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“I lives to harass white folks.”

March 11, 2012

My head hurts.

The “controversy” surrounding President Obama’s relationship to deceased legal scholar Derrick Bell is maddening. Obama’s a radical by association to Bell, Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, etc. and the “mainstream” media failed to properly vet Obama’s radical leanings during his initial presidential campaign. Thanks, Breitbart-ites. Obama is clearly a radical; it explains both his “evolving” thinking on same-sex marriage and his regressive approach to civil liberties.

Of course, we first have to accept that Bell was a radical for originating critical race theory. Critical race theory is simply an academic movement that suggests racism “is not a matter of bad behavior by individual racists; it’s embedded in American attitudes and institutions.”

I’m happy Soledad O’Brien confronts conservative pundit Joel Pollak about the “bombshell” that is Obama, then a Harvard University law school student, embracing Harvard University law school professor Bell during a rally demanding more diversity in the Harvard faculty. Sean Hannity is horrified that Obama, during his time as a University of Chicago law professor, “forced” his students to read excerpts of “Faces at the Bottom of the Well,” and also asked participants of the aforementioned rally to “open your heart and mind” to the words of Bell, a leading scholar on race and law. Newsflash: “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” and other works of Bell were required reading in my undergraduate sociology coursework. The whole purpose of academia, after all, is to wrestle with and confront diverse ideas and concepts.

But O’Brien doesn’t go far enough. Pollak suggests that white supremacy is central to critical race theory. O’Brien sidesteps this statement rather than embrace it. White supremacy as a power structure is integral to critical race theory. Bell posits that America is a racist country and always will be. Bell is referring to institutional racism and power structures, not individual bigotry, a concept that is lost on people like Pollak and Hannity. A significant faction of African-Americans understand institutional racism and have felt its impact. Institutional racism and the shortcomings of the American Dream is not radical thought; it is only radical to those whose worldviews are challenged by it. For many African-Americans, institutional racism is a fact of life, an experienced truth that is routinely dismissed. This truth is why Bell takes on his life motto as: “I lives to harass white people.”

Now, we could take this motto literally to mean that Bell decided to live his life harassing and demeaning white folks. Certainly, many have already done just that. However, what Bell really means is that it is his life’s work to challenge institutional racism and unravel power structures that are supported and reproduced by our laws and institutions. Of course, the elderly black civil rights crusader Bell adopts this motto from doesn’t say so in these words, but she means to speak truth to power.

Unfortunately, what this “controversy” says is that we are still discomforted by black anger, resentment and worse, disappointment. We are discomforted that our belief in equality is less truthful than we were otherwise taught and have been led to believe.

One Comment
  1. Derek Bell is not saying anything that progressive thinking black people have uttered since The Reconstruction Period. The constitution itself harasses poeple of African descent in this country, the GOP or “Good Old Party” harasses the black class equality of black people and the states of Georgia and South Carolina that still fly the confederate flag harasses intergration itself. Are these pundits saying that black people dont have the right to react or to reciprocate disdain toward the people who have antipathy for them? Provencial slave law used to stipulate 25 lashes for slaves that sang out loud on the plantation, it appears as though protesting white supremacy is stlill forbade in the political arena.

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