Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Race, Gender, Inequality and Intersectionality”
Articles,  Blog

Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Race, Gender, Inequality and Intersectionality”

So we already heard about both
the ideological and material dimensions of contemporary
patterns of racial inequality. I’m going to talk
about the way that law frames those questions. Now, let’s just pause
for moment and knowledge that the frame
“black lives matter” could simply be an observational
fact, just part of a background reality, no more political or
no more contested than the idea that white lives matter, right? The fact that it is
a contested frame tells us that there’s still a
project going on around race. So what I want to do
is frame some part of that project in legal terms. I want to identify
“black lives matter” as a discourse of resistance
that puts into question the way that race continues
to be reproduced in this contemporary period
of so-called Post-racialism. So effectively, I’m questioning
what is Post-racialism? What are its mechanisms? What role does law
play in establishing the basic background
narrative that “black lives matter” is trying to contest? Now in doing this,
I also want to bring into the conversation not
just the ongoing efforts that are underway in the
political sphere, but I also want to
bring into conversation some of the product of student
activism from the past. So in particular, I want to talk
about and frame these comments as comments around
critical race theory. So I don’t really
have the time to tell the full story of critical
race theory and perform it, but I’m going to ask you to take
into consideration that most of what I’m talking
about actually came out of the earlier
generations’ interrogation of, contestation of the terms
of knowledge production in universities. And the idea was that
knowledge production, access to knowledge production,
the ability to create, a group of intellectuals
who are actually engaging in the process
of rationalizing our ongoing efforts
to reform society, of contesting the ways in
which racial stratification was justified, that
project was ever so much a part of the civil rights
movement as voting rights was or as economic justice is. So recognizing that these
places are as contested as courtrooms, as elections,
as hiring offices, that was a central part
of critical race theory. And it’s a central
part that I want to hold up, partly
because students had everything to do with making
that project actually happen. The second thing that I
want to also talk about is the role of gender in the
domestication of racial justice discourses. And I want to frame that out
of the contemporary effort to create a racial
justice project that I call Post-racially Pragmatic. It is President Obama’s
attempts to deliver, at last, some kind of
racial justice intervention. But my argument is going to be
that that effort to deliver it has been constrained
by a performance of Post-racial pragmatism. One might call it
assimilationist. One might call it
simply an effort to deliver something on race
within the existing ideological and political constraints
rather than trying to push at those constraints. And I’m going to argue that
it has particular gender dimensions as well. So let me get on with this. I’m having just a
little difficulty pushing these through. So I might just keep talking
until the slides catch up with me or until someone
comes up and saves me as they see me floundering here. [LAUGHS] OK, so we’ve been talking
about color blindness in and out of the day. And I want to talk about
color blindness largely as an ideological frame that
does a certain kind of work. I call this a
color blind museum. I’m going to give you some
snapshots of color blindness as they have been articulated
in the law throughout history. Now, our first
question might be, what actually is color blindness? And we’ve been talking
about it throughout the day in several different ways. I want to provide
more or less they a schematic of color blindness
as it plays out in the law. So in the law, when we
encounter color blindness, we encounter it first as a
theory of racial neutrality, the idea being that equality
requires neutrality, and neutrality is constituted
by being blind to race, by not acknowledging race,
by not giving preference on the basis of race or
by not discriminating on the basis of race. So it is one theory of
what racial equality is, which is a racial neutrality. It is also thought to be
the mediating principle of the 14th Amendment by almost
a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court. Namely, if you ask, what does
the 14th Amendment require, four of our current
justices will say, the 14th Amendment
requires color blindness. Now that might
not be necessarily controversial to
you yet, but I hope by the time I get done you will
be a aghast at my telling you that color blindness is just
about to become the mediating principle of the Constitution. It is also a social
theory of race and racism. So to be color blind as a
response to race and racism, you have got to boil
down racism to decisions based on the basis of race. And you have to
have a definition of race, which is largely a
static definition of race, right? Usually it’s framed as skin
color, as opposed to other ways one might think about race. One might think about race
as the historicized vessels of racialized power. One might think of race as
relational, as opposed to simply skin color. So to boil down color
blindness into ignoring race, you have to have something
static to ignore, right? It’s somewhat like, don’t
think about elephants. You have to know what
elephants are in order not to think about them,
if you even thought you could think about
something that you’re not supposed to think about. [LAUGHTER] So color blindness
performs this kind of mental gymnastics
in the law, which of course is impossible
to actually play out. Again, I hope I can
prove that to you. Color blindness also is used
to denounce a certain kind of a social policy. So you would know those
social policies by the terms that they’re used to frame them,
so used to denounce something called preferential
treatment, used to denounce affirmative
action, even now used to denounce
traditional kinds of anti-discrimination
interventions, the idea being that
all of these things are departures from some
kind of neutral baseline. And when you depart
from a neutral baseline, you are actually engaging
in preferential treatment. What is neutral? Neutral is color blind. What is not neutral? What is preferential? What is preferential is paying
attention to race in order to do something, right? So color blindness tells us
what the neutral baseline is. And finally, color blindness
helps us define racial equality as symmetrical treatment. So if we’ve decided that race
cannot be the basis for which any kind of social policy
can be used to pursue, then essentially we’re creating
an idea that equality is achieved when we treat
people in a symmetrical way. And so what I hope you’ll
be able to see in a second, that particular notion
of equality is not new. It’s over a century
old, and it was actually a conception of equality
that was used to undermine the first Reconstruction. And I will argue
it is essentially doing the same thing now. So let me see if I can get
through it in time for you to say, absolutely right. So we live in a time where
many people have used the term Post-racialism and have embraced
the idea that what we witnessed was what I call a
“big event” that marks the difference
between sometime in the past and the time now. Big eventism has often
been used to distinguish between different kinds
of racial moments. So the Civil War was a big event
around which some people said the nature of our racial society
has been completely transformed by this big event, right? So blacks might experience
racial segregation after the Civil War, but that
has nothing to do with slavery. That just has something to
do with our cultural habits. So the big event of the
Civil War, the big event of the 13th and 14th
Amendments were often used to deny the continuity
of racial subordination, to say that it was
about something other than what most black
people knew it was actually about. So the election of
Barrack Obama is sometimes the big event that says, the
day before he was elected, maybe some of the
stuff that was going on had something to do with race,
but the day after he’s elected, now we have gone into
a Post-racial moment. And everything that
is underneath the idea of the glass ceiling
being shattered suggests that there
are no more excuses for African American
disparity anywhere else throughout society. So it’s basically a big event
argument that’s used to say, we are Post-racial in the sense
that we used to be racial. Now we’re beyond that. Now, one of the
questions is, when people say Post-racial,
what exactly is the moment that we passed
from that history? Looking at the White
House, we could say that was a product of
racism or looking at the Senate or looking at
who’s in boardrooms or looking at who’s in prisons
or looking at who’s homeless. When did we go through that
moment where at one point we could see that
it had something to do with racial
antecedents and now it has nothing to do with it at all? So it’s a question to ask for
definition about what we’re assuming the
current situation is with respect to the
historical dimensions of racial inequality. Now, I’ll just
pause for a minute to say there are any number
of ways in which we might think about Post-racialism. We might think of it
as just a sub variant of being a race society. Like when we say
Post-colonialism, we don’t think that
a Post-colonial society is the exact opposite
of a colonial society. We see it as a sub-variant
with certain dimensions of colonialism
still playing out. We don’t tend to hear people
talking about Post-racialism as a sub-variant of
a racial society. What people tend to do is try to
talk about it as its opposite, as its denial. So I’m going to push an argument
that what is being contested is the nature of what we
mean when we say Post-racial. And obviously I’m going to make
an argument that Post-racial is not mission accomplished. It is not the idea that we
are all now working together. And it’s not the idea
that race no longer bears any particular
definitional content for understanding how
our society works. Now, what I will say is at
issue is a broad competition between two different competing
ideologies about how to capture and whether to intervene in
contemporary racial inequality. So I’ve got two quotes up here. The first one frames
the ongoing disparity in terms of a
society in disrepair, something that has to be fixed,
the idea that something is old that has not been realized, the
idea that there’s a continuing demand for some
kind of intervention to shape, alter, redistribute
racial goods in society and also racial harms. It is the idea of repair. Some would see it as the
core idea of the idea of reparations, right? So there is a problem, and
that problem is not natural. That problem is a
problem around which some kind of expected policy is
legitimate to try to dismantle. The second position is
a direct repudiation of that idea of repair. It’s an idea that nothing
is owed, nothing is lost, no one owes anyone anything. There are no debtors and
there are no creditors. What we have is just
American society. There may be huge disparities
across American society. There may be racialized
patterns of this disparity. But it’s not the
product of anything that has been
constructed or anything around which a claim can
be made for alteration or redistribution, right? So those are the two
competing frames. Does anyone recognize the source
of either one of these frames? What’s the first one? Martin Luther King. When? March on Washington. So some of you probably don’t
realize that this was something that Martin Luther
King said at the March on Washington,
probably because you’ve heard the endless
loop of the one thing that we are all taught that
he said, which was what? I had a dream that
one day my children would be judged by the
content of their character, not the color of their skin. So most people here that color
blind evocation of that speech. That’s what gets
celebrated every year. And every February we
hear it over and over. We don’t hear the deep
indictment of American society that he also delivered. In fact, for the most
part, this speech was an indictment
of the status quo. It was an indictment
of the failure to make good of the
promises of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment. It was a demand for immediate
and effective intervention. This last part was the
flourish at the end. But the flourish at the
end has more or less served as the basic marker
of Martin Luther King, when in fact there was this
deep sense that this is a society in disrepair. What about the other quote? Who’s that from? OK, so I’m hearing
some whispers. It’s our good Justice
Antonin Scalia. It is his response
in a case having to do with affirmative action. I’ll talk about it in a minute. But it’s basically speaking
back across 30 years to say, nothing is owed. So the idea that
affirmative action is predicated on the notion
of institutions in disrepair, cities in disrepair,
markets in disrepair, he’s arguing that that’s
a false idea, right? There is nothing owed. And here’s the more important
kick to what he’s saying. It’s one thing to
say that you don’t have a constitutional
right that has to be acknowledged to repair. So essentially, one
argument could be, you cannot use the 14th
Amendment to force cities to create affirmative action
programs for contractors, for example. That’s one possible argument. But Justice Scalia
goes beyond that. In all of these cases having
to do with affirmative action, essentially one institution
has already said, we might not have to do
it, but we choose to do it. We choose to do it because
we’re responsive to the history. We choose to do it
because we’re responsive to the political process. We choose to do it
because we’re responsive to institutional actors who say,
we don’t like our institutions to carry the signature of racial
discrimination from the past. So they’ve chosen to do it. Justice Scalia and others on the
Supreme Court are now saying, you can’t even choose to do it. We’re going to
insulate the status quo against even politically
legitimate efforts to create these on-ramps
into these institutions and to change the
way they do business. So in a sense, this position
is one that constitutionalizes the existing status quo. And when I say
constitutionalizes, it means we cannot disrupt
it without raising a question of constitutionality, without
giving to plaintiffs who claimed that being deprived
of what one of my colleagues calls– it’s all about
diminished overrepresentation. So many of these
institutions are highly disproportionate in
which white Americans have a disproportionate share
of most of what’s valuable. Affirmative action
cases are largely about fights about
the diminishment of that overrepresentation. It’s still going to
be overrepresented, but it’s about the
diminishment of it. This idea of constitutionalizing
the status quo means that the Constitution
stands with those who say, I’m injured because
our overrepresentation has been diminished, right? So these are the
two competing ideas. And color blindness is
at the center of it, largely because the
idea is color blindness requires us to be neutral with
respect to the existing status quo. Now, color blindness
is introduced as the would-be victor
of the 19th century if the courts in
the 19th century had just held up
Justice Harlan’s idea that our society is a
color blind society. Then the argument
is, we wouldn’t have had all these problems. So I want us to interrogate
color blindness when it was introduced, just to
evaluate the extent to which it is true or not that had we
simply adapted American society to a color blind
ideal, we would have escaped the history
of segregation, we would have a different,
more integrated, and racially equitable society now. So when I teach Plessy
versus Ferguson in my class, I like to ask people who
these various characters are. On the right side,
my right side, there’s a picture of a
segregated waiting room. And then there’s this person. Who do you think this person is? This is a case
about segregation. It’s a case that
establishes that segregation is constitutional. So you look at this guy. You think he’s the
judge in the case? Is he Justice Brown? Is he Justice Harlan? Is he the conductor that
apprehended Homer Plessy and threw him off the plane? Who do you think this guy is? [INAUDIBLE] How did you know that? So it is Homer Plessy. And we were just talking
earlier about hypodescent This is Homer Plessy’s genealogy. Way, way, way up in the
upper right-hand corner, there is a black person. [LAUGHTER] Way, way up there. And everybody else
in his lineage is legally white, right? So this genealogy actually
raises one of the questions that Homer was trying to make. He actually made two
different arguments, but we only know the case
for the second argument. The first argument was
that this particular system of hypodescent in and of
itself was a racial injury. So namely, he obviously has
a lot more white blood in him than black. But that preponderance
of white blood does not save him from
being categorized as black. It’s an asymmetrical
racial system, right? So you can’t find somebody
who has the opposite and basically say they’re white. If all these other
ancestors had been black, and he had one
great-great grandmother, he wouldn’t have been
defined as white. So he’s saying that
there’s an asymmetry in the racial system that
has deprived him of something valuable. And that thing he’s
been deprived of is whiteness, right? So that was case number one. Argument number two was that
however we are defined by race, to segregate people on the
basis of this classification denies those who
are defined as black of equal protection of the law. So now, the response
of the first argument was, but you are not white. So because you’re
not white, you don’t have standing to make the
argument that you’ve not been defined as white, right? So essentially, it’s
a circular argument. You can’t make that
argument because you don’t have the standing
to make that argument because the actual law
has already defined you as not being white. So it’s basically the court’s
refusal to engage in it. Now, I often ask people, if
Fairy Godmother from the past comes forward and
says, Homer Plessy, I’m going to bless you
with one of your arguments. You just have to decide
which one you want to win. You can either win the idea that
the racial structure is itself asymmetrical and racist so
that you and people like you can actually make a claim
for whiteness that the law will back up. Or do you want to win on
the question of whatever the racial
classification system is to create racial segregation in
this particular social order is unequal under the
14th Amendment? And we have great
debates about this. Because a lot of
people say, well, if you show that
inherent asymmetry of the racial
structure, then that is a fundamental blow to racism. So we should pull
that one out, right? And other people say,
well, not necessarily, because there will
still be people who are preponderance of
the evidence would be black, and they will still be
subject to racial segregation. And it’s interesting. Over the course of the years,
the “we should dismantle the racial system” line has won
out over the “however people are defined we should
not have segregation,” largely because I think
people buy the argument that the problem of race
is acknowledging race, the problem of race is the
one-drop-of-blood rule. So if we just pull that
string, it will all unravel. And I simply say at that
end, let us talk about Brazil if we really think that
removing the juridical category of blackness or
providing for greater fluidity in a racial
system is actually going to eliminate racism. But I’ll just talk
about that afterwards if folks want to go there. So the Plessy court
ultimately decided that segregation
was constitutional but did it on a very
curious argument. They said, it is true that
the 14th Amendment did create the right to
symmetrical treatment, and it created that right
of symmetrical treatment as a right to civil equality. It did not create a
right to social equality. So the question is,
which side of the line did segregation fall on, right? How do you know whether or
not segregation actually violates the promise of
civil equality or not? Well, the court said, look, if
everyone is treated the same, then we have civil equality. Now, one might think, good,
Plessy’s going to win, because obviously
you’re not being treated the same if you’re
being forced to sit in a dirty, noisy, nasty
car because you’re black, but if you were white, you
could sit in a better car. Not so quickly– the court
said, of course everybody is treated the same. They’re treated the
same because they’re being treated symmetrically. Whites can’t sit in black cars. Blacks can’t sit in white cars. There’s inequality
in that, right? That’s symmetrical. So all the state of
Louisiana had to do was show, yes, we don’t allow blacks
to sit in white cars. We don’t allow whites
to sit in black cars. The court’s, good,
Got you, you’re OK. Now, we all, by 20th
century lights, look at that and say, how can anyone think
that’s symmetrical treatment when we know what segregation
was actually about? It was all about the
asymmetry of the message, the asymmetry of the
experience, the symbol of it, the consequences of it. There were all these
asymmetries that had everything to
do with defining what segregation was about. So what did the court do
with those asymmetries? They put them in
the social realm. You can’t do anything
about those asymmetries. They’re all social, right? So people are choosing
to interpret segregation in a certain way. The court said,
look, we’re white. If the blacks take
over the legislature and they create
segregation, we certainly wouldn’t feel that we are
inferior because of it. So you should just choose
to think differently, right? If you think differently,
you have your solution, like click your
heels three times and you’ll be in the
racial promised land. The second thing the
court said was, look, if we give Plessy this
right to social equality, we’re actually giving the group
something they don’t deserve. And that would create
all kinds of problems. So what we have to
do is just stand back and let the whole
thing work itself out in the racial marketplace. And eventually,
African Americans might show themselves
to be worthy. Eventually they might be
able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But we can’t give it to them,
because that would be giving them preferential treatment. We can’t give them something
that they don’t deserve, right? So this court was under
the view that segregation was a transparent social
system that didn’t already create the outcomes
that they said that they were standing
by, willingly neutral, to let play out. In other words, the idea
was that segregation itself did not actually shape
the idea about racial value that people thought
they were seeing, right? Now, Justice Harlan comes in. People like to think that he’s
the hero of the story, saying, we should be color blind. This is ridiculous. We shouldn’t have a
constitutional rule that permits the states to
create segregation along with all the messages of
inferiority that go along with it. So as far as he’s
concerned, the rules should be color blindness. Now, folks have lifted this up
as the constitutional theory that will save us all, the
constitutional theory that will give us equality. But let’s figure out
what Justice Harlan said just before he said
those great words about color blindness. He basically said, look,
we got this, white people. [LAUGHTER] We don’t need this extra law
to reinforce our superiority. We are the dominant race,
and we will be for all time as long as we stick
with the program. We don’t need this extra stuff. So his idea of color
blindness was not a corrective to racial subordination. It wasn’t going against
racial domination. It was perfectly
consistent with it. It was more or less,
we don’t need overkill, and segregation is just overkill
and it’s just in bad taste. We really don’t need it, right? So this idea that people have
that Harlan’s notion of color blindness would save
us or it is somehow got deep bona fides in
the idea of racial justice is just not historically
accurate from the point of view of Justice Harlan himself. Now, the question is, what is
the contemporary consequence of Plessy? So I’ll just say a
couple of these notes. So today, the idea of color
blindness in many ways replicates the symmetrical
notion of Plessy and Justice Harlan’s color blind ideal. Let’s go back to that
affirmative action case I was just talking
about with Justice Scalia. It was a case,
Richmond versus Croson. Many of you know it. Richmond, cradle
of the Confederacy, a city that was no stranger
to the Supreme Court. It had been before
the Supreme Court for housing discrimination,
voting discrimination. They closed their school
system rather than integrate after Brown. That’s how hard-core
Richmond was, right? So now the issue was, in a
city that was nearly 50% black, less than 1% of
all of the states contracting dollars went
to minority businesses. So when the city council became
a more fully representative council, they held
hearings and decided that they would create
a set-aside program so some percentage
of the subcontracts would go to minority businesses. The main contacting
association, of course, sued, and this case went
up to the Supreme Court. And the question was whether
this kind of intervention was constitutional or not. And the response
was, equal protection requires symmetrical treatment. Symmetrical treatment now
means color blindness. So this is unconstitutional
because the distribution scheme is not color blind, right? So once again, you might
say, well, what about all the asymmetries that
we’re talking about? Some of them are
the same asymmetries that we were talking
about in Plessy, namely, who has access to
contracting, the consequence of industrial lockout,
the consequence of a whole history
of individuals not having access to contracting
because contacting is basically an old boys kind of process. What about all
those asymmetries? And the answer there is the
same as the answer in Plessy. They’re societal. You can’t redistribute
societal value no matter how much it’s
tied to racism of the past, no matter how many
people you can point to that didn’t have a
chance of being a minority business. In fact, the reason
why Justice O’Connor gave for not being able to
sustain affirmative action is, we have no idea how many
more minority businesses there would have been had there
not been past discrimination. The whole point of
affirmative action was to actually
create opportunities for those minority businesses
to come into being. And that’s precisely why Justice
O’Connor said we cannot have it, because you can’t even show
is any people who were actually discriminated against. So what I’m trying
to suggest here is the same kind of
symmetrical treatment that we now think
is silly, namely blacks sitting in one car,
whites sitting in other, is actually being
reproduced today in color blindness, a silly
idea that race is basically skin color rather than social
relationships, historically situated patterns of access. That is seen as being societal. And to actually try
to redistribute that is seen as violating
the Constitution. Now, in case you think that
that doesn’t go far enough, let me just throw this
last little bit at you. This idea of color
blindness was basically used to say that Linda Brown,
who was the plaintiff in Brown versus Board of
Education, was basically being harmed in exactly the
same way as the students that she walked by on
her way to school, right? Because all of them were
subject to classification in determining what
school they went to. So all of the information about
what racial segregation did, all of the ways that it
created an asymmetrical system, have now been washed out
of Supreme Court doctrine. And the only injury
is the injury of being assigned to school
because of your race, not being assigned at
subordinate position because of your race,
not for being that group that no one wants to be
in school with because of their race, not the
long-term social consequences of being a group of people
who are pariah class. None of that has anything to
do, in terms of these four justices, with what
the actual injury was in Brown versus Board
of Education, right? So as Justice
Roberts says, there’s a solution to race
discrimination. Basically just put
your Ray sunglasses on. You don’t have to
see it anymore. And if you don’t see
it, it’s not a problem. Now, I want to say just a
few words about education and then move to the last part
of my conversation with you. University of
California versus Bakke was one of the major
cases that played a role in pushing back a
broader social vision that was possible. University of California had
affirmative action programs. 16 seats were set aside for
students of color to compete. I do want to say this. A lot of times Bakke gets
talked about as a case having to do with
black students. In fact, there were very few
black students in the program. This is California, right? So the majority of those
students were not black. There were some blacks,
but they were Latinos. They were Asian Americans,
some Native Americans, and some African Americans. But it gets framed as a
black race case for reasons that I’ll suggest in a second. So University of California
offered four justifications. You can see them. Interestingly, look at what is
in common with the first three justifications and what’s
different about the last one, all right? All the first three
justifications have to do with the
consequences of segregation and the history of
racial domination. They have to do with elevating
the interests, the needs of communities of color. The last one is about the
university’s interests, right? The university’s educational
interests, corporate interests, however you want to frame it. In the decision that circulates
now as the decision of Bakke, all those first
three justifications were removed as
legitimate rationales for affirmative action. So anything having
to do with repair is outside of the justification
that the Supreme Court upheld. The one that they did
address and embrace was the interests
of the institution. So I think we heard
earlier this morning that basically diversity says,
we will bring students in so that the university experience
is more educationally valuable for everybody. Not really everybody–
it’s for the folks who wouldn’t have been exposed to
students if there hadn’t been an affirmative action program. So what’s the consequence of
an affirmative action program that’s not rationalized
based on the actual interests of the community but
instead rationalized on notions of diversity? Well, there are any number
of negative outcomes, but the most significant
one is that it preserves the idea that
affirmative action is a preference. It preserves the idea that the
students are by some measure less qualified. And it preserves the idea
that the existing ways in which institutions
are functioning are not necessarily problematic. So we kind of see
the consequence of that in many of the
affirmative action cases that are debated now. Because affirmative
action is not a right, it’s something that
universities can do, states can remove the
ability to actually pursue affirmative action. So that’s what
happened in California. That’s what happened
in Michigan. That’s what happened
in Washington. Voters decided to repeal
the capacity of universities to actually engage in
affirmative action. Some will say that
affirmative action is an unjustified preference. I want us to just do a
quick thought experiment to see whether it is a
preference or something else. If you look at all
the different things that the University of
Michigan, one of the key states that had an affirmative
action program, gave people credit
for, you will see that the vast majority
of points that were available in
the admissions system were wildly maldistributed
on the basis of race, right? So that was built-in preference
in the admissions system. So you see you could
get 28 points, generally on criteria that largely were
distributed to white people and maldistributed
to people of color. So 20 points were made
available for those who were people of color. So the question is not
whether the admissions regime was a preference. The question was,
was it too little to offset the preferences
that were actually built in into the system
in the first place, right? So again, the whole fight over
diminished overrepresentation, now the whole fight over, do
these few points actually fully offset the extent to which
race is built into the very admissions system? OK, so let me move on
and come to a couple final points on
this and then say a couple words about gender. The anti-affirmative-action
debates that we’ve been
talking about have shaped what I call a certain
kind of Post-racial response. And that Post-racial response
is one that first of all seeks to minimize the
importance of affirmative action and secondly gives
rise to those who say, out of all the different
kinds of values and policies being enacted in distributing
access to higher education, the only one that’s politically
problematic is racial equality. So here we have Abigail
Fisher, who actually was an average student. There’s really no proof that
she would have gotten in even if there hadn’t been an
affirmative action system. But the very fact
that she can lay claim that the University of
Texas taking race into account was an injury to her, not
an injury that took away the opportunity, just the fact
that her race wasn’t valued in the admissions system was
enough to give her standing to actually make a
constitutional claim against the University of Texas. This is a broadening of the
reverse discrimination argument into an active right not to
have race taken into account, because it might be something
that you don’t have access to. I’m sure we’ve all heard
about the arguments and how those arguments
actually play out. This one I very much
want you guys to see. All right, the third rail–
look at these pictures. “Do We Still Need
Affirmative Action? 10 Ways to Think About It. Look at the first picture. When you think about
affirmative action, and it says “10 Ways
to Think About It,” what are at least
three of the ways that that picture suggests
that you should think about whether affirmative
action is still necessary? Or more importantly,
who benefits from affirmative action? So affirmative action
is about what groups? Black people. Black people, right. And who’s not in that picture? OK, so women are
not in that picture. White women are not
in that picture. Other people of color
are not in that picture. And importantly,
look at his dress. What is that telling you? What kind of an African
American is the picture suggesting benefits
from affirmative action? Yeah, so middle class,
relatively well to do, has the air of
privilege in the pose. So some people
might look at this and think this is
someone who was actually part of the Michigan case. He’s a model. If you look on the
inside front page, it says, thank you,
Gap, for the gear. Thank you, Pierre
Cardin for the tie. Thank you for the glasses. Someone imagined what
the typical beneficiary of affirmative action
was, posed this as reporting on
affirmative action, right? Media is the third
rail here, right? Because this person
is just meant to represent a
particular line on what the problem of
affirmative action is that we consume as a real
story about affirmative action, right? Subsequent studies
have shown that most of the reporting about
affirmative action follow precisely this kind
of pattern, presenting it as all about blacks, no
one else, all about race, not about gender, all about
privileged African Americans, not the fact that
for the most part, African Americans and
other people of color got access to jobs that
they would have never had through affirmative action. And most of it is not
really about universities. Take a look at the
second picture. What’s different
about the picture that is a different color? It’s broken. It’s dull. It’s not up to the
standards for which we want to use pencils
for, which is to write. This is the cover of a book
created by a colleague of mine called The Mismatch Theory. He is a liberal, wants to
let everybody know this. But his basic argument is that
affirmative action actually harms black students. And mind you, he only talks
about black students, again. It harms black students because
it puts them in environments in which they are over-matched. And the over-matching is
based on standardized tests. So if I had more time, we could
talk about standardized tests, and we could talk about
stereotype threat. We could talk about
all of the things that make us worry about overreliance
on standardized tests. The basic point is
any argument about black intellectual
deficits floats these days. This is on the front page
of the New York Times. Any other argument about some
of the stuff that everyone’s been talking about today
is on the back pages, if it gets reported at all. So this is part of the
Post-racial moment. You can talk about intellectual
deficits, cultural deficits. You can talk about
whether black kids listen to too much hip hop. You can talk about whether
they don’t have the same kind of commitments to education. That’s OK. Post-racialism does not
constrain your ability to come up with racialized
explanations for inequality. What it does constrain
is your ability to talk about anti-racism. What it does constrain
is your ability to make the links
between the past and the contemporary moment. That’s the ultimate
feature of Post-racialism. So I’m going to end with

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