On Thursday, March 7, BuzzFeed released a video of Barack Obama in 1991 when, as President of the Harvard Law Review, he participated in a protest rally organized by openly gay Keith Boykin in support of Professor Derrick Bell’s demand for diversity on the faculty of Harvard Law School. Bell was Harvard’s first black tenured professor and a proponent of the Critical Race Theory, which regarded legal scholarship through the lens of race and power. (More on this below). The video has been around since 2008 when PBS incorporated it into a special on Obama but it is now being considered by conservatives at Breitbart.com and elsewhere as a “bombshell” revelation of Obama’s pushing of “class warfare.”
Here MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell interviews Boykin about Obama’s participation in the protest.
CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asked Breitbart’s Joel Pollak what’s so controversial about the video. Pollak describes the Critical Race Theory as talking about “white supremacy.” O’Brien disputes that – though they are in fact both right – but seem to interpret “white supremacy” differently. Here’s the beginning of an exploration of the Critical Race Theory by the UCLA School of Public Affairs:
Critical Race Theory was developed out of legal scholarship. It provides a critical analysis of race and racism from a legal point of view. Since its inception within legal scholarship CRT has spread to many disciplines. CRT has basic tenets that guide its framework. These tenets are interdisciplinary and can be approached from different branches of learning.
CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal "truth" by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege. CRT also recognizes that liberalism and meritocracy are often stories heard from those with wealth, power, and privilege. These stories paint a false picture of meritocracy; everyone who works hard can attain wealth, power, and privilege while ignoring the systemic inequalities that institutional racism provides.
Intersectionality within CRT points to the multidimensionality of oppressions and recognizes that race alone cannot account for disempowerment. "Intersectionality means the examination of race, sex, class, national origin, and sexual orientation, and how their combination plays out in various settings." This is an important tenet in pointing out that CRT is critical of the many oppressions facing people of color and does not allow for a one-dimensional approach of the complexities of our world.
Here’s the discussion:
Ironically, on March 8, the day after the Obama protest video re-surfaced as a conservative billy-club, the Obama re-election campaign released a trailer of the critical and difficult opening days of the new Obama administration. The trailer, narrated by Tom Hanks, is entitled “The Road Traveled” – as if the re-election campaign is a drawing a direct line from those Harvard days to the Presidency, despite how many others of us followed the road less traveled.