From the New York Times news section way back in 1997, an article showing that some things never change, such as Critical Race Theory, while other things do change, such as the courage of the New York Times:
By Neil A. Lewis
May 5, 1997
Taunya Lovell Banks, a law professor at the University of Maryland, was traveling by train to Baltimore a few years ago when a man exposed himself to her and then ran into the next car.
Professor Banks and the conductor discussed what to do, including whether to have the man arrested. The conductor suggested just letting him off at the next stop. And that set Professor Banks to thinking about the circumstances.
She and the man were black; the conductor was white. Would the conductor have treated the matter differently had she been white? What if the conductor had been black? And was the man mentally disturbed because, as a black man, society had pressed him too hard and provided too little help?
In other words, a black man did something bad to a black woman, but the black woman was a law professor so she immediately started to dream up reasons for why whites were at fault. After all, black criminals are notoriously lacking in deep pockets, while whites are naive and prone to irrational feelings of guilt.
An ordinary observer might have regarded what occurred on the train as a relatively simple incident. But Professor Banks is an adherent of a growing academic movement among minority scholars called critical race theory, which holds that people’s perspectives on events are overwhelmingly determined by their racial background. For critical race theorists, such incidents are rarely straightforward or what they might seem to others.
Critical race theorists, who are on the faculty at almost every major law school and are producing an ever-growing body of scholarly work, have drawn from an idea made popular by postmodernist scholars of all races, that there is no objective reality. …
Originating in the nation’s law schools, critical race theory has spread far beyond those institutions to become a significant new front in the nation’s increasingly fractious culture wars. Supporters and opponents agree that it has a clear and obvious bearing on familiar issues like the legitimacy of ebonics and Afrocentric curriculums, the guilt or innocence of O. J. Simpson and the fairness of affirmative action — helping to explain how whites and blacks can find themselves quivering with exasperation at each other’s view on those issues.
Perhaps most significantly, critical race theory is providing an intellectual foundation for newly flourishing forms of black separateness. …
While they do not disapprove of integration that occurs naturally, critical race theorists reject the classic liberal view of integration as the ultimate goal. They deride the concept of a colorblind society.
”Critical race theory counters colorblindness by saying that race is not simply skin color, and it tries to reveal the ways that race is a category that has been structured out of law and culture and history,” said Prof. Kimberle Crenshaw of the University of California at Los Angeles Law School, an editor of the leading anthology on the subject.
”Most people think law is being neutral if it doesn’t say anything explicit about race,” she said. ”But it is not usually neutral. It is simply facilitating whatever power relationships were in existence when the law was put in place.”
One important battleground in critical race theory is the criminal justice system: Why, the theorists ask, are a disproportionate number of the men in America’s jails black? Many critical race theorists say it is because the system is infected with racism at every level, from prosecutors’ offices to judges’ chambers.
Some of the nontraditional proposals made by minority law professors startle, and even anger, some of their white colleagues. Prof. Paul Butler of the George Washington University Law School has gone so far as to suggest that blacks, usually a majority on urban juries, should exercise their power to acquit black defendants in nonviolent drug crimes.
Professor Butler, a former Federal prosecutor, has also suggested that black jurors should assess whether black Americans would be helped or harmed by acquitting black defendants accused of stealing the property of whites. He has portrayed his suggestions as a kind of black self-help, a direct way of adjusting the score after decades of racial oppression.
Critics of critical race theory, like Prof. Suzanna Sherry of the University of Minnesota law school, contend that it defies common sense and abandons intellectual principles in an effort to promote the political standing of blacks in society.
Professor Sherry, a co-author of ”Beyond All Reason” (Oxford University Press), a forthcoming book that challenges critical race theory, suggested in an interview that the movement was the result of increasing frustration among black intellectuals over the failure to eradicate racism.
”The problem with denying any objective reality,” she said, ”is that there is no way of mediating among the competing perceptions of reality except power. And what they ultimately want is more power for their perceptions.”
Many critical race theorists say an important tool for members of minorities in overcoming their disadvantages is to tell stories, some of them from individual experience and some of them parables. Storytelling, Professor Crenshaw said, aims at ”challenging versions of reality put forward by the dominant white culture.”
They call it “lived experience” these days, but I like “storytelling” better.
Black men, for example, may tell stories about police brutality that are at odds with the official version of how common such behavior is. By putting forward an anecdotal version of reality, Professor Crenshaw said, the men assert the primacy of personal experience — and no matter what society tells them, they trust their own personal experiences.
After all, they are men who get in trouble with the cops a lot. If you can’t trust criminals, who can you trust?
Some critical race scholars also construct elaborate fables to illustrate their points. Their books typically eschew evidence to make a point, relying instead on fictionalized tales or dialogue.
But for Professor Sherry, ”storytelling doesn’t bear the slightest pressure once you start to examine it.” Such storytelling, she said, starts with conclusions, ”and when you start with conclusions, it’s all too easy to make arguments that won’t withstand any scrutiny.”
Her co-author and colleague at the University of Minnesota, Daniel A. Farber, who, like Professor Sherry, is white, said another problem with storytelling, especially personal narratives like the one by Professor Banks, is that when someone challenges a story, ”you’re not just criticizing someone’s scholarship, but you’re attacking their life, something that goes to the heart of their identity.” Dr. Farber added, ”That can make a dialogue very difficult.”
In defense of storytelling, Prof. Alex M. Johnson Jr. of the University of Virginia has written that minority scholars have a distinct ”voice of color,” which ”rejects narrow evidentiary concepts of relevance and credibility.”
Some theorists go so far as to say that what really happened in a particular incident may be no more important than what people feel or say happened. For example, some argue that even though Tawana Brawley, then a teen-ager, made up her account that a gang of white men, one with a badge, raped and defiled her in New York in 1987, her story is still valid because it offers truths about the oppression of black women.
In her book ”The Alchemy of Race and Rights” (Harvard, 1991), Prof. Patricia Williams of the Columbia University Law School appeared to suggest that it made little difference whether Ms. Brawley had made up her account. The teen-ager, Professor Williams wrote, was the victim of an unspeakable crime ”no matter who did it to her — and even if she did it to herself.”
”Her condition was clearly the expression of some crime against her, some tremendous violence, some great violation that challenges comprehension,” Professor Williams said.
No, Tawana Brawley was out late with her boyfriend and was going to get punished for it by her parents, so she made up a story about how six white policemen had raped her, which Al Sharpton took and ran with.
”Tawana’s terrible story has every black woman’s worst fears and experiences wrapped into it.”
Critics of Professor Williams’s comments, however, note that a New York State grand jury investigated Ms. Brawley’s story and concluded that she had made it up. Professor Williams, Professor Sherry wrote, seems ”unable to distinguish between Brawley’s fantasized rape and another woman’s real one.”
In a recent interview, Professor Williams said she had been misinterpreted. She meant, she said, that the debate about whether Ms. Brawley was telling the truth obscured that she was a troubled minor.
”Her needs were not dealt with, as they should have been with any child,” Professor Williams said. Further, Ms. Brawley was transformed into a stereotype of ”black women as hard women who can never really suffer any violation,” she added.
Professor Cook, of Georgetown, the author of a book about race and religion called ”The Least of These” (Routledge, 1997), put it a different way. Even if Ms. Brawley made up her story, he said, it was meaningful because it accurately represented black women’s collective fear of racial and sexual mistreatment, a fear reinforced by centuries of domination and subjugation.
Then what about the stories told by Susan Smith in South Carolina and Charles Stuart in Boston, whites who falsely blamed black men for horrific crimes they had committed themselves? Don’t they tell the story, say, of white fear of black crime?
Professor Cook said that the Stuart and Smith events were far less valid than Ms. Brawley’s because hers represents a story from an oppressed class.
Prof. Jeffrey A. Rosen of the George Washington University Law School wrote recently in The New Republic, where he is the legal affairs editor, that miscarriages of justice in the O. J. Simpson criminal trial were the ultimate real-world expression of critical race theory.
”Surely the most striking example of the influence of the critical race theorists on the American legal system is the O. J. Simpson case, in which Johnnie L. Cochran dramatically enacted each of the most controversial postulates of the movement before a transfixed and racially divided nation,” Professor Rosen wrote. ”Indeed, Cochran’s strategy in the courtroom might be best described as applied critical race theory.”
He added that Mr. Cochran ”set out, through storytelling and the manipulation of racial iconography, to create a narrative that transformed O. J. from a coddled celebrity into the civil rights martyr of a racist police force.”
But as iSteve commenter El Dato observes:
Who can judge him? Can you you prove O.J. didn’t didn’t do nothing?
May God help us … in the future!