Monday, April 28, 2014

Practicing Race Theory

Four years I ago at the AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education in Baltimore, I first learned how to talk about race and practice critical race theory in the clinic. At their session, “The Visionary and the Skeptic: Exploring How Critical Theory and Clinical Thought and Practice Can Inform Each Other,” Ann Shalleck and Jean Koh Peters suggested four approaches to race in the clinic: 1) “Things About Race Observable in the World” (statistics and examples, see Ian Haney Lopez, Post-Racial Racism: Crime Control and Racial Stratification in the Age of Obama); 2) “Bringing to the Surface Assumptions About Race in Ourselves and in Conversations with Others” (empathetic and culturally-competent lawyering, see Megan Cottrell, Eviction is for Black Women What Incarceration is For Black Men); 3) “Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory” (basic tenets like counterstorytelling and interest convergence, see Richard Delgado & Jean Stefancic, CRITICAL RACE THEORY: AN INTRODUCTION); “Other Approaches Not Identified Above (unconscious discrimination, for example, see Peggy C. Davis, Law as Microaggression). And I’ll never forget how Muneer Ahmad summed up the session: “Practice Race Theory.”

Since then, talking about race has enriched my clinical teaching, law practice, and scholarship whether it is exploring disproportionate representation of racial minorities in American institutions, highlighting the enduring negative stereotypes that plague people of color, and discussing what it means to be a culturally competent lawyer. Clinical education continues to guide and help me grow in this area, and I am eager to read the chapter, Talking About Race in the forthcoming book, TRANSFORMING THE EDUCATION OF LAWYERS: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF CLINICAL PEDAGOGY, by Sue Bryant, Elliott Milstein and Ann Shalleck. If you have some suggestions on clinical methodologies and scholarship on race and critical race theory, I hope you will post a comment with those.

Practicing race theory feels especially important now. Although the debate continues over whether we live in a post-racial America and whether the Supreme Court has or has not whittled away the historical protections for minorities in voting rights and affirmative action, the fact remains that racism is still alive. Recent examples come from Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy. And today is Confederate Memorial Day in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, 3 of the 11 states where this is observed.

The good news is that many of the civic institutions harboring racism are where clinicians already practice, and we are well poised to combat it. After all, this is our stomping ground.

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