The Derrick Bell Reader

The Derrick Bell Reader

Richard Delgado
Jean Stefancic
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 493
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg47z
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  • Book Info
    The Derrick Bell Reader
    Book Description:

    Lawyer, activist, teacher, writer: for over 40 years, Derrick Bell has provoked his critics and challenged his readers with uncompromising candor and progressive views on race and class in America. A founder of Critical Race Theory and pioneer of the use of allegorical stories as tools of analysis, Bell's groundbreaking work shatters conventional legal orthodoxies and turns comfortable majoritarian myths inside out. Edited and with an extensive introduction by leading critical race theorists Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, The Derrick Bell Reader reflects the tremendous breadth of issues that Bell has grappled with over his phenomenal career, including affirmative action, black nationalism, legal education and ethics. Together, the selections offer the most complete collection of Derrick Bell's writing available today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8547-8
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Derrick Bell grew up in a black neighborhood of Pittsburgh known as “The Hill.” The oldest of four children, Bell credits his mother for inspiring him to work hard, succeed, and stand ready to challenge unjust authority. He cites conversations with his father for his early training in the white man’s world. Both parents insisted that because of racial discrimination, black people had to be twice as good to get half as much. His father, born in Alabama, had been forced to leave as a teenager. Attending a county fair, and snapping a small toy whip, he had angered two...

  5. Prologue: The Chronicle of the Constitutional Contradiction
    (pp. 16-24)

    At the end of a journey back millions of light-years, I found myself standing quietly at the podium at the Constitutional Convention of 1787…. The three dozen or so convention delegates looked tired…. They knew this was a closed meeting, and thus could not readily take in the appearance, on what had just been an empty platform, of a tall stranger—a stranger who was not only a woman but also, all too clearly, black.

    “Gentlemen,” I said, “my name is Geneva Crenshaw, and I appear here to you as a representative of the late twentieth century to test whether...

  6. CHAPTER 1: Economic Determinism and Interest Convergence
    • White Superiority in America: Its Legal Legacy, Its Economic Costs
      (pp. 27-32)

      A few years ago, I was presenting a lecture in which I enumerated the myriad ways in which black people have been used to enrich this society and made to serve as its proverbial scapegoat. I was particularly bitter about the country’s practice of accepting black contributions and ignoring the contributors. Indeed, I suggested, had black people not existed, America would have invented them.

      From the audience, a listener reflecting more insight on my subject than I had shown, shouted out, “Hell man, they did invent us.” The audience responded with a round of applause in which I joined. Whether...

    • Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma
      (pp. 33-39)

      The year was 1959, five years after the Supreme Court’s decision inBrown. If there was anything the hard-pressed partisans of the case did not need, it was more criticism of a decision ignored by the President, condemned by much of Congress, and resisted wherever it was sought to be enforced. Certainly, civil rights adherents did not welcome adding to the growing list of critics the name of Professor Herbert Wechsler, an outstanding lawyer, a frequent advocate for civil rights causes, and a scholar of prestige and influence. Nevertheless, Professor Wechsler chose that time to deliver Harvard Law School’s Oliver...

    • The Role of Fortuity in Racial Policy-Making: Blacks as Fortuitous Beneficiaries of Racial Policies
      (pp. 40-45)

      The involuntary sacrifice of black rights can serve as a catalyst enabling whites to settle serious policy differences. I now see that these silent covenants that differ so much in result are two sides of the same coin. The two-sided coin with involuntary racial sacrifice on the one side, and interest-convergent remedies on the other can be called: racial fortuity.

      Racial fortuity resembles a contract law concept: the third-party beneficiary. In brief, two parties may contract to provide goods or services to a third. For example, a husband wishing to have flowers delivered to his wife on a weekly basis...

    • The Racial Preference Licensing Act
      (pp. 46-54)

      At an elaborate Rose Garden signing ceremony witnessed by the many right-wing groups that worked for its passage, the President assured the nation that the new Racial Preference Licensing Act represented a realistic advance in race relations. “It is,” he insisted, “certainly not a return to the segregation policies granted constitutional protection under the ‘separate but equal’ standard ofPlessy v. Ferguson.” “And,” he added, “it is no more than an inopportune coincidence that the Act was passed exactly a century after the Court announced thePlessydecision. Rather, the new law embodies a bold new approach to the nation’s...

  7. CHAPTER 2: Racial Realism
    • The Chronicle of the Space Traders
      (pp. 57-72)

      Hypotheticals are a staple of discussion in law school classrooms…. Building on this foundation, I began extending these fictional stories to reflect the contradictions and dilemmas faced by those attempting to apply legal rules to the many forms of racial discrimination…. I am not sure who coined the phrase “Critical Race Theory” to describe this form of writing. I know that I have received more credit than I deserve for the movement’s origins. I rather think that this writing is the response to a need for expressing views that cannot be communicated effectively through existing techniques. In my case, I...

    • Racial Realism
      (pp. 73-77)

      Black people’s struggle for freedom, justice, and dignity is as old as this nation…. In spite of dramatic civil rights movements and periodic victories in the legislatures, black Americans by no means are equal to whites. Racial equality is, in fact, not a realistic goal. By constantly aiming for a status that is unobtainable in a perilously racist America, black Americans face frustration and despair. Over time, our persistent quest for integration has hardened into self-defeating rigidity.

      Black people need reform of our civil rights strategies as badly as those in the law needed a new way to consider American...

    • Who’s Afraid of Critical Race Theory?
      (pp. 78-84)

      As I see it, critical race theory recognizes that revolutionizing a culture begins with the radical assessment of it. Radical assessment can encompass illustration, anecdote, allegory, and imagination, as well as analysis of applicable doctrine and authorities….

      “Who’s Afraid of Critical Race Theory?” The interrogatory poses indirectly two questions. First, whatiscritical race theory? And second, whatoughtcritical race theory to be? The distinction is useful even though the dividing line between the descriptive (what is) and the prescriptive (what it ought to be) can be quite fine.

      The answers to whatiscritical race theory are fairly...

    • Racism Is Here to Stay: Now What?
      (pp. 85-90)

      Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary “peaks of progress,” short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it and move on. Armed with a perspective on our society that I call Racial Realism, we can insulate ourselves from despair based on our subordinate status. We will then be free to imagine and activate racial strategies that can bring fulfillment and even triumph....

    • Paul Robeson: Doing the State Some Service
      (pp. 91-96)

      Born in 1898, Paul Robeson rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most distinguished Americans of the twentieth century. No mere celebrity, Robeson was a modern-day Renaissance man. After graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Rutgers University, where he twice received All-America football awards, he attended Columbia Law School and practiced briefly at a large law firm before becoming discouraged by the racism he encountered there.

      He turned to the theater and, performing in Eugene O’Neill’s plays during the early 1920s, established himself as a brilliant actor. His tremendous bass-baritone voice gave him access to concert stages,...

  8. CHAPTER 3: Ethics of Lawyering
    • Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation
      (pp. 99-109)

      The espousal of educational improvement as the appropriate goal of school desegregation efforts is out of phase with the current state of the law. Largely through the efforts of civil rights lawyers, most courts have come to construeBrown v. Board of Educationas mandating “equal educational opportunities” through school desegregation plans aimed at achieving racial balance, whether or not those plans will improve the education received by the children affected. To the extent that “instructional profit” [and not school desegregation] accurately defines the school priorities of black parents, questions of professional responsibility can no longer be ignored:

      How should...

    • Professor Bell Discusses How to Live an Ethical Life
      (pp. 110-114)

      From NPR in Los Angeles, I’m Tavis Smiley.

      Derrick Bell has led an awesome and interesting life. As a professor at New York University’s School of Law, Bell has earned a reputation for taking tough stands on issues that frighten many so-called intellectuals into silence. That should come as no surprise, though, since he learned how to hang tough on ethical issues standing on the front lines of the civil rights movement. Bell’s new book,Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth,is a guide of simple principles for living life in complex times. He joins us here...

  9. CHAPTER 4: Revisionist History
    • An American Fairy Tale: The Income-Related Neutralization of Race Law Precedent
      (pp. 117-122)

      Bluebeard’s Castle,a French fairy tale, depicts the exploits of a nobleman who married a succession of women who entered his castle, never to be heard from again. Bela Bartok composed a darkly beautiful opera about Bluebeard’s fourth wife, Judith, who leaves her family to marry the rich seigneur.

      Upon entering his foreboding, windowless fortress, Judith finds the walls wet, for here the sun can never enter…. Along the somber corridor she detects seven locked doors and urges Bluebeard to allow her to open all of them…. He tries to persuade her to accept him on faith, and not look...

    • Reconstruction’s Racial Realities
      (pp. 123-126)

      The year was 1866. Senator Howard, abolitionist, Radical Republican, and key architect of the Fourteenth Amendment, urged Radical and Conservative Republicans alike to confront the challenge posed by the presence of the former slaves “in our midst.” Grudging rather than generous, conciliatory rather than crusading, Senator Howard’s statement suggests sanctuary rather than equality for blacks.

      The senator’s candidly expressed apprehension about the prospect of blacks living free in white America continues to echo through contemporary civil rights decisions in which the measure of relief is determined less by the character of harm suffered by blacks than the degree of disadvantage...

    • Black Faith in a Racist Land
      (pp. 127-132)

      From the beginning, this nation has prided itself on being a Christian country, but as I sat in a black church in the deep South last Sunday and listened to the congregation fervently sing the old hymn, “Amazing Grace,” I thought that God’s grace could be no more amazing than has been the black man’s faith in the religion learned from the slave master whose religion was force, wealth and power. Having none of these, blacks were required to place their faith in God. And thus, in a nation supposedly devoted to Christianity, we find that the most despised of...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Sexuality and Romance
    • The Entitlement
      (pp. 135-144)

      If happiness can be equated with acquisitions, Donnell B. Dancer was a very happy man. He had it all. Luxury apartment, fine car, fancy clothes galore, a bank account replenished as often as it was emptied, and a seemingly endless procession of the most stunning women all these advantages inevitably attract. Donnell—everyone called him “Donny B. D.”—referred to these women, though not in their presence, as “showpieces.”

      As much as money and what it can buy in late-twentieth-century America, Donny also craved celebrity. After years as a so-so show business performer, he had that as well. Donny was...

    • The Last Black Hero
      (pp. 145-161)

      The bomb’s explosion at the antiracism rally was intended to wreak havoc. It did. Six people died. Dozens were injured. All were members of the militant, community-based organization Quad A (the African American Activist Association). Gravely injured in the explosion was the group’s founder and leader, Jason Warfield.

      The bombing, far from spelling the end of Quad A—the goal of the white supremacists who carried out the attack—brought the organization thousands of new members, millions of dollars in contributions, and a national prestige that ensured their programs would be taken seriously by the media, foundations, and the nation...

    • Shadow Song
      (pp. 162-168)

      The restaurant was in a quiet, pre-lunch-crowd mode. The staff served us quickly, and as we set to, Gwynn, my companion that evening, asked: “Want to hear a story?”

      I nodded.

      “For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a shadow…. When I was a girl, my shadow was my best friend. Even then, I knew no one would believe me, so I never told anyone about her. Of course, sometimes my mother would hear me talking to my shadow, and she’d tell me it wasn’t nice to talk to myself.

      “‘I’m not talking to myself, Mom,’ I’d tell...

    • The Southern Romance Temptation
      (pp. 169-173)

      Presenting my motion for a preliminary injunction in the school desegregation case, I know in advance that it will be rejected. The white-haired Southern judge is of the old school. He has never seen a civil rights lawyer he liked, nor heard a civil rights petition he was willing to grant. Even so, I did my best, not for the judge, but for the courtroom filled with black people. For the plaintiffs in the case and their friends and relatives, this was a rare treat. A black man bold enough to talk up to a white man—even one in...

    • Early Bloomers
      (pp. 174-176)

      [Eds. Derrick Bell’s first wife of thirty years died of cancer in 1990. He met Janet Dewart several months later and not long after she declared her love. “Early Bloomers,” Bell’s poem to her, is a statement of appreciation for her love and his understanding, given his still uncertain emotional state, of the risks that she was willingly accepting.]

      The essence of Spring is not new life,

      but that risk of death—assumed eagerly

      by those first blossoms

      eagerly offering proof of Winter’s end.

      They break forth, more bravely than wisely,

      into weather more likely freezing

      than graced with unseasonable...

  11. CHAPTER 6: Politics of the Academy
    • The Chronicle of the DeVine Gift
      (pp. 179-189)

      It was a major law school, one of the best, but I do not remember how I came to teach there rather than at Howard, my alma mater. My offer, the first ever made to a black, had been the culmination of years of agitation by students and a few faculty members. It was now the spring of my second year. I liked teaching and writing, but I was exhausted and considered resigning, although more out of frustration than fatigue.

      I had become the personal counselor and confidante of virtually all of the black students and a goodly number of...

    • Strangers in Academic Paradise: Law Teachers of Color in Still-White Schools
      (pp. 190-195)

      From a distance, it might be Camelot. The castle is located high on an impressive mountain, so high that it is often invisible in the mists and clouds that abound at such altitudes. But on a sunny day, particularly after rains have cleansed the atmosphere, it is both visible and awe-inspiring. Its high battlements of white stone reflect the sunlight so brilliantly that it is difficult to tell whether the sun or the castle is the source of the light.

      It is generally believed that those who built and reside in the castle have achieved their lofty positions through their...

    • Application of the “Tipping Point” Principle to Law Faculty Hiring Policies
      (pp. 196-200)

      It is not easy to describe the feeling of despair when the faculty rejects a qualified teacher of color who you know full well they would quickly hire were you to suffer a heart attack and drop dead. “Is it,” the minority teacher wonders, “that I am doing such a good job that they see no need to hire others like myself? Or is it, rather, that my performance is so poor that they refuse to hire anyone else for fear of making another serious mistake?”

      Whatever conclusion the teacher of color reaches, it is unavoidable that he or she...

    • Memorandum to Harvard Law School Appointments Committee
      (pp. 201-204)

      This is to urge that you give the most serious consideration to a recommendation that the faculty vote [our current visitor] a permanent position that will enable her to join the faculty for the 1990–91 school year. I am aware of the policy that discourages taking such action during the year of a visitor’s residence. I believe though that we must move aggressively to add women of color to this faculty, and her strengths in teaching experience and scholarly attainments and promise make her the ideal person to play the pioneering role in correcting this serious deficiency in our...

    • Letter to Robert Clark, Dean, Harvard Law School
      (pp. 205-207)
    • The Final Report: Harvard’s Affirmative Action Allegory
      (pp. 208-216)

      Everyone in the Cambridge community knew it was a disaster the very moment it happened…. None who heard or saw it ever forgot the earthshaking explosion and the huge, nuclear-like fireball. When the smoke cleared the following day, the former President’s residence, 17 Quincy Street, had disappeared. A deep, smoldering crater marked the site in Harvard Yard where the building had stood.

      The explosion and the all-consuming inferno claimed the lives of the President of Harvard and 198 black professors and administrators—the university’s total complement of black, full-time professionals. As part of a year-long campaign to increase the number...

  12. CHAPTER 7: Nationalism, Separatism, and Self-Help
    • Brown v. Board of Education and the Black History Month Syndrome
      (pp. 219-222)

      February has become the time in which we move through the series of racial pride–oriented programs which have become the now predictable agenda of Black History Month. This year, I am thinking ahead to the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s precedent-making decision inBrown v. Board of Education. Strangely, I am not looking forward to the event with enthusiasm.

      Usually, as I approach the fateful day, May 17th, I feel a rising sense of pride about a court case that the skill of black lawyers and the courage of their black clients made possible. The pride reinforces a determination...

    • The Real Cost of Racial Equality
      (pp. 223-225)

      Blacks … have lost much of their post-Brownenthusiasm for racial integration as a goal in itself. Increasingly, their emphasis has shifted to building political power, increasing job opportunities, strengthening existing school structures, and improving housing conditions in black areas. They are exerting pressure on government agencies to enforce existing laws, petitioning to broaden already-accepted precedents, and organizing for action within the black community.

      The goals blacks now see as crucial do not lend themselves to direct action protests as did the integration of lunch counters and waiting rooms. More importantly, black people are less willing today than they were...

    • Time for the Teachers: Putting Educators Back into the Brown Remedy
      (pp. 226-231)

      Looking back on my part in the campaign for school desegregation, I fear that too many of us embraced that goal with our hearts and ignored the pragmatic considerations that might have become apparent had we approached the whole matter with our heads.

      Experience taught us little, and that learning we ignored. The Emancipation Proclamation was supposed to free the slaves. By its very terms, limiting coverage to those slaves resident in states still under Confederate rule and thus beyond Union authority—we learned—it did not. The Civil War Amendments aimed to release the former slaves from a new,...

    • The Chronicle of the Slave Scrolls
      (pp. 232-237)

      [Geneva recounts the following story to Professor Bell:]

      From my cabin window I look out on the full moon, and the ghosts of my forefathers rise and fall with the undulating waves. Across these same waters how many years ago they came! What were the inchoate mutterings locked tight within the circle of their hearts? In the deep, heavy darkness of the foul-smelling hold of the ship, where they could not see the sky, nor hear the night noises, nor feel the warm compassion of the tribe, they held their breath against the agony.

      O my fathers, what was it...

    • Shadowboxing: Blacks, Jews, and Games Scapegoats Play
      (pp. 238-246)

      I was working in my office at the law school on a late summer afternoon when someone knocked on my door. Thinking it a faculty member or someone from the administrative staff, I invited the person to come in. The door opened and I looked up to see a somewhat seedily dressed black man standing there.

      “Are you the professor who publishes those stories with Geneva Crenshaw?”

      “Yes,” I said, thinking the fellow had purchased one of our books and wanted an autograph. I was wrong.

      “My name’s Nat T. I’m looking for Geneva Crenshaw. Where can I find her?”...

  13. CHAPTER 8: Price of Racial Remedies
    • The Freedom of Employment Act
      (pp. 249-253)

      Civil rights proponents fought valiantly, but in vain to forestall the enactment of the Freedom of Employment Act. The President, whose election the previous year was partly based on his pledge to push for the legislation, quickly signed the measure. The law, according to its preamble, would allay growing racial hostility by eliminating unfair policies enacted in a misguided effort to remedy racial discrimination that had mostly disappeared with the advent of civil rights laws three decades earlier.

      In summary, the act bans all affirmative action programs, including preferential recruitment, hiring, promotions or other employment policies, practices, rules and regulations...

    • Diversity’s Distractions
      (pp. 254-258)

      Had I not been litigating, teaching, and writing about the difficulties of providing effective schooling for black and other children of color for most of my 45-year career, I might have joined civil rights advocates’ expressions of satisfaction and relief with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 approval of Michigan Law School’s admissions program inGrutter v. Bollinger.¹ These are difficult times for those working for racial equity, and there is value in declaring victory after a years-long litigation. I fear, though, that further events—even in the short term—will render this latest civil rights victory, like so many before it,...

    • A Tragedy of Timing
      (pp. 259-260)

      The biblical maxim about a time to live and a time to die is accurate without providing the reassurance of truth. For life is seldom too long, and death, coming too soon, always brings the special sadness of tragedy. But beyond the usual feeling of loss, the death of Clarence Clyde Ferguson, Jr., is tragic in ways that some who knew him well will intuitively understand without any certainty that they can communicate to those for whom an explanation is required.

      Law teacher, scholar, and dean, government official, ambassador, and United Nations representative, Clyde Ferguson worked in these and many...

    • Minority Admissions and the Usual Price of Racial Remedies
      (pp. 261-267)

      An implicit, often unacknowledged stumbling block lies in the way of our society’s approach to racial remedies. The central issue in remedying past discrimination commonly has been conceived in the following terms: “Conceding that blacks have been harmed by slavery, or segregation, or discrimination, which groups of whites should pay the price or suffer the disadvantage attending relief?” This question, which focuses on the cost to whites of racial remedies rather than on the necessity of relief for minorities, obviously has been framed by whites for discussion with other whites. Their attitude is not unlike that of parents who, in...

    • The Chronicle of the Sacrificed Black Schoolchildren
      (pp. 268-272)

      All the black school-age children were gone. They had simply disappeared.

      No one in authority could tell the frantic parents more than they already knew. It had been one of those early September days that retain the warmth of summer after shedding that season’s oppressive humidity. Prodded perhaps by the moderate weather, the pall of hateful racial invective that had enveloped the long desegregation battle lifted on what was to be the first day of a new school year…. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had insisted on what one called a “full measure” of racial balance, while the school board and the white...

  14. CHAPTER 9: Pedagogy
    • Humanity in Legal Education
      (pp. 275-277)

      [Eds. Writing prior to assuming his position as Dean of the University of Oregon Law School in 1980, Professor Bell explains that what is needed in legal education is ethical training, better fiscal support for programs, and more effective teaching methods.]

      Legal education has become an increasingly complex and expensive business. This is due, in part, to modern pedagogy’s return to the idea that students learn to practice best by practicing. Most nineteenth-century lawyers were trained in law offices, rather than in the law schools. Clinical courses, in which students assist clients or prepare for practice through simulation, lead the...

    • The Law Student as Slave
      (pp. 278-283)

      Several years ago, I considered teaching a course on the law of slavery. In trying to ascertain student interest, I asked a black student whether he might consider enrolling. “No sir,” he replied. “I don’t need a course to teach me that the law of slavery was a whip.”

      Complex issues of law grew out of the Constitution’s recognition of property in human beings, of course, but the violence of the gun and the lash was the essential force that enabled white men to reduce blacks to little more than commodities…. Failure to obey all orders would result in immediate...

    • Pedagogical Process: Active Classroom and Text as Resource
      (pp. 284-289)

      Over the years, I have found that student interest and learning are enhanced if they are actively engaged in the learning and teaching process. An analogy to driving a car, or riding a bicycle, may not be exact, but as with skills requiring coordination of many faculties, understanding and advocacy of constitutional issues improve greatly with practice.

      The design of Constitutional Law, as I teach it, is the antithesis of the traditional inculcation of “passivity as the norm” so common in legal education. In my experience—and as my students frequently have told me—students do vastly more work, and...

    • Victims as Heroes: A Minority Perspective on Constitutional Law
      (pp. 290-296)

      Recently, a black student sought my help in his and several classmates’ efforts to persuade a first-year property teacher to include a component on the significance of slavery to the development of American property law. The teacher, recalling past complaints when he offered a slaves-as-property course segment, was reluctant to assent to the students’ request. I begged off intervening, citing the traditional discretion that faculty members exercise in regard to the content of their colleagues’ courses.

      Actually, the students have a point, although it is one more appropriately addressed to constitutional law scholars than to those who teach the first-year...

  15. CHAPTER 10: Racial Standing
    • The Law of Racial Standing
      (pp. 299-304)

      Minister Louis Farrakhan is back on national television. Yes, Farrakhan is back, and we bourgeois black folk will need to be ready because white America views this man as a big problem that can be solved—evidently—by making what is threatening for them a problem for us.

      Personally, I am glad to see Farrakhan’s return after about a two year absence from the national T.V. scene. Very smart and super-articulate, he is perhaps the best living example of a black man ready, willing, and able to “tell it like it is” regarding who is responsible for racism in this...

    • Thurgood Marshall
      (pp. 305-308)

      The news of Thurgood Marshall’s death made page-one headlines throughout the nation. A flood of eulogies portrayed Marshall’s life and accomplishments in superlatives usually reserved for heads of state. No one who scanned these obituaries could doubt that the nation had lost one of its most notable citizens.

      Hosts of dignitaries, headed by the President of the United States, came to honor Marshall at his funeral in Washington’s National Cathedral. Mourners from every level of society came to pay their respects to this lawyer, son of a Pullman porter, who for almost a quarter of a century as a Supreme...

    • The Racism Is Permanent Thesis: Courageous Revelation or Unconscious Denial of Racial Genocide
      (pp. 309-313)

      Based on a review of three hundred years of American history, I found a pattern of racial subordination that led me to conclude inFaces at the Bottom of the Wellthat racism is not going to go away. Rather, racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society. Because this is true, not only will we not overcome in the sense that all of us believed so fervently in the 1960s, black people will never achieve full equality with whites. At best, we can hope for what I have called temporary “peaks of progress,” short-lived periods of...

    • Getting Beyond a Property in Race
      (pp. 314-319)

      I am honored to be here, but I would be far happier were I sitting out there with you listening to the person originally invited to give this lecture. The Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham quite literally gave his life last December in the struggle in which he was often heard but too infrequently heeded. Now he has joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and W. E. B. Du Bois in that uniquely American racial Valhalla, a place where each is accorded in death a place of high honor usually reserved for those who have achieved rather than failed...

    • The Black Sedition Papers
      (pp. 320-327)

      [Eds. Shortly after one of Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson’s criticisms of blacks appeared in print, Professor Bell received the following letter from a friend.]

      Dear Professor:

      No one in authority is willing to acknowledge that the studies are underway. The sponsors as well as their funding sources are unknown. The purpose of the studies, if persistent rumors are accurate, is so controversial that secrecy is understandable—if hardly more justifiable. According to my sources, social instability in the black community is alarming policy-makers at the highest levels. All concede that blacks have survived hundreds of years of societal hostility...

    • Wanted: A White Leader Able to Free Whites of Racism
      (pp. 328-336)

      My title does not promise new legal strategies but instead calls for new leadership in the fight against racism—to be more specific, new white leadership. Many whites of course believe in and work for racial equality, but for the most part, they are not well known. We are not likely to see them on theLehrer News HourorMeet the Press. The leaders I seek and that this country needs must be well-known, able to be heard and with the power or charisma to be taken seriously.

      Let me say quickly, emphatically, and somewhat sadly that the leadership...

  16. CHAPTER 11: Racism as Meanness
    • Meanness as Racial Ideology: The Port Chicago Mutiny
      (pp. 339-344)

      His interest sparked by a faded 1945 pamphlet, Robert Allen wroteThe Port Chicago Mutinyover a period of ten years…. He overcame obstacles including hard-to-obtain records, lost and reluctant interviewees, and a general lack of interest in an unfortunate incident that, after all, had occurred almost fifty years ago while America was locked into a war that threatened its survival…. While the events Allen investigated occurred more than a decade before the Supreme Court declared government-sanctioned racial segregation unconstitutional, the racial attitudes and policies that led to a largely forgotten disaster in a small California town provide a standard...

    • Racial Libel as American Ritual
      (pp. 345-352)

      In contemporary times, Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, and others have maintained that differences in average scores on standardized tests are proof of the intellectual inferiority of blacks.The Bell Curve¹ is perhaps the best marketed of a long line of publications that defame blacks as a means of comforting white anxieties about “place,” and convincing them that, given their genetic inferiority, taking a hard line against blacks is appropriate as well as satisfying. The viability and value of this libel are particularly useful in shifting blame, particularly in bad economic times, from those responsible for failed policies to the nation’s...

    • Fear of Black Crime Is Political Tool
      (pp. 353-354)

      We are shocked but we should not be surprised by the revelation that Charles Stuart, and not a black male attacker, robbed and killed his pregnant wife. Stuart used the white public’s fear of black people and antipathy toward them to mask his heinous act. His reliance on race as a diversionary tactic has a long history.

      Politicians, from precinct captains to presidents, have exploited fear of black people and the specter of black crime as an effective tactic to win elections and to avoid the need to address serious issues once in office. Stuart’s story stands as the latest...

  17. CHAPTER 12: Popular Democracy
    • The Referendum: Democracy’s Barrier to Racial Equality
      (pp. 357-362)

      When Justice Black hailed referendum provisions as devotion to democracy and not proof of “bias, discrimination, or prejudice,” his was not simply a rhetorical flourish. The statement embodied a central principle of his 1971 majority opinion inJames v. Valtierra.¹ In that case, black and Mexican-American indigents had challenged Article 34 of the California constitution, which required prior approval in a local referendum before a state public body could develop a federally financed lowrent housing project. They argued that Article 34 unreasonably discriminated, explicitly against the poor and implicitly against minority groups, because it mandated special voter approval for low-income...

    • California’s Proposition 209: A Temporary Diversion on the Road to Racial Disaster
      (pp. 363-368)

      Less than a month ago my long-time friend, Chief District Judge Thelton Henderson, gave supporters of California’s affirmative action programs a most welcome Christmas present. He followed up the temporary restraining order he issued shortly after the voters approved Proposition 209 with a preliminary injunction, the appeal of which through the courts would seem to frustrate the goals of this anti–affirmative action initiative for some time.

      Almost reflexively, I join the applause for Judge Henderson’s courageous decision. Jubilation by affirmative action supporters, though, should be restrained. For, as I suggest in my title, the decision, like the affirmative action...

  18. CHAPTER 13: Race and Class
    • Racism: A Major Source of Property and Wealth Inequality in America
      (pp. 371-377)

      It is dusk, the end of a hot summer day. A half-dozen or so working class, white, “good ole’ boys” are grouped around a bench in front of a rundown, two-pump gas station. An outdoor phone hangs limply from the wall. A faded sign over the station garage reads: Moultree’s Oil, Gas, Repairs. Dressed in bib overalls and plaid shirts or in khaki pants and undershirts, the men are horsing around, drinking beer, and chiding a teenager, buddy, who refuses to drink with them.

      (The owner of the gas station, an older man, and a figure of authority, points his...

    • A Holiday for Dr. King: The Significance of Symbols in the Black Freedom Struggle
      (pp. 378-384)

      In New York City a few weeks ago I hailed a taxi for the long ride to the airport. Settling down in the back seat, I glanced at the driver’s name tag and said, … “I can’t believe your name is Jesse B. Semple.”

      “That’s been my name all my life, and I’m not about to change it.”

      “You know,” I said, ignoring his belligerent response, “that’s a pretty famous name. Langston Hughes regaled millions of black people over many years with his short essays about conversations with a streetwise Harlem black named Jesse B. Simple. Hughes always called him...

    • Trying to Teach the White Folks
      (pp. 385-396)

      Bong! Bong!

      “With the sound of our sacred Liberty Bell calling us to freedom’s task, this is the Biff Rightwing Show—the home of thinking conservatives. We don’t pander: we ponder. We don’t condemn commie-afflicted critics: we celebrate our conservative goals. Welcome, all you Yessirrees out there!”

      Biff paused for the cheers and whistles of the studio audience, mainly middle-aged white males.

      “Our guest this evening,” he went on, “is an African American law professor known as a liberal. He’s got some ideas we conservatives consider crazy and some that raise questions worthy of debate. Let’s get right into it.”...

  19. CHAPTER 14: Survival Strategies
    • Redemption Deferred: Back to the Space Traders
      (pp. 399-405)

      We passed through that curtain of darkness into a vast enclosure, a realm of light. Above us, around us, glowed and pulsated all the colors of the rainbow, dazzling my eyes, softening my grim expectations. From somewhere over our heads, a hidden voice spoke.

      “Raise your arms and clap your hands.”

      This was no longer the clone of Ronald Reagan’s voice, with which the Space Traders had opened and conducted their negotiations with the United States. This was a black voice, warm and resonant. Whether a man’s voice or a woman’s, I couldn’t tell.

      As we raised our arms in...

    • The Chronicle of the Amber Cloud
      (pp. 406-410)

      The Amber Cloud descended upon the land without warning. Its heavy, chilling mist was clearly visible throughout the long night in which it rolled across the nation. By morning, it was gone, but in its wake it left a social transformation. The most fortunate young people in the land—white adolescents with wealthy parents—were stricken with a debilitating affliction, unknown to medical science, but whose symptoms were all too familiar to parents whose children are both poor and black.

      The media called it “Ghetto Disease,” a term that made up in accuracy what it lacked in elegance. Within days,...

    • The Chronicle of the Black Reparations Foundation
      (pp. 411-416)

      After months of excitement, the big day had arrived. The news conference was packed and hot. Television spots, like tiny orbitless suns, bathed the big stage where two dozen civil rights luminaries sat on folding chairs in a blinding glare of hot light. None of them seemed uncomfortable or even slightly put out that all eyes at this media event were on the large, balding white man who walked purposefully to the podium bristling with microphones, shuffled through a stack of notes, and then, in a deep, firm voice, began to give details of what had been rumored for months....

    • Beyond Despair
      (pp. 417-420)

      Dear Geneva,

      I am reminded that our forebears—though betrayed into bondage—survived the slavery in which they were reduced to things, property, entitled neither to rights nor to respect as human beings. Somehow, as the legacy of our spirituals makes clear, our enslaved ancestors managed to retain their humanity as well as their faith that evil and suffering were not the extent of their destiny—or of the destiny of those who would follow them. Indeed, we owe our existence to their perseverance, their faith. In these perilous times, we must do no less than they did: fashion a...

    • The Afrolantica Awakening
      (pp. 421-430)

      The first oceanographers to report unusual rumblings in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, some nine hundred miles due east of South Carolina, speculated that some sort of land mass was rising up from the ocean bottom. Naturally, these reports were dismissed as the work of crazies or, worse, of publicity-seeking scientists. Even more outrageous seemed these scientists’ further hypothesis that this land mass was the fabled Atlantis—a body of land the ancients accepted as real, Plato describing it as the “lost continent of Atlantis.” But gradually people began to take seriously the message of the insistent churning that...

  20. CHAPTER 15: Critiques
    • Racism as Original Sin: Derrick Bell and Reinhold Niebuhr’s Theology
      (pp. 433-445)
      George Taylor

      At the heart of Derrick Bell’s work lies a conundrum. He argues that racism is permanent and yet at the same time insists that the struggle against racism remains worthwhile and valuable. A number of critics find Bell’s thesis about racism’s permanence to be so despairing that, on its own terms, it renders any meaningful possibility of action against racism pointless. My goal is to try to make sense of the paradox that lies so deep at the core of Bell’s work and show how antiracist action can coexist with racism’s perdurance…. I draw an analogy from Christian theology, in...

    • Derrick Bell’s Toolkit—Fit to Dismantle That Famous House?
      (pp. 446-458)
      Richard Delgado

      In the world of literature and music,Bluebeard’s Castleis both a French fairy tale and an opera by Bela Bartók. Both tell the story of a nobleman who marries a series of women and spirits them away to his castle, where they remain hidden for the rest of their lives. In Bartók’s version, the principal character, Judith, Bluebeard’s fourth wife, is attracted to the “strange and awe-inspiring” noble whose heart she hopes to touch with the humanizing power of her love. Despite her family’s warnings and the evidence of her senses, she allows herself to become entranced with Bluebeard...

    • Nomination of Derrick A. Bell, Jr., to Be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
      (pp. 459-474)
      Ilhyung Lee

      Professor Derrick Bell is widely known for his outspoken and sometimes controversial views regarding race and law. In his many publications, Bell has attracted attention not only for his substantive message but also the manner in which he delivers it. Bell often departs from conventional law review style, favoring instead a storytelling method of discourse, one that brings to light issues in fictional or hypothetical form.

      Consider the following, where Professor Bell himself is the subject of a fictional narrative. Employing a style similar to that of Bell’s works, the story has Derrick Bell nominated to the United States Supreme...

  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 475-484)
  22. Index
    (pp. 485-492)
  23. About the Editors
    (pp. 493-493)