Latest Scholarship

May 19, 2017

Guest Blogging on Concurring Opinions about Whiteness, Class, Rurality

I've been guest blogging for the past few weeks over at Concurring Opinions and invite you over to that blog, on "the law, the universe, and everything" to see what I've been writing.  I've done a four-installment review/commentary on J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.  Spoiler Alert:  I'm not a big fan but, in the end, suggest that the book can help law profs better understand the low-income white students who (thankfully, yes, thankfully!) show up in our classrooms from time to time.  My posts are:

On Donald Trump, J.D. Vance, and the White Working Class

Hillbilly Elegy as Rorschach Test

The "Shock and Awe" Response to Hillbilly Elegy:  Pondering the Role of Race

On Ree Dolly, J.D. Vance and Empathy for Low-Income Whites (or, What Hillbilly Elegy is Good for)

I've also done a bit of writing about rurality, with these posts:

Rurality and Government Retreat

Local Journalism as Antidote to Echo Chambers and Fake News

Also related to rurality are these posts about spatiality and abortion access. 

Did You Hear the One About the Alaska Legislator Who Said ... 

Sanger's Tour de Force on Abortion (with a Blind Spot for Geography)

Carol Sanger of Columbia Law responded to my post about her new book, About Abortion:  Terminating Pregnancy in the 21st Century, here.  I love the fact she says I get the "last word" in our exchange over the significance of geography.

I expect to post another item or two before my term as a guest blogger expires in about a week. 

February 17, 2016

Scalia Allowed Racial Profiling

This opinion essay originally appeared in The Sacramento Bee on February 16, 2016.

Appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Justice Antonin Scalia was often described as the intellectual anchor of the court's conservative wing. After his death, many commentators are reviewing his body of work, notably his interpretations of the Constitution, as well as his acerbic attacks on his colleagues' opinions and angry dissents, such as in the gay marriage cases.

He also leaves a legacy on a matter critically important to daily criminal law enforcement across the nation. Deadly encounters of people of color with law enforcement regularly make the news, including deaths in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland that have led to sporadic outbursts of unrest.

Many Americans, including both Republican and Democratic political leaders, have condemned police reliance on racial stereotypes. But few are aware it was the Supreme Court, through Scalia's 1996 opinion in Whren v. United States, that made racial profiling in ordinary criminal law enforcement the law of the land.

Late one night in June 1993, two vice squad officers were patrolling a high-crime Washington, D.C., neighborhood in an unmarked vehicle. They saw two African American men in an SUV and stopped the vehicle for a traffic violation. (One can only wonder why vice officers would trouble themselves with a traffic stop.) The officers found crack cocaine and arrested the men. The defendants later argued that the traffic violation was only a pretext for a stop based on race - thus violating the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Writing for a unanimous court, Scalia found that the vehicle stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the police had probable cause to believe a traffic infraction had been committed. To Scalia, it did not matter whether the officers admittedly used the violation as a pretext to stop the vehicle because the occupants were black.

He reasoned that any claim of racial discrimination by police fell outside the Fourth Amendment. Instead, he concluded, such a claim was properly brought under the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments.

But what his logic failed to capture was that equal-protection claims are extremely difficult to prove. A plaintiff must demonstrate that the police acted with a discriminatory intent - not simply that the action, practice or policy had a discriminatory impact on racial minorities. Understandably, plaintiffs can rarely produce the evidence necessary to establish guilty intent. Police officers generally can show there was no discriminatory intent by pointing to a race-neutral reason, such as a minor traffic violation, for the stop.

Put simply, Scalia's constitutional logic failed to ensure that the Constitution would be enforced to protect against racial discrimination. The Whren decision effectively authorizes traffic stops by police based on race. As a result, racial profiling is integral to a criminal justice system that critics contend is, at bottom, racially biased.

In the end, one of Justice Scalia's legacies is the existing problem of racial injustice in law enforcement. As public protests have shown, much remains to be done to remove the taint of racial discrimination from criminal law enforcement.

October 2, 2015

LatCrit 2015 Twentieth Anniversary Conference: Critical Constitutionalism


Me with King Hall's Prof. Angela Harris and Prof. Rhonda Magee of the University of San Francisco

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of LatCrit (short for Latina and Latino Critical Legal Theory), part of the Critical Legal Studies tradition.  The theme for this year, "Critical Constitutionalism" provides an occasion for reflection and prospective planning.  I had the good fortune of moderating a powerful panel on "Mindfulness and Constitutionalism" with our very own Professor Angela Harris.  Joined by Professor Rhonda Magee of the University of San Francisco, Professors Harris and Magee opened the session with an example of mindfulness practice.  Professor Magee invited participants in the session to take a few minutes to take stock of our mental and physical states and to sit with our thoughts for a "quiet" minute.  She challenged us to consider what we teach and why to discover how mindfulness can ground us and reveal new ways of culturally evaluating constitutional democracy. The speakers urged us to incorporate mindfulness into teaching, scholarship, and the practice of law.

Professor Harris noted that mindfulness can give meaning to the Constitution, most notably, those famous three words of the preamble: "We the People."  She suggested that mindfulness unlocks possibilities for community-building and coalition formation based on recognition of our shared humanity.  She identified as problematic the "master stories" of how we become a nation, that is, those that call for "oneness" through the elimination (or masking) of differences.  Such narratives exclude those unwilling or unable to assimilate, hide, or reject those aspects of their identities that deviate from the master stories.  In turn, counter-narratives adopt "struggle" and "resistance," rather than connection, as central metaphors.  Yet understanding connection and respecting differences is possible through mindfulness.  The group then discussed the pedagogical possibilities for incorporating mindfulness into teaching.   Professors can create a shared experience of connection in the classroom where students can bring their whole selves to the analysis and application of the law.  It can be as simple as taking the first five minutes of class to sit in silence and encourage the students to identify the physical and mental state they bring to class.  Through modeling and intentional curricular design, we teach students that their diverse life experiences matter and can enhance not only their understanding of the law but expose and contest normative assumptions of "oneness" that underwrite substantive law.  

Not surprisingly, this session went over time as participants shared their reactions to the presentation as well as personal and pedagogical insights on mindfulness.  One participant noted the presence of law school courses on mindfulness signals its importance to students, the academy, and the profession.  Thanks to Professor Harris, King Hall has just such a course: "Mindfulness and Professional Identity: Becoming a Lawyer While Keeping Your Values Intact."  

I look forward to my panel tomorrow morning on "Courts and Politics" where I will discuss my current project "Sexual Citizenship, Disability, and the Dignity of Risk."

May 1, 2015

New Research from the Faculty at UC Davis School of Law

Here is a look at some of the most recent scholarship from UC Davis School of Law faculty from the Social Science Research Network's Legal Scholarship Network. Click through the links to download the works.

LEGAL SCHOLARSHIP NETWORK: LEGAL STUDIES RESEARCH PAPER SERIES
UC DAVIS SCHOOL OF LAW

"Productive Tensions: Women's NGOs, the 'Mainstream' Human Rights Movement, and International Lawmaking" Free Download
Non-State Actors, Soft Law and Protective Regimes: From the Margins (Cecilia M. Bailliet ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012).
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 422

KARIMA BENNOUNE, University of California, Davis - School of Law

Non-govermental organizations (NGOs) are among the most discussed non-state actors involved in the creation, interpretation, and application of international law. Yet, scholars of international law have often over looked the critical issue of diversity among NGOs, and the differing stances they may take on key international law issues and controversies. This oversight exemplifies the ways in which international law scholarship sometimes takes overly unitary approaches to its categories of analysis. Feminist international law questions the accuracy of such approaches. When one unpacks the "NGO" category, one often discovers multiple NGO constituencies reflecting conflicting concerns and perspectives. Hence, feminist international law theories should reflect a view of NGOs as international lawmakers that is equally complexified.

This chapter will focus on one example of such NGO diversity, namely the inter-NGO dynamic sometimes found between women's human rights NGOs and what is often termed the "mainstream" human rights movement. These relationships have long been complicated . At times these constituencies are allies with the same international law priorities. At other times they are opponents or at least involved in what might be described as a tense dialogue. Sometimes the "mainstream" human rights groups become themselves the targets of the lobbying of women's human rights groups. Indeed, women's human rights NGOs and other human rights NGOs may have very different views of particular inter­ national law questions . Over time, however, the women's rights groups have often - though not always - prevailed on human rights groups to evolve their view of international law in a more gender-sensitive direction.

This dialectical relationship between women's groups and other human rights groups has played out in numerous arenas, including in the 1990s debate over the definition of torture, and, most recently in regard to the need to (also) respond to atrocities by fundamentalist non-state actors in the context of critiquing the "war on terror:' In each instance, women's groups and other human rights NGOs have some­ times had uneasy, multifaceted and shifting relationships that have shaped critical international lawmaking processes and debates. Groups within both of those broad categories of NGOs have also taken diamet­rically opposed positions at times. All of these sets of complexities, these putatively productive tensions, have both enriched and rendered more difficult the role of NGOs as lawmakers, and must be reflected in any meaningful theorizing of the issue.

What then should these layered inter-NGO dynamics tell us about our conception of "NGO" as a category of analysis, and about the role of NGOs in the creation and practice of international law? What can analyzing these dynamics tell us about how progress can most success­ fully be made toward a feminist reshaping of international law? This chapter will consider each of these questions in light of several case studies.

I come at this subject from a range of vantage points, having been an Amnesty International legal adviser, having also worked closely with a range of women's NGOs, and currently as an academic. Hence, I will try to look at these questions at the intersection of both academic and these various practitioner perspectives. To that end, this chapter begins with a brief overview of NGOs and their roles on the inter­national law stage, as described in the literature. An examination of the categories used here follows, interrogating the meaning of the terms, "women's human rights NGO" and "mainstream human rights NGO." Subsequently, the chapter reviews the case studies drawn from practice, first with regard to NGO interaction concerning the definition of torture, and then bearing on responses to the "war on terror." It then concludes with a brief application of the lessons learned from these case studies about the meaning of NGO participation in international lawmaking.

"Administering Section 2 of the VRA After Shelby County" Free Download
Columbia Law Review, vol. 115 Forthcoming
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 372

CHRISTOPHER S. ELMENDORF, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cselmendorf@ucdavis.edu
DOUGLAS M. SPENCER, University of Connecticut, School of Law
Email: dspencer@berkeley.edu

Until the Supreme Court put an end to it in Shelby County v. Holder, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was widely regarded as an effective, low-cost tool for blocking potentially discriminatory changes to election laws and administrative practices. The provision the Supreme Court left standing, Section 2, is generally seen as expensive, cumbersome and almost wholly ineffective at blocking changes before they take effect. This paper argues that the courts, in partnership with the Department of Justice, could reform Section 2 so that it fills much of the gap left by the Supreme Court's evisceration of Section 5. The proposed reformation of Section 2 rests on two insights: first, that national survey data often contains as much or more information than precinct-level vote margins about the core factual matters in Section 2 cases; second, that the courts have authority to create rebuttable presumptions to regularize Section 2 adjudication. Section 2 cases currently turn on costly, case-specific estimates of voter preferences generated from precinct-level vote totals and demographic information. Judicial decisions provide little guidance about how future cases - each relying on data from a different set of elections - are likely to be resolved. By creating evidentiary presumptions whose application in any given case would be determined using national survey data and a common statistical model, the courts could greatly reduce the cost and uncertainty of Section 2 litigation. This approach would also end the dependence of vote-dilution claims on often-unreliable techniques of ecological inference, and would make coalitional claims brought jointly by two or more minority groups much easier to litigate.

"Bait, Mask, and Ruse: Technology and Police Deception" Free Download
128 Harvard Law Review Forum 246 (2015)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 423

ELIZABETH E. JOH, U.C. Davis School of Law
Email: eejoh@ucdavis.edu

Deception and enticement have long been tools of the police, but new technologies have enabled investigative deceit to become more powerful and pervasive. Most of the attention given to today's advances in police technology tends to focus either on online government surveillance or on the use of algorithms for predictive policing or threat assessment. No less important but less well known, however, are the enhanced capacities of the police to bait, lure, and dissemble in order to investigate crime. What are these new deceptive capabilities, and what is their importance?

"Richard Delgado's Quest for Justice for All" Free Download
Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, 2015, Forthcoming
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 421

KEVIN R. JOHNSON, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: krjohnson@ucdavis.edu

This is a contribution to a symposium celebrating Richard Delgado's illustrious career in law teaching. This commentary offers some thoughts on Delgado's contributions to pushing the boundaries of Critical Race Theory - and legal scholarship generally - in seeking to create a more just society. This ambitious program has been the overarching theme to his scholarly agenda throughout his career.

"Leaving No (Nonmarital) Child Behind" Free Download
48 Family Law Quarterly 495 (2014)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 414

COURTNEY G. JOSLIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cgjoslin@ucdavis.edu

Almost ten years, in 2005, I wrote a piece for the Family Law Quarterly describing the legal status of children born to same-sex couples. This Essay explores the some of the positive and some of the worrisome developments in the law since that time. On the positive side, today many more states extend some level of protection to the relationships between nonbiological same-sex parents and their children. Moreover, in many of these states, lesbian nonbiological parents are now treated as full, equal legal parents, even in the absence of an adoption.

There are other recent developments, however, that should be cause for concern. Specifically, this Essay considers recent legislative proposals that contract (rather than expand) existing protections for functional, nonmarital parents. I conclude by arguing that while advocates should celebrate the growing availability of marriage for same-sex couples, they must also be careful not to push legislative efforts that inadequately protect the large and growing numbers of families that exist outside of marriage.

"Amici Curiae Brief of Family Law Professors in Obergefell v. Hodges" Free Download
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 420

COURTNEY G. JOSLIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cgjoslin@ucdavis.edu
JOAN HEIFETZ HOLLINGER, University of California, Berkeley - School of Law
Email: joanhol@law.berkeley.edu

This Amici Curiae brief was filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of 74 scholars of family law in the four consolidated same-sex marriage cases.

The two questions presented in the cases concern whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license or recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex. Those defending the marriage bans rely on two primary arguments: first, that a core, defining element of marriage is the possibility of biological, unassisted procreation; and second, that the "optimal" setting for raising children is a home with their married, biological mothers and fathers. The brief demonstrates that these asserted rationales conflict with basic family laws and policies in every state, which tell a very different story.

"Fracking and Federalism: A Comparative Approach to Reconciling National and Subnational Interests in the United States and Spain" Free Download
Environmental Law, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2014
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 424

ALBERT LIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: aclin@ucdavis.edu

Hydraulic fracturing presents challenges for oversight because its various effects occur at different scales and implicate distinct policy concerns. The uneven distribution of fracturing's benefits and burdens, moreover, means that national and subnational views regarding fracturing's desirability are likely to diverge. This Article examines the tensions between national and subnational oversight of hydraulic fracturing in the United States, where the technique has been most commonly deployed, and Spain, which is contemplating its use for the first time. Drawing insights from the federalism literature, this Article offers recommendations for accommodating the varied interests at stake in hydraulic fracturing policy within the contrasting governmental systems of these two countries.

"Access to Justice in Rural Arkansas" Free Download
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 426

LISA R. PRUITT, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: lrpruitt@ucdavis.edu
J. CLIFF MCKINNEY, Independent
Email: cmckinney@QGTlaw.com
JULIANA FEHRENBACHER, Independent
Email: jfehr@ucdavis.edu
AMY DUNN JOHNSON, Independent
Email: adjohnson@arkansasjustice.org

This policy brief, written for and distributed by the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, reports two sets of data related to the shortage of lawyers in rural Arkansas. The first set of data regards the number of lawyers practicing in each of the state's 25 lowest-population counties and the ratio of lawyers per 1,000 residents in each of those counties. This data is juxtaposed next to the poverty rate and population of each of county.

The policy brief also reports the results of a survey of Arkansas lawyers and law students, the latter from both the University of Arkansas Fayetteville Law School and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock/Bowen School of Law. These surveys probed respondents' attitudes toward rural practice, among other matters. The policy brief reports a summary of those responses. Finally, the policy brief reports on a 2015 legislative proposal aimed at alleviating the shortage of lawyers serving rural Arkansans.

This policy brief is a forerunner to a fuller, academic analysis of these and other data sets relevant to the geography of access to justice in Arkansas. That analysis will appear in an article that will be published by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Journal (forthcoming 2015). The authors anticipate that these investigations in Arkansas may provide a model for other states concerned about the shortage of lawyers working in rural areas.

"Using Taxes to Improve Cap and Trade, Part I: Distribution" Free Download
75 State Tax Notes 99 (2015)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 425

DAVID GAMAGE, University of California, Berkeley - Boalt Hall School of Law
Email: david.gamage@gmail.com
DARIEN SHANSKE, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: dshanske@ucdavis.edu

In this article, the first of a series, we analyze the distributional issues involved in implementing U.S. state level cap-and-trade regimes. Specifically, we will argue that the structure of California's AB 32 regime will unnecessarily disadvantage lower-income Californians under the announced plan to give away approximately half of the permits to businesses and pollution-emitting entities.

 

September 27, 2013

Angela Harris Festschrift

Professor Angela Harris's former colleagues at Berkeley Law are celebrating her incredible work with a daylong conference today.

Professor Harris is one of the nation's foremost scholars in the fields of critical race theory, feminist legal theory, and civil rights. She joined the King Hall faculty from UC Berkeley School of Law in 2011.

Here is the program for today's Festschrift:

Welcome / Opening Remarks

  • Melissa Murray (Berkeley Law)
  • Acting Dean Gillian Lester (Berkeley Law)

Panel 1: Feminist Legal Theory

  • Kathryn Abrams (Berkeley Law) Moderator
  • Mary Anne Franks (University of Miami)
  • Priscilla Ocen (Loyola LA)
  • Camille Gear Rich (USC)
  • Madhavi Sunder (UC Davis)

Panel 2: Race and Criminal Justice

  • David Sklansky (Berkeley Law) Moderator
  • Mario Barnes (UC Irvine)
  • Aya Gruber (Colorado)
  • Cynthia Lee (GWU)
  • L. Song Richardson (Iowa)

Lunch and Keynote Address

  • Keynote Speaker: Dean Rachel Moran (UCLA)

Panel 3: Economic and Environmental Justice

  • Robin Lenhardt (Fordham) Moderator
  • Tucker Culbertson (Syracuse)
  • Sheila Foster (Fordham)
  • Trina Jones (Duke)
  • Emma Coleman Jordan (Georgetown)
  • Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Iowa)

Closing Remarks

  • Angela Harris

Reception with Alumni and Festschrift Guests

Dinner (with remarks by Dean Kevin R. Johnson, UC Davis)

June 7, 2013

Derrick Bell and the Emergence of LatCrit Theory

Earlier this year, I contributed a piece to the Seattle Unviersity Law Review's symposium in memory of Professor Derrick Bell.

Here is the abstract for the Bell Symposium: "Derrick Bell — law teacher, mentor, scholar, activist, author, loving husband and father — larger than the sum of his many parts. The articles in this symposium are fitting tributes to his legacy and valuable contributions to Derrick’s memory."

My piece is titled "Derrick Bell and the Emergence of LatCrit Theory." An excerpt:

As no doubt many of the contributions to this memorial issue attest, Professor Derrick Bell no less than blazed the trail for generations of minority scholars to write about race and civil rights in original, dynamic, and nothing less than cutting edge ways. As we all know, he was a founder of Critical Race Theory, and authored path-breaking race and civil rights scholarship.

As is also well known, Professor Bell’s casebook, Race, Racism, and American Law, published by Little Brown & Company in 1973, is the gold standard in civil rights scholarship. When a Harvard Law School professor publishes a casebook with a major legal publisher, it lends legitimacy to a field—in this case, one that ultimately evolved into Critical Race Theory. By lending important intellectual credibility to critical race scholarship, Race, Racism, and American Law made it possible for future scholars writing civil rights scholarship to be accepted as legitimate, and, among other things, be hired and tenured at law schools across the United States. These are monumental achievements that deserve acclaim and recognition.

In the limited space that I have, my hope is to outline how Professor Bell helped spur an intellectual movement with which he has not generally been associated; namely, he helped create the intellectual space for critical Latina/o (LatCrit) theory. Professor Bell also became a role model for intellectual activism in that political movement.

My linking of Derrick Bell with the emergence of LatCrit theory at first glance may seem anomalous. He generally is not identified with LatCrit scholarship. Indeed, some LatCrit scholarship directly responded to what the writers viewed as limits to Professor Bell’s scholarly analysis.

Nonetheless, Professor Bell’s scholar ship helped fuel the creation of LatCrit theory’s exploration into peculiarly Latina/o civil rights concerns in a variety of ways. Moreover, his actions, in important respects, legitimized in legal academia the LatCrit commitment to activism.

You can read the piece -- and all of the wonderful contributions to the symposium -- at this link: http://seattleuniversitylawreview.com/files/2013/05/BellSymposiumCombined.pdf.

April 14, 2013

Commenting on the commentary about "Accidental Racist"

I don't watch TV or follow much pop culture, and most of the country music I occasionally listen to is from old albums by the likes of Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss.  But this was apparently a big week in country music thanks to Brad Paisley and his new album Wheelhouse.  I was on the road on Tuesday, but by the time I was catching up on email early Wednesday morning, I had lots of messages from friends giving me a heads up on the furor associated with Paisley's new song, "Accidental Racist," which includes a cameo from LL Cool J.  Commentators have varyingly discussed Paisley and his new song thusly:

In short, as one commentator put it, the song has attracted "an unusual amount of ... sneering."  Another called the response "overpowering vitriol." 

 

Eric Weisbard did not sneer in his piece for NPR. His headline references the history of white southern musical identity, and Weisbard touches on biases against the South, as well as white-on-white biases:

As you may have heard, Paisley is sifting through some rubble of his own right now, having been declared a national laughingstock by virtually all commentators coming from outside mainstream country. But then, this condescending dismissal is nothing new. There is a history to "Accidental Racist," the history of how white Southern musicians — heatedly, implicitly, at times self-servingly and not always successfully — try to talk about who they are in answer to what others dismissively assume they are. 

After all, while the Jim Crow South was Anglo supremacist politically, American culture offered a very different dynamic. Ever since white Northerners started putting out their records, Southern whites have represented a backward rural mindset in a national culture of jazzy modernity.  ... Variety loved jazz but scorned the hillbilly in 1926 as " 'poor white trash' genera. The great majority, probably 95 percent, can neither read nor write English. Theirs is a community all to themselves. [They are] illiterate and ignorant, with the intelligence of morons."

This reminds me of some of the points I made in The Geography of the Class Culture Wars about contemporary bias against Southerners, rural denizens, and the ever burgeoning group of people who get labeled "white trash." I note that various commentators of this Paisley/Cool J duet speak ill of the South in a broad-brush way that is not so different to what Variety had to say nearly a century ago.  This has me wondering if Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory," to which many commentators are comparing "Accidental Racist", elicited such ridicule when it was released?

 

Let me be clear:  I do not defend slavery, the historical South, nor the Confederate flag, which I see as necessarily signaling racism.  Further, I offer no comments on the artistic merits of "Accidental Racist," the song, though I will admit that this media frenzy about it led to my first country music download ever just so I could have the full musical experience, first hand.

 

Mark Kemp, too, puts "Accidental Racist" in historical musical perspective and notes regionalism's role in this kerfuffle.  Kemp observes that this is "hardly the first time a song by a Southerner dealing with white blue-collar issues has produced strong reactions among the Northeastern-based media."  

 

Weisbard's piece goes on to comment on the "choices" available to southern white musicians in the 1960s and 1970s, choices that may not have changed much:

They could embrace black music and contemporary life and cross over, like former Texan Janis Joplin. They could go bluegrass singing the Carter Family's now revived "Can the Circle Be Unbroken." Or they could join the notion of regional separatism to new concepts of identity: In songs by Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn, that great euphemism, country, became something you could be proud of like James Brownwas proud to be black.

I find this recognition of "country" (rurality?) as identity interesting, encouraging--and authentic.  (Describing "country" as euphemistic is similarly insightful).  

 

Which brings to my single favorite commentary on "Accidental Racist," from NYT's "Room for Debate" series about the song.  (Yep, that's right, this little ol' country song was the topic of Room for Debate forum a few days ago, which might be seen as progress for both shunned rural whites and for blacks).  One of the commentators, novelist Will Shetterly, makes the point that Paisley and Cool J didn't write or perform this song for the liberal elites who have responded to it in mostly sneering ways.  In a contribution headlined, "Why Elites Hate this Duet," Shetterly writes of the song's many failings--from the perspective of elites/elitists, that is:  

The song’s first sin is it’s earnest. There’s no irony to please hipsters. 

Its second sin is it’s about members of the U.S.’s racially and regionally divided working class, a southern white Lynyrd Skynyrd fan in a Confederate battle flag T-shirt and a northern black rapper in a do-rag, gold chains and sagging pants. This song wasn’t made for, by or about people who consider themselves the cultural elite, and elitists hate the idea of being irrelevant, especially in a discussion of an issue as important as race. 

Its third sin is featuring a rap artist. Many elitists hate rap as much as they hate country, though they don’t like to admit it for fear of appearing racially insensitive. 

* * *  

Elitists are too smug to consider the possibility that a person from a culture may know it better than they do, so they make easy jokes about “Accidental Racist” being “accidentally racist”.

I like this affirming comment on Shetterly's post, from one who identifies himself as a "liberal elitist":

As a private-school-educated, deep blue liberal elitist, I find I agree with Mr. Shetterly, and in fact said a similar thing about Mr. Coates's piece just the other day. Let's be frank: this song isn't for me and mine. It's for a totally different audience. The problem with people like me is that we want important issues like race and poverty discussed, but only in the way we think is appropriate. We want to set the tone of every conversation. Then we laugh at or scorn guys like these, who take on the same subject in a different way. There are an awful lot of people out there who didn't go to Harvard, yet could greatly benefit from being party to a real conversation about race. However ham-handed it may be, I think there is real good intent behind this song, on the parts of both Paisley and L.L. Cool J, and I hope it does reach their intended audiences.

This, from NPR's Code Switch bloggers, is more typical of the (quasi-)scorn being heaped on Paisley, Cool J and their single:

Most folks, though, seemed to agree that it was at least a well-intentioned, if cringeworthy, gesture. Which we see a lot of in conversations about race, right? 

* * * 

Luis Clemens, our editor, was pretty adamant that this was some kind of elaborate joke. "This is all an elaborate and knowing gag meant to provoke a real conversation about race unlike the pseudo-discussion in the song," he said. "Think of it as a Derridean act of derring-do." 

But nope — Paisley and LL insist that it's the real thing. So if it's a well-intentioned mess, aren't their intentions a little dubious? 

MT: There's probably a mix of intentions, at work, right? I mean, Mr. Paisley and Mr. Cool James had to know that there was going to be a reaction. A lot of reaction. You don't tread into 'Solve Racism' Land lightly. Paisley's tweet yesterday indicated as much. 

So you can take it at face value, and many folks did: this is a serious effort to bridge cultures, to extend a hand and try to embrace someone else's humanity.

I can't resist coming back to this conclusion of Shetterly's piece: 

[I]f you think “Accidental Racist” is racist, accidentally or intentionally, read a few comments at a white supremacy site like Stormfront. So long as they call Paisley a race traitor, he and LL Cool J are doing exactly what the elitists claim they want: furthering the conversation about race in the U.S.A.

For a commentator calling Cool J a race traitor, look no further than this Room for Debate contribution by M.K. Asante.  

 

Mark Kemp asserts that Paisley's accidental racist in the Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt is not necessarily Paisley himself.  No, that man is arguably just a persona that Paisley (who, according to some commentators, is known for his "left-wing" views), has adopted for purposes of prompting a discussion about race.  If Kemp is right, maybe there's a bit of irony or something akin to it in this song after all.  Or maybe the irony is in the knee jerk responses of those who have missed this point.    

 

I can't help think of the firestorm "Accidental Racist" has wrought this week in relation to Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA official who was unceremoniously fired in 2010 after Andrew Brietbart publicized an out-of-context video excerpt in which she hinted at having failed to assist a poor white farmer. (That was, in fact, not the case.)  Matt Bai observed then the "depressingly familiar pattern in American life, in which anyone who even tries to talk about race risks public outrage and humiliation."  Paisley and Cool J seem to be providing another example of that sad phenomenon.  

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism, SALTLaw Blog, and ClassCrits
March 30, 2013

Imploring the Ivy League to Attend to Rural Strivers

One of the most e-mailed items in the New York Times for the past day or so has been Claire Vaye Watkins "The Ivy League Was Another Planet." (The alternative headline is "Elite Colleges Are As Foreign as Mars.") In her op-ed, Watkins recounts her journey from nonmetropolitan Pahrump, Nevada to college at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her story is that of a kid from a working class family in "rural" Nevada (her description; technically, Pahrump is not rural because, though unincorporated, its 2010 population is more than 35,000) who didn't know about colleges or how to pick one.  Lucky for her, Watkins went on to get an MFA from Ohio State and is now an assistant professor of English at Bucknell.

Watkins writes of getting her wake-up call about dramatic variations in educational resources when she was a high school senior, vying for a prestigious state-funded scholarship. That's when she met a peer from a Las Vegas high school who attended a magnet school, took college prep courses, had a tutor, and had spent time abroad.  The variations in resources, she realized, were based on geography:  he was an urban kid and she was a rural one.  But they were also based on class.  She doesn't specify the background of the Vegas teen, but she mentions that her mother and step-father had not gone to college.  I note that Pahrump's poverty rate is a fairly steep 21.1%.  Just 10.1% of residents there have a bachelor's degree or better, compared to about 30% nationwide.

Even after meeting the privileged teen from Vegas, however, Watkins didn't know what she didn't know.  She remained ignorant of the world of elite colleges, a sector that represented the "other planet" or "Mars" of the headline.  Instead, Watkins applied to UN Reno, she explains, because she had once taken a Greyhound bus to visit friends there. As Watkins expresses it, when poor rural kids apply to college (which, I might add, is altogether too rare), they typically apply to those institutions to which they have been "incidentally exposed."

Commenting on what admissions deans at elite schools might do to reach out to high-achieving, poor rural kids--whom they purport to be interested in for reasons of diversity and excellence--Watkins suggests, tongue in cheek, that they do "anything." More specifically, Watkins cleverly contrasts Ivy League efforts to recruit rural kids, which might be characterized by the terms "zip" and "nada," with military efforts to recruit the same kids, which might be characterized as "fulsome" and "robust." Guess who's winning that contest? The military, of course.  Here are just a few of the points Watkins makes:

  • No college rep ever showed up at Pahrump Valley High school, while the military brought a stream of alums through there on a regular basis.
  • The school devoted half a day each year to ensuring that every junior took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB); that test was free, while taking the ACT and SAT was  not.  
  • "But the most important thing the military did was walk kids and their families through the enlistment process."

Watkins closes by noting that elite colleges need to do more to reach those she calls "the rural poor," concluding that, until they do, "is it any wonder that students in Pahrump and throughout rural America are more likely to end up in Afghanistan than at N.Y.U.?"

The jumping off point for Watkins' op-ed is a recent paper by two profs (from Harvard and Stanford, no less), Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery, "The Missing 'One-Offs':  The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students."  That paper was publicized in the Times last week-end in David Leonhardt's story, "Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor."  The summary and conclusions of the Hoxby and Avery paper do not talk in terms of rural-urban difference in relation to these missing "one-offs."  (They do, however, employ a tiny bit of geographical nuance in Table 9, listing two categories of "rural" students, those near an urban area and those far from one). Instead, Hoxby and Avery focus on the benefits to students of being in "geographic concentrations of high achievers."  They write in their abstract, for example, that these high-achieving students who fail to apply to elite schools

come from districts too small to support selective public high schools, are not in a critical mass of fellow high achievers, and are unlikely to encounter a teacher or schoolmate from an older cohort who attended a selective college.  

And where might those students be?  mostly in rural schools.  For folks like Watkins, it isn't hard to read between the lines and see that the high achievers most likely to slip between the cracks are kids in rural schools.    

All of this brings to me my own experience.  Like Watkins, I can see that many of the "missing" students Hoxby and Avery are talking about are rural.  My own K-12 school in rural Arkansas had an enrollment of about 400--and no counselor whatsoever to advise on college admissions. The first Ivy League graduates I ever met were professors at the University of Arkansas. I was there because, like many who Hoxby and Avery studied, I assumed it was the best bargain for me.  I didn't apply elsewhere.

I have to trust that the numerous people reading Watkins' tale will believe her revelations of her naiveté regarding college.  I certainly hope so, though I have been struck over the years at how many people are incredulous at my similar tale.  How, they marvel, disbelief in their voices, could you not have known to go to a "good school"?  People of privilege can find it remarkably difficult to believe that other people could really not know the things that are the very intellectual and emotional wall-paper of a life of privilege.

But there is another, related problem:  poor rural kids and the diversity they represent often go unvalued by educational decision makers.  Because these rural kids Watkins is talking about are often white, they don't appear, at first blush, to represent diversity.  Plus, I find privileged whites are just as uncomfortable around working class whites as they are around people of color--maybe more so in this day and age.  That discomfort--unmitigated by the need be politically correct because no PC imperative exists regarding poor whites--may deter the privileged from reaching out to recruit poor whites.  After all, as Watkins points out, it's not like these elite colleges are hurting for applicants.

Finally, privileged metropolitan and cosmopolitan types tend to hold the limitations of rural education against those who are products of it, discounting what these kids have achieved because of the absence of AP classes, the right extracurricular activities, and such.  (Read more here and here).  I recall being on the selection committee for the first round of elite Sturgis Fellows at the University of Arkansas in the late 1980s.  When I spoke up for a candidate with what I considered to have stellar credentials, a professor on the selection committee quickly countered by noting that the student was from a rural school, suggesting that the student's achievements had to be kept in proper perspective--namely that s/he had not been subjected to true intellectual rigor.  I recall meekly pointing out that I, too (then the University of Arkansas's undergraduate valedictorian) was the product of a rural school.  What was I?  chopped liver?  or just an anomaly?  I'll never know how the selection committee saw me.  But perhaps because I protested so meekly, my comment--and the outstanding rural candidate--got no traction.  All of that inaugural group of Sturgis Fellows, as I recall it, were from sizable high schools.    

Cross-posted to ClassCrits, UC Davis Faculty Blog, and SALTLaw Blog.    

June 1, 2012

Professor Angela Harris Is Author of a “Most-Cited Article”

A piece in the Michigan Law Review names the most frequently cited law review articles (articles most often cited within other articles) of all time.  Professor Angela Harris’s Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory, which appeared in the Stanford Law review in 1990, is among the elite!

You can see the list of most-cited law review articles here: http://www.michiganlawreview.org/assets/pdfs/110/8/Shapiro_and_Pearse.pdf.

Congratulations to Professor Harris!  And special thanks to Professor Afra Afsharipour for bringing this exciting news to our attention.

 

 

April 23, 2012

Of Law and Self-Loathing

By Angela Harris.  Cross-posted from Concurring Opinions.

“I’m a self-loathing law student,” confessed one of the students in my Critical Race Theory seminar this week. Several others immediately owned up to the same affliction. I will stipulate that self-loathing is probably not an affect we all should strive to achieve. But I was heartened anyway.

Twenty-five years ago when I began teaching law, my social-justice-minded students regularly veered from rage and tears at moral wrongs to a defiant hope. They sustained themselves and one another with a faith that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, as Dr. King is thought to have said. And they ultimately placed their trust in law and especially the courts.

My students were not alone. Even by the mid-1980s, many of us lawyers and law professors were still recovering from the collective daze of delight induced by the Second Reconstruction and the Warren and Burger Court eras. Of course, we were already in the throes of affirmative-action backlash and judicial retrenchment; colorblind constitutionalism was shaped before our very eyes; and even as a law student I had studied Harris v. McRae in my equal protection class and learned that the formal declaration of a constitutional right is not the same as the economic security needed to exercise it. Yet the romance, the belief that getting the courts to pronounce a legal right was a mighty blow for justice, lingered on.

Maybe it was the continued influence of the post-war “idea of America as a normative concept,” as Edward Purcell  put it in 1973: the incorporation throughout social and political debate of “terms that were analytically confused but morally coercive – patriotism, Americanism, free enterprise system, mission, and, most grossly, ‘we’re number one.’” In the culture of legal academia, this logic translated into a faith in the jurisprudence of legal process. In my little corner of the world we were all reading Democracy and Distrust and trying to locate neutral principles. The faith that procedural fairness, at least, could be achieved despite a lack of consensus about the good life reinforced a belief in the American rule of law as an unshakable bulwark of democratic fairness. That sentiment was entwined with a professional loyalty to the law: to have gone to law school was in itself a statement about one’s commitment to the law as the royal (I mean ”democratic”) road to justice.

So when critical legal studies, feminist legal theory, and then critical race theory hit the academy around this time, the crits (like the Legal Realists before them) were accused of “nihilism” and shown the door. Critical legal theory was not just a disloyalty to the civil rights movement but to the rule of law itself. It was subversive, in those mid-1980s days, to pass around The Hollow Hope  and to insist, as the crits were loudly doing, that “reification” and “legitimation” were basic functions of legal reasoning. The trust that the system works – or, at least, could work if we got it right – was now being dubbed “legal liberalism” by the crits, and being skewered in massively long and ponderous articles about fundamental contradictions. But the critics could be challenged by asking them where their “positive program” was. And they could (sometimes) be silenced by demands that they leave the law altogether.

For the crit project seemed deeply and radically anti-law. We junior professors, reading their work and sometimes contributing to it, felt like outlaws (which brought with it a sense of being dangerous and cool, along with a sense of vulnerability heightened by our lack of tenure and the material consequences of being perceived as a nihilist). At the same time, interestingly, the practice of teaching was not too different for us as it was for our older Legal Process colleagues. It was all about puncturing our students’ illusions, showing them the indeterminacy of legal reasoning and teaching them how to surf on it, questioning the use of words like “fairness.” It was just that we had no shining neutral-principles machine to lift from the bottom of Pandora’s box at the end of the day.

I don’t mean to suggest that legal liberalism and faith in the rule of law as central to the American way ever died. At a conference at Santa Clara Law School last week on race and sexuality, some of the lawyers and academics gathered there bemoaned a “politics of civil rights” that has somehow placed marriage equality at the top of the LGBT agenda. The charge was familiar: too many lawyers and non-lawyers alike believe that “gay is the new black;” that the civil rights movement brought about racial equality and “now it’s our turn;” that if we prove we are just like them, we’ll all be free. The rush to assimilate to mainstream institutions and practices throws under the bus, as usual, those most vulnerable to premature death – those without the racial, economic, and bodily privileges (and/or the desire) to get married, move to the suburbs, and blend in.

What was different was that an alternative position, the “politics of dispossession” as Marc Spindelman named it, was also on the table – not as a stance that made one’s commitment to the law suspect from the get-go, but as an accepted ground for lawyering. When thinking about sexuality we might want to begin, under this politics, not with marriage but with the kids doing sex work on International Boulevard in Oakland, as Margaret Russell pointed out. And, after decades of critical theory, it was taken as a truth in that room — if an inconvenient one — that to do this would mean instantly coming up against poverty, racism, and violence, forms of suffering law is not well positioned to ameliorate.

In this way, lawyering for social justice is a contradiction. Not in the “nihilist” sense, the law-as-a-tool-of-the-ruling-class notion that those who want justice ought to give up their bar cards and go protest in the streets. (My friend Norma Alarcón once identified this romantic position as the desire to “be out in the jungle with Che.”) Rather, the politics of dispossession begins with recognizing that the law is not designed to go to root causes; that fundamental changes in the ground rules, which is what the most vulnerable need, come from organizing;  and that lawyering isn’t useless, but that it looks different if it is prison abolition you want and not a marriage license.

More abstractly, the understanding in that room was that, as Patricia Williams said to the crits in one of the founding texts of critical race theory, law is both inadequate and indispensable in the struggle for justice. Post-legal-liberalism lawyering begins here.

What’s also new is that this commitment to living in the contradiction — accepting the tension between law and justice as a place to work rather than as a source of despair — is increasingly expressed not only by battle-scarred veterans at academic conferences but by law students. The desire to make positive social change has not gone away among my students. They still hope and expect that law can be used in the service of justice. But along with a waning of faith in the courts, they express an increasingly sophisticated awareness of the limits of the law more generally. They know, already, that justice and law are not the same. The task is no longer disillusioning them, but helping them develop the skills for finding what works and what doesn’t.

Okay, so “self-loathing” is probably not the best way to say it. But this wry recognition of the imperfection of law seems to me nevertheless an improvement over the wounded attachment to law as a portal to justice that seemed to mark so many progressive law students a generation ago. As the same student said later in the conversation that day, “That’s my contradiction, and I’m sticking to it.” There’s a wisdom there that’s heartening.