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Saturday, March 10, 2012

DERRICK BELL

I don't know that it makes any difference, but in light of the phony "controversy" generated from the grave by the late and totally unlamented Andrew Breitbart, I think I ought to say at least a word about the late and very much lamented Derrick Bell.  I did not know Bell well, but I had enormous respect and admiration for him, both for his scholarly writings and for his courageous stand at Harvard Law School against their failure to hire a Black woman to the faculty.  Bell, you may recall, with an ironic wit that I thought was simply off the charts marvelous, once staged a "sit-in" at Harvard Law School, announcing that he would not leave his own office [!!!], to protest the failure of the Law School to tenure a Black woman.  He thereby skewered his colleagues, who were notorious for being everywhere in the world save in their offices available to students.  [Some time later, the Law School decided that its faculty were not spending enough time with students, so they set out to raise four hundred million dollars to hire some new faculty for the purpose -- I am not making this up.]

Eventually, Bell took an unpaid leave, saying that he would not return until Harvard tenured a Black woman in the Law School.  I was at UMass at the time, and I was simply outraged at the complete failure of his "radical" fellow Critical Legal Theorists at Harvard to make any sort of public fuss about all of this.  So I sent him a check for a thousand dollars to help tide him over until he got another gig.  [This was, on my part, more or less the act of a parochial boob, since Bell, at his resignation, was probably making two or three times my salary, but at least it was well intentioned.]  He responded in a very sweet letter, and told me he had donated the money to a fund that had been set up to honor his wife, who had passed away rather tragically a short time earlier.  He and I stayed in touch, on and off, and I actually had the pleasure of meeting him on at least one occasion.

The big controversy, by the way, consists of a video of Obama, then President of the Harvard Law Review, introducing Bell at a rally in Bell's support [and hugging him, horror of horrors.]  I was unaware of this fact, and needless to say, consider it one of the best things I have ever heard about Obama.

God, this is a really screwed up country.

5 comments:

Marinus said...

I'm sorry, I'm a foreigner, so despite the large amounts of US news I consume, I don't pick up all the nuances of what I come across. Why is the Obama-Bell video supposed to be incriminating? I cannot imagine what bad thing it is purported to contain.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Obama is seen hugging Bell. Bell is considered by the nuts on the right to be a "radical." So, Obama is hugging a radical. Need I say more? This plays into their earlier nuttiness about Bill Ayers in Chicago. You really would have to be steeped in the weirdness of contemporary American politics even to begin to understand all of this. Consider yourself fortunate that you are not.

Marinus said...

So, Derrick Bell is considered so radical that association with him is fatally harmful to your credibility? Really? Really? My oh my.

good-in-theory said...

Part of the great irony of it all, is that Obama was seen as a rather moderate, not-at-all radical influence then... just as he is now.

Here's a profile written in 1990.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/2008/09/barack-obama-ha.html

And Derek Bell on Obama, at that time:

"Outside the review, other blacks at Harvard are skeptical that Obama's appointment will change much at the Ivy League institution, where 180 out of 1,601 law students are black.

"While I applaud Obama's achievement, I guess I am not as hopeful for what this will mean for other blacks at Harvard," said Derrick Bell, the school's first black tenured law professor."

High Arka said...
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