponent of critical race theory, which argues that American law, both unconsciously and deliberately, oppresses minorities and insures control by white elites.
Pollak 2, O'Brien 0
Here is a May 5, 1997 think-piece:
For Black Scholars Wedded to Prism of Race, New and Separate Goals
By NEIL A. LEWIS
Critical race theorists, who are on the faculty at almost every major law school and are producing an ever-growing body of scholarly work, have drawn from an idea made popular by postmodernist scholars of all races, that there is no objective reality. Instead, the critical race theorists say, there are competing racial versions of reality that may never be reconciled.
Many theorists say that because few whites will ever be able to see things as blacks do, real racial understanding may be beyond the nation's reach.
''Critical race theory wants to bring race to the very center of the analysis of most situations,'' said Prof. Anthony E. Cook, an adherent of the theory on the faculty at Georgetown University Law School. ''Its assumption is that race has affected our perception of reality and our understanding of the world -- in almost every way.''
''Critical race theory counters colorblindness by saying that race is not simply skin color, and it tries to reveal the ways that race is a category that has been structured out of law and culture and history,'' said Prof. Kimberle Crenshaw of the University of California at Los Angeles Law School, an editor of the leading anthology on the subject.
''Most people think law is being neutral if it doesn't say anything explicit about race,'' she said. ''But it is not usually neutral. It is simply facilitating whatever power relationships were in existence when the law was put in place.''
One important battleground in critical race theory is the criminal justice system: Why, the theorists ask, are a disproportionate number of the men in America's jails black? Many critical race theorists say it is because the system is infected with racism at every level, from prosecutors' offices to judges' chambers.
Pollak 3, O'Brien 0.
Entry 5 is a letter to the editor:
Hitler said it first. Think with the blood!
Hmm, Godwin's Law? Pressing on, entry 6 is a review by Neil Lewis of a book by Derrick Bell:
By Neil A. Lewis
By Derrick Bell.
Bell's long-expressed pessimistic view of racial relations, and the principal pillar of most black critical-race theorists, is that the civil rights movement, with its emphasis on integration, has been largely a failure and that racism has not abated. But to press these arguable positions, Bell sees no need to prove or demonstrate anything; he merely asserts conclusions. In these and previous tales, his truths are simple: black people always behave nobly while white people behave atrociously. In those few instances in which they don't, it is solely because of a cynical if submerged self-interest.
Well, the reviewer doesn't specifically say that atrocious whites use the color of law to entrench their power, but it doesn't sound quite as race-neutral as Ms. O'Brien seems to pretend. Call it even.
Here is a May 10, 1998 book review:
By Laura Kalman
SEEING A COLOR-BLIND FUTURE
The Paradox of Race.
By Patricia J. Williams.
...Williams helped shape critical race theory, a movement of left law professors who say that equality under the law, while vital, eliminates only blatant racism and who seek through their scholarship to transform the way America constructs race and embeds and perpetuates racism.
My emphasis; Pollak 4, O'Brien 0.
Entry 8, a 1998 review of a Thurgood Marshall biography by Juan Williams, includes this aside:
His core belief was not the radical one that the law itself is an instrument of white power, as, say, critical race theory would have it, but that it was a neutral instrument that could be put to the task of forcing whites to accept blacks as equals.
Pollak 5, O'Brien 0.
Entries 9 from April 20, 2002 and 10 from Jan 26, 2005 mention CRT without defining it. But we get some flavor from the 2005 article about Stanford Law School:
Their courses here resound with the armchair radicalism of Orientalism, neocolonialism, deconstructionism, white studies, critical race theory, queer theory, blah blah blah.
Entry 11 also mention CRT as an aside. Entry 12 is from the Tom Horne, Attorney General of Arizona, in a letter defending himself from a NY Times editorial:
Students are taught “critical race theory,” which explains privilege as referring to “the amount of melanin in a person’s skin.“ So-called “ ‘white ways’ ... must be recognized, internalized and silently acted on by people of color.” Such statements promote racial resentment.
The Times editors may have given a platform to a conservative but we can't assume they endorse this description of CRT, so it won't be scored. Still, Tom Horne would agree with Pollak.
Entry 13 by Stanley Fish mentions CRT as an aside. And the Big Finish at 14 is the Oct 7, 2011 obituary of Derrick Bell:
Derrick Bell, Pioneering Law Professor And Civil Rights Advocate, Dies at 80
By FRED A. BERNSTEIN
Derrick Bell, a legal scholar who saw persistent racism in America and sought to expose it through books, articles and provocative career moves -- he gave up a Harvard Law School professorship to protest the school's hiring practices -- died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 80 and lived on the Upper West Side.
...He was a pioneer of critical race theory -- a body of legal scholarship that explored how racism is embedded in laws and legal institutions, even many of those intended to redress past injustices. His 1973 book, ''Race, Racism and American Law,'' became a staple in law schools and is now in its sixth edition.
...Professor Bell's core beliefs included what he called ''the interest convergence dilemma'' -- the idea that whites would not support efforts to improve the position of blacks unless it was in their interest. Asked how the status of blacks could be improved, he said he generally supported civil rights litigation, but cautioned that even favorable rulings would probably yield disappointing results and that it was best to be prepared for that.
Much of Professor Bell's scholarship rejected dry legal analysis in favor of stories. In books and law review articles, he presented parables and allegories about race relations, then debated their meaning with a fictional alter ego, a professor named Geneva Crenshaw, who forced him to confront the truth about racism in America.
One of his best-known parables is ''The Space Traders,'' which appeared in his 1992 book, ''Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism.'' In the story, as Professor Bell later described it, creatures from another planet offer the United States ''enough gold to retire the national debt, a magic chemical that will cleanse America's polluted skies and waters, and a limitless source of safe energy to replace our dwindling reserves.'' In exchange, the creatures ask for only one thing: America's black population, which would be sent to outer space. The white population accepts the offer by an overwhelming margin. (In 1994 the story was adapted as one of three segments in a television movie titled ''Cosmic Slop.'')
I'm going to take a chance and score this for Pollak. The final score, based on thirty years of NY Times coverage: Pollak 6, O'Brien 0.
So her statement about critical race theory - “There is no white supremacy in that" - is either woefully misinformed or a lie. And since she has claimed to be re-reading a book books by Derrick Bell, I think she knows darn well she is lying.