Meet Professor Derrick Bell

By now you’ve probably viewed the newly-released footage of a young Barack Obama introducing Professor Derrick Bell during a 1991 Harvard protest. If you haven’t seen the footage, then it’s time to get informed. The video shows Obama introducing Bell – with a request for the audience to “open up your hearts and your minds” – before embracing Bell as the gathered crowd applauds. ”So what’s the big deal?”, the media whines. A young law student can’t show affection and respect for an admired professor?

Courtesy of the International Business Times, these bullet-points provide a brief overview of Bell’s work:

  • Bell became the first tenured African-American professor of Law at Harvard University in the mid-1960s. He came from humble beginnings in Pittsburgh and was a civil rights activist before he became a leading scholar.
  • Bell is considered the founder of “critical race theory,” a method at looking (at) race relations in American history through law and politics. He was a strong believer in “the interest of convergence dilemma,” or the idea that whites would not support the efforts of blacks to improve their status in society unless it was in their interest.
  • In 1992 (a year after the Obama video takes place) he told The New York Time(s) he believed black Americans were more subjugated than at any time since slavery.
    After Harvard, Bell was one of the first African-American(s) to head a non-black school when (he) became the dean of the University of Oregon School of Law in 1980. According to his obituary in The New York Times, he resigned in 1985 over a dispute about faculty diversity.
  • Bell returned to Harvard after Oregon. When a black visiting professor from the University of Pennsylvania, Regina Austin, was denied tenure, he threatened to leave the school and staged a hunger strike.
  • A 2007 article from “Vibe” said that Obama played (a) “background role” when organizing national protests over faculty diversity with Austin and Bell. “He was supportive, and spoke at a few rallies, but he didn’t really have time,” James Bernard, and organizer in the protest, told the magazine. “The image I have is him being on the way to the Law Review building, chain-smoking and joining us for a few minutes before he had to go.”

The extent of Obama’s involvement with Bell and Austin is inconsequential. The fact of the matter is that he was a supporter of Bell’s work – which was anything but mainstream.

The UCLA School of Public Affairs explains this “critical race theory” in more detail:

Critical Race Theory was developed out of legal scholarship. It provides a critical analysis of race and racism from a legal point of view. Since its inception within legal scholarship CRT has spread to many disciplines.  CRT has basic tenets that guide its framework. These tenets are interdisciplinary and can be approached from different branches of learning.

CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal “truth” by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege.  CRT also recognizes that liberalism and meritocracy are often stories heard from those with wealth, power, and privilege. These stories paint a false picture of meritocracy; everyone who works hard can attain wealth, power, and privilege while ignoring the systemic inequalities that institutional racism provides.

UCLA points out Bell’s involvement in birthing the theory:

The works of Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman have been attributed to the start of CRT. Bell and Freeman were frustrated with the slow pace of racial reform in the United Sates. They argued that the traditional approaches of combating racism were producing smaller gains than in previous years. Thus, Critical Race Theory is an outgrowth of Critical Legal Studies (CLS), which was a leftist movement that challenged traditional legal scholarship. These CRT scholars continued forward and were joined by Richard Delgado. In 1989, they held their first conference in Madison, Wisconsin. This was the beginning of the CRT as movement.

Bell not only taught this stuff but he was an advocate for it – a militant, if you will. His 1973 book Race, Racism and American Law is still a circulating text with updated additions having been released for academic use today. It’s comforting to know that law schools are churning out graduates who’ve been spoon-fed this poison and the same students have now been dispatched into the legal community.

Does the average American even know who Dr. Bell is? No.

Would they agree with his positions on race and the law? Probably not.

Then it’s time for Barack Obama to explain his support of Dr. Bell. I’m sure that every thinking person will be interested to know.

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