Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Bigger than Bernie – Defeating Racism in 2016


The Democratic National Convention has begun in Philadelphia.   While the DNC likely wanted to present a unified, organized face (especially after the RNC’s Calamity in Cleveland), so far, this has not been the case.  Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders even booed the senator when he implored them to vote for Secretary Clinton.   Some of Sanders’ delegates walked out after Hillary Clinton was officially nominated.  Clearly, many of Sanders’ supporters are still “Feelin’ the Bern.”  

But this election is so much bigger than Bernie Sanders.

Now, at this point, most articles pivot and begin to discuss the dangers of a Trump presidency.  I am not going to do that.  (Although, for the record, I do believe that Trump is a uniquely dangerous candidate.)  I’m not going to do that because this election is bigger than Trump, too.  Here’s a bit of history before I continue this explanation. 

The year 1955 is acknowledged by most historians as the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement.  Two events that year – the brutal slaughter of Emmett Till and Rosa Parks’ refusal to move from her seat set the wheels in motion.  After gathering on the National Mall in August 1963, the movement scored its first major legislative victory a year later when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed by President Johnson.  The Act prevented businesses from discriminating against customers or job applicants on the basis of race, gender, or religion.  In 1965, the Voting Rights Act made it harder for states to restrict voting rights.  In 1968, the final piece, the Fair Housing Act, made housing discrimination illegal. 

So, by 1968, African Americans (and other Americans of color and religious minorities) were finally full citizens with the ability to vote openly, seek work anywhere, live where they wanted, and shop where they pleased. 

And we all lived happily ever after. 

Except we didn’t.

What’s talked about less than the success of the Civil Rights Movement is the swift and strong backlash against every single gain that the movement won.  Indeed, what is almost never discussed is how, after 1968, the folks who were angry about civil rights didn’t just up and disappear.  They didn’t just wake up one day in 1968 and magically embrace the new order of things.  They were angry in 1955.  They’ve stayed angry since.   

For evidence of just how much white (especially white male) anger remained, let’s examine the thinly (and not-so-thinly) veiled racial appeals made by presidential candidates after the Civil Rights Movement. 

In 1968 and 1972, Richard Nixon ran as the “law and order” candidate.  While that phrases seems racially neutral, civil rights leaders of the day did not see it that way.  Moreover, Nixon aide H.R. Haldelman wrote that Nixon once said, "[Y]ou have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”   Nixon hoped that by playing on racial fears, whites who were disillusioned with Johnson’s push toward racial progress would gravitate to him

In the 1976 campaign, California governor Ronald Reagan told a story about a woman who repeatedly defrauded the welfare system.  Though he did not mention her race, he said she was from the “South Side of Chicago.”  Reagan cautioned that these “welfare queens” must be stopped.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan gave a speech about “states’ rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi – a town best known as the place where civil rights workers Cheney, Schwerner, and Goodman were killed.  When pressed, Reagan strategist Lee Atwater explained:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Ni--er, ni--er, ni--er." By 1968 you can't say "ni--er" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Ni--er, ni--er."

In 1988, racism in electoral politics arguably reached its apex when George H.W. Bush aired the infamous Willie Horton ad.  The ad tells the story of Horton, an African American inmate who was released on furlough by Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.  The ad, which prominently featured Horton’s mugshot, was a key component of the Bush campaign. In fact, Atwater was quoted as saying, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder if Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”  


Democrats are not immune to appealing to white fears, though the motivation is usually to calm fears about the Democrats’ allegiance to non-whites.  During the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton compared rapper and activist Sista Souljah to David Duke for remarks she made after the Rodney King verdict.  After election, Clinton lost his majority in Congress in part because of “angry white males” led by Newton Gingrich.   In 1996, one such Republican voter stated, “I think he's forgotten that there aren't just black people in the world, that there are also white people. The silent majority has no say in what's going on anymore. It's just the noisy minorities.”

Rather than telling these white males that they had no legitimate grievances, Clinton acknowledged the anger.  Steve Kornacki writes, “Aware of the damage they’d inflicted on him, he became eager to make substantive and symbolic gestures to redistribution-wary white voters. This was the Clinton who signed a welfare reform bill that his party’s base loathed, and who quietly ran ads on Christian radio stations boasting of his support for the Defense of Marriage Act.”

In 2000, George W. Bush was billed as a “compassionate conservative” and praised for his popularity with African Americans and Latinos in his native Texas.  But this did not stop Bush from using racism against his primary opponent, Senator John McCain.  McCain and his wife, Cindy, adopted a child from Bangladesh after travelling there.  Like many Bangladeshis, the child had dark skin.  After Bush lost in New Hampshire, Bush aide Karl Rove started and circulated a rumor in South Carolina that McCain had an “illegitimate black child.”  The smear worked as Bush won the South Carolina primary easily and went on to win the nomination.

In the Obama era, the election of our first African American president has once more brought racism into the fore of politics.  Both before and after his election, Obama was denigrated in barely coded racist terms by Republicans.  He was asked to show his birth certificate and college transcripts.  He was called the “food stamp president.”  He was called a liar during his own State of the Union address.  He was labeled a pimp for supporting women’s reproductive health.  In 2010, the Tea Party arose as a direct racial response to Obama.  Tea Party rallies featuring “Take Our Country Back” placards were unsurprisingly filled with whites angry about racial progress. 

There is a moral to this story, and it is this: Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes won their elections.   Racial appeals get votes.  Therefore, for Republicans, coded racism has not been not a necessary evil, but rather a social good. 

Now, consider the 2016 election.  Rather than the old style of coded racial appeals, or “dog whistles,” the GOP nominee has been blatantly racist (and sexist and ableist and . . ., etc.) since the very first day of his campaign.  Though pundits predicted Americans would be turned off by his racism, this has not been the case.   In fact, during the primaries, the more Trump insulted minority groups, the more he seemed to succeed.  Even after refusing to immediately reject the endorsement of Klansman David Duke, Trump’s campaign sailed easily to victory in the Republican primary.

So, in 2016 the real opponent isn’t Trump.  It’s racism. 

Because Trump’s campaign is built on overt racism, if Trump wins, it will prove that blatant, proud, loud racism is a good and necessary thing.  A Trump victory would show the GOP that the reason they lost to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama was not because they used racism, but because they didn’t use enough of it.  A Trump win will usher in an era where it will become acceptable again to use the phrases Lee Atwater cautioned against.  And if it becomes acceptable to use this language in the political realm, as Mitt Romney predicted, it won’t be long before the racism “trickles down” to the public square.

One might say, “sticks and stones” to all of this.  But the reality is that words do hurt.  Study after study has shown that as racist rhetoric against people of color increases, so does physical violence against them.  And Romney’s “trickle down” prediction has already come to pass.  A homeless Latino man was beaten by Trump supporters.  An African American protester was punched at a Trump rally – after Trump offered to pay the legal fees of supporters that engaged in violence.  In addition, racism takes a psychological toll on those that experience it.  Already, Latino students have been taunted with shouts of “Trump.”  Already, children of color are more racially anxious.  Latino children carry identification.  Muslim children are called “ISIS.”

But most troubling is that racial hostility toward non-whites expresses itself in legislation that is hostile.  Whites would not have had the resentment leading to welfare reform without being reminded of “welfare queens” who were not like them gaming the system.  Also, it is a very short leap from Nixon’s “law and order” to Reagan’s “war on drugs.”  If the war on drugs, something which caused untold devastation to black and brown communities, could occur based on coded racial appeals, we should shudder to think about the laws that will be passed when the code words are dropped and the raw racism is revealed.    

Some might consider a third party vote as a vote against Trump.  In theory, maybe, but not in reality.  No third party candidate will win, so either Trump or Clinton will be the next president.  Moreover, every vote matters in this election.  If Hillary Clinton wins in a close race, it won’t be enough.  Trump cannot merely lose.  He must suffer a defeat of Biblical proportions that leaves no doubt that his racism has been soundly rejected by the American people.  He needs to lose the popular vote.  He needs to lose in the Electoral College.  States that are normally red need to go blue.  He needs to lose so badly that the nation as a whole is forced to have a “come to Jesus” moment wherein we have to grapple with the legacy of race in America.

I don’t imagine that the defeat of Trump will automatically end racism.  That’s not how it works.  Racial progress, when it happens, occurs at a snail’s pace.  Sadly, though, racial relapses happen much more quickly.  If Trump wins, we will go backward at warp speed.   All of the progress people of color have fought for over the last half-century will be in grave danger.   The Voting Rights Act will surely be in Trump’s crosshairs.  Trump’s judicial appointees will actively attack fragile gains such as LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, and reproductive rights.  But outside of the law is where the true danger will occur.  Imagine Latino students attacked on their way to school after being called “illegals” – regardless of their birthplace.  Imagine young Muslim women and girls of all races afraid to cover as they wish for fear of physical attack.  Imagine the strain of Black parents raising their children under a regime that tells them unequivocally, in words and deeds, that their lives and their children’s lives do not matter.  Imagine a rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes.  All of this will happen.  And we know it will because it’s already happening now.  If racism wins this fall, it will only get worse. 

The good news is we can stop Trump and his racism in their tracks.  The even better news is that in striking this blow against racism, we don’t have to risk being beaten like John Lewis.  We don’t have to risk arrest like Rosa Parks.  We don’t have to risk our livelihood like Muhammad Ali.  We don’t have to risk our lives like Viola Liuzzo

All we have to do is vote.

July 27, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Vote Suppression and the Poltical Underclass -- A Primer

Despite the attention given to the politics of the current election cycle, the enduring debate about vote suppression remains. Though the firestorms regarding changes in voting rules, including voter identification laws, election administration changes, and felon disenfranchisement, have not (yet?) had the same degree of prominence in this presidential election year as they have in years past, litigation around what is often called "the New Vote Denial" continues in Alabama, Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, and Virgina (among other states).

Indeed, as recently as yesterday, a federal court in Wisconsin ruled that voters in that state who do not possess the required identification and who cannot obtain an ID with reasonable effort may nonetheless cast a ballot that counts if they swear in an affidavit that they cannot obtain an ID.

I plan to discuss these recent controversies on the blog as we approach the November general election. To kick of this discussion, I want to refer readers, and in particular, readers not versed in these disputes (which disproportionately affect minorities and the poor) to an op-ed I wrote for the ResearchGate blog on politics on the nature of vote suppression. The discussion is a primer--it seeks to introduce the problem of the new vote denial to an international audience.

While there are those who argue that strict gate-keeping regarding elections is necessary to prevent fraud, I argue in the ResearchGate post that

The cumulative effect of [the policies of strict voter identification and felon disenfranchisement] is that a political underclass continues to exist in the United States. These policies affect the poor generally, but their particular impact on poor people of color further marginalizes an already historically marginalized political community, and it is an affront to the civil rights movement that sought to make good on the promise of political equality for all citizens.

While the solution necessarily must vary from state to state—not all states have the strictest rules described here—the ultimate solution to this problem of voter suppression is to elect governmental officials who will seek to make elections more inclusive. Politicians in a handful of states have already sought to take steps to either eliminate the effects of felon disenfranchisement laws or to promote automatic voter registration processes to limit the effects of photo identification laws.

But more steps can and should be taken.

You can read the entire post here. And in the coming weeks, I will write more about the state of voter suppression in 2016.

July 20, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Call for Papers 2016 Central States Law Schools Association Conference

Registration is now open for the Central States Law Schools Association 2016 Scholarship Conference, which will be held on Friday, September 23 and Saturday, September 24 at the University of North Dakota School of Law in Grand Forks, ND. We invite law faculty from across the country to submit proposals to present papers or works in progress.
CSLSA is an organization of law schools dedicated to providing a forum for conversation and collaboration among law school academics. The CSLSA Annual Conference is an opportunity for legal scholars, especially more junior scholars, to present on any law-related topic in a relaxed and supportive setting where junior and senior scholars from various disciplines are available to comment. More mature scholars have an opportunity to test new ideas in a less formal setting than is generally available for their work. Scholars from member and nonmember schools are invited to attend. 

Please click here to register. The deadline for registration is September 2, 2016.  

Hotel rooms are now available for pre-booking. The conference hotel is the Hilton Garden Inn in Grand Forks. The hotel phone number is (701) 775-6000. When booking, identify yourself as part of the “UND School of Law” block to receive a daily rate of $89. Please note that conference participants are responsible for all of their own travel expenses including hotel accommodations.

July 19, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Castration, Transmodernity, and Resistance (Guest Post by Nick J. Sciullo)

Castration, Transmodernity, and Resistance

I’m taking this space to assert a thesis, not my own, but with which I profoundly agree. To it I add a psychoanalytic reading that helps better understand the complexity of history and the way it shapes social order.

Enrique Dussel argued that the better descriptor of our times was not post-modernism, but trans-modernism. He (2002) writes that the complexity of our world, beset by cultural change, creativity, and shifting power structures, is characterized by the increasing significance of “Chinese, Southeast Asian, Hindu, Islamic, Bantu, [and] Latin American” cultures (p. 221). That some people in the world finally realize this is nothing short of a minor miracle. Of course it is only in Western history, in the Occident, where these cultures were anything but central to scientific and cultural expression. Transmodernity does a better job including the conceptual richness and political significance of diverse cultures not represented in largely white, Anglo or Western European, capitalist notions of law, history, morality, and economics.

While the transmodernity thesis make sense, as in common sense, I explore what I view as Dussel’s more provocative claim below:

A humanity that only spoke in English and that could only refer to “its” past as an Occidental past would testify to the extinction of the majority of historical human cultural creativity. It would be the greatest castration imaginable and irreversible in humanity’s world history (p. 237)!

The invocation of castration brings to bear the full weight of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. This matters for legal thinkers because in a multicultural, multimediated world it is as important as ever to understand the complexities of history and the present. Slavoj Žižek (2016) following Lacan argued forcefully that the Other is “in itself ‘castrated,’ incomplete, thwarted, far from a perfectly organized symbolic network or machine” (p. 22). And so it is here that I see an interesting connection between Dussel, Lacan, and Law (capitalized as Lacan often did). Castration invokes the Other, understood by Lacan as not simply a subject but a radical alteriority. The Other is related to the world of language and Law, underlying both. Indeed, the Other is the symbolic order, or the condition of language’s existence beyond any specific subject.

Law for Lacan, however, was not legislation, codes, cases, and the like. Instead, Law denotes the underlying rules that order social relations. So, then, understanding the Other as radical alteriority means understanding Law as something incomplete, abstract and distant from social relations even as it is ever-present and constitutive of those social relations. The Other is incomplete, which suggests that societal organization and mores are always incomplete, and that representations in the symbolic order are then also always incomplete (We all know language is slippery!). That is, society is constructed on unmentioned, unspeakable, and perhaps unknowable notions of otherness. Now to the critical race, queer and trans, feminist, and class critical scholars reading this, that’s not surprising. Indeed, otherness seems a defining characteristic particularly for marginalized communities, but also for majoritarian communities that are affected by language and Law no matter how much they resist, critique, or decry them.

Dussel’s invocation of castration suggestions a critique of otherness in history or perhaps as history. This otherness marks the inability of history to be complete, accurate, honest, or even supportive of non-Occidental interests. Transmodernity addresses the Other, but cannot solve for it. A positive reading of Lacan would argue that while we might be able to do better in terms of the other, the subject position of non-dominance, we are never able to get at the Other, because the Other is never simply subject. The castration of history, for Dussel, is a much larger problem than the absence of cultures or the active denial of their importance. Rather, a Lacanian reading of Dussel suggests that history is unable to adequately account for racial discrimination, cultural appropriation, and multiculturalism. History always fails. In out transmodern moment then we are faced with the reality of history’s castration and desperately desiring it, desiring in the Lacanian sense of desiring the unattenable Other. That’s the first way to think about Lacanian desire. In the second sense of Lacanian desire, the desire for the thing the Other lacks, namely wholeness, the desire for the Other is a desire for wholeness, which is why law (little “l”), justice, equality, diversity and other concepts fail. Because law and history are structured by language and the Other is constitutive of language, law and history will always be incomplete.

Coming back to Dussel, the castration of history marks, I think and I urge, a time of opportunity. We can both recognize, in the positon of analyst, and unmask our desire, as well as recognize our role as analysand and that we cannot escape our desire. History is a blessing and a curse.

Then, in order to resist otherness, to resist desiring wholeness, we must reorient ourselves to a critical stance toward the world. The transmodern moment requires all our psychic vigor to do the best we can with the Other. If we are to resist police violence, we must recognize our castration as the precondition for hundreds of years of anti-blackness. We must also recognize that if we desire wholeness, if we resort to calls for peace, justice, and equality, we lose the force of particularized struggles to the slow ebb and flow of grandiose visions.

Resistance is empowered in our transmodern moment, and legal scholars have a unique role to play as interlocutors to law and Law.


Dussel, E. (2002). Word-System and “Trans”-Modernity. Nepantla: Views from the South, 3, 221-244.

Žižek, S. (2016). Is God dead, unconscious, evil, impotent, stupid … or just a counterfactual?. International Journal of Žižek Studies, 10, 1-31.


Nick J. Sciullo, J.D., Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Rhetorical Studies and Director of Debate and Forensics at Illinois College

July 13, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

REVEALED: Professor Who Responded to Students' Objections to Her #BlackLivesMatter Shirt

On Friday, I had discussed the reassertion of respectability politics in the wake of the police violence and police shootings of last week. As part of that discussion, I noted an anonymous document detailing a set of students' objections to a professor wearing a #BlackLivesMatter t-shirt and law professor's response. I noted that the professor's response was a "well-crafted set of answers to those who object to the movement and deconstructs the fallacies imbedded in many of those objections." 

Despite its anonymity, the document went viral. The remaining question about the post--who is the author?--has now been answered.

Inside Higher-Ed is reporting today that the writer of this post is Patricia Leary, Distinguished Teaching Professor at Whittier Law School. Professor Leary has been at Whittier since 1992. According to the school's website, she has been quite active in social justice causes inside and outside the classroom.

As I said in the prior post, I hope Professor Leary will read this post as an expression of gratitude for her work.

H/T Tax Law Prof Blog

July 12, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Targets of the Carceral State: On Life, Death, and Utah v. Strieff

This post was originally published on the American Constitution Society Blog at

When ACS asked me to write this blog, I had in mind a commentary that compared and contrasted the three views of policing and the nature of the leeway allowed the police in targeting high crime areas. But then, in the course of three days, we learned of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the views expressed in Utah v. Strieff took new context.

The targeting by the police can have lethal consequences. In the unsettling and graphic video of the shooting of Alton Sterling and the similarly graphic video of the aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castle, we see those consequences clearly. These videos show us the consequences immediately. At least one commentator called Sterling’s death a “modern day lynching.”

None of this denies that responsible policing does exist. As the recent shootings of police officers in Dallas remind us, most police abide by the law and put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. Indeed, the officers killed in Dallas died protecting a peaceful protest of the deaths of Sterling and Castle.

But it is important to draw a distinction between lawful policing and police abuse that occurs with near impunity, especially when such abuse is disproportionately directed at communities of color. And it is important to critique legal doctrines, as the one extended in Strieff, which reinforce this impunity and contribute to the disproportionate state-sanctioned abuse of communities of color.

To understand this, we must understand the world in which this abuse takes place. When men of color die at the hands of police for activities as innocuous as selling CDs or reaching for one’s registration during a police stop, it comes as no surprise that those living in communities of color feel targeted. The deaths of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castle follow a long list of high-profile deaths at the hands of the police, including Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland. The investigative data, sociological data and lived experience in African American communities show that black men are at greater risk of being shot by police than other demographic categories. Thus, in this world, it comes as little surprise that communities of color feel that law has few bounds when it comes to the lives and deaths of Black and Brown bodies.

Strieff, read through the lens of these recent shootings gives us added insight about the world in which abusive policing harms communities of color. The reasoning of Strieff is straightforward enough: the Court extended the Fourth Amendment attenuation doctrine to hold that despite the fact that Narcotics Detective Douglas Fackrell stopped Mr. Strieff without any probable cause or reasonable suspicion that Mr. Strieff was involved in any drug activity, the evidence of illicit drugs discovered on Mr. Strieff in the search incident to arrest was admissible. The fact that attenuated or separated the discovery of the evidence from the wrongful stop was the fact that Mr. Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation, a fact discovered only by the initiative of the arresting officer.

Justice Thomas stressed that the errors by Detective Fackrell in executing a warrantless, suspicionless search were done in good faith. According to him, neither the Detective nor the prosecution should suffer for an “innocent” mistake. In Justice Thomas’s view, only the most egregious of police abuses should subject the state to suffer the loss of the exclusion of evidence based on the wrongful acts of a police officer.

Yet, through the lens of the disproportionate extra-judicial killing of Black and Brown men by the state through police detention and custody, this appears more like a further license to target the “suspicious.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned us of this in her dissent.

Indeed, Justices Ginsburg and Kagen joined Justice Sotomayor as to complaining that the Court overextended the attenuation doctrine to allow the police near unfettered license to probe and harass the average citizen. Justice Sotomayor for herself went on to stress that this behavior goes beyond mere inconvenience; it serves to dehumanize and disenfranchise citizens of color. She stressed that the Strieff majority legitimized a suspicionless search followed by a groundless search for warrants initiated without cause by the officer. The consequence is that, as she states, “anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner.”

She then emphasized that people of color are the disproportionate targets of this scrutiny, this victimization predicated on fearing “how an officer with a gun will react to them.” And thus, as Justice Sotomayor noted, generations of Black and Brown parents give their children “the talk” and warn their children not to act up, not run in the streets, not to hide their hands from the police, for fear of death by cop. She states that this conduct means:

[Y]our body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. [This conduct] implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be catalogued.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.

It is to this carceral state—the United States of America—which the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the conviction of Edward Strieff point. Mr. Strieff now suffers the civil death of a felony conviction. This is true despite the suspicionless search of his person, a search now easily excusable under Justice Thomas’s reasoning. Along with him, millions more Americans continue to suffer the penalties after their jail time, like disenfranchisement that comes with felon status long after their punishments have ended. Mr. Strieff and the 5.8 million others are consigned to the political underclass of this country (perhaps permanently).

And Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile suffer literal death at the hands of abusive policing under circumstances that at the minimum merit civil rights investigations. Their families no longer have their care or protection. They join the ranks of the many thousands gone, those whose deaths at the hands of the police serve to remind people of color in this country that theirs is a precarious existence due to their disproportionate targeting by the carceral state without legitimate cause or due process of law. Their deaths serve to remind communities of color of racism, both in terms of abusive policing, communal dispossession, and the other badges and incidents of structural disenfranchisement

How much longer must we tolerate this? 

July 12, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

How Narratives of Latinos in Media Perpetuate Negative Stereotypes

Professor Carol Pauli's insightful article A Whole Other Story: Applying Narrative Mediation to the Immigration Beat, comes from a former journalist who now writes about the role of the media in conflict and conflict resolution.  The article looks at the way ethnic divisions are exacerbated by the largely unconscious narrative choices of news reporters.  It draws on empirical studies of news coverage of Latino immigration to the U.S.  Such stories often draw on imagery from deep cultural myths. For example, the immigrant is often cast as a criminal, an “other” who is to be feared, and immigration is often described in terms of a tide or a flood, evoking a threat to the landscape and a story as old as Genesis. 
The article recommends that journalists, in their storytelling role, draw on the theory and techniques of “narrative mediation.”  This approach to dispute resolution understands conflict as a competition between the narratives of the parties.  Each side has usually honed its story to emphasize some facts and downplay others.  Narrative mediation looks for facts that fall outside of the conflict stories, and it uses these to help construct a larger, thicker story, allowing for the ambiguity of different understandings and granting them legitimacy. 
The article proposes that deliberately using this technique in news coverage would result in more complex, comprehensive, and accurate news stories.  The article points to a number of academic-newsroom projects aimed at reporting news across cultures, languages, and borders.  The article closes with the story of a newspaper whose coverage of the death of an undocumented immigrant led to a long-term connection between two communities on opposite sides of the Mexican border.
Professor Pauli's article will be published in the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution (Fall 2016).  The current version is available at

July 11, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 8, 2016

On Respectability, the Dallas Shootings, #BlackLivesMatter, and Reasoned Discourse

A lot has gone on this week. There is a lot to say about the police shootings of Anton Sterling and Philando Castile, the mass shooting of five Dallas Police Department officers, and the ongoing debate about race, abusive police practices, and their impact on society. There is too much to say in one blog post given the fact that many are hurting and suffering because of the present violence of this week. More will come on these topics.

But I do want to address two matters here today. This moment in the dialogue around race relations has brought scrutiny on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Both publicly and in the context of law school education, there are those who have sought to answer the accusation that the #BLM movement is to blame for the problems it seeks to answer. I will discuss two separate but interrelated spaces in which these problems have occurred and share insight about one and a resource concerning the other.

First, there have been many who have sought to blame #BlackLivesMatter directly for the Dallas police shootings. As you  know, the Dallas shooting happened during a #BLM protest and the police were present to keep the peace. Some private and public figures used the opportunity to conflate the violence (apparently committed by a solo gunman not connected with #BLM) with the movement itself. (Indeed, the comments of Rep. Joe Walsh insunated that "this is now war" and that "real America would come for" #BLM and President Obama.) 

This line of criticism of #BlackLivesMatter seeks to caricature the movement as reverse racist, anti-police, and corrosive to social order. Indeed, as we have discussed at length on the blog, these objections parallel the "respectability" objection to #BlackLivesMatter.

As I argued in the respectability symposium,

The modern-day respectability politics that [Professor] Kennedy and others advocate for fails to confront the underlying premise. They buy into the myths that Black people, or any subordinated people, should and must buy into white respectability in order to be accepted. And whether the standard-setter of such politics is liberal or conservative, or whether such performance of respectability serves an end of the right or the left, such politics deny agency and subtly reassert racial supremacist thinking.

Accordingly, during this moment of renewed heightened awareness of police violence against African Americans and anti-police vigilantism, there are those who seek to assert the respectability paradigm through shaming and threats against #BlackLivesMatters to force it to conform to an ideology of white supremacy and a reaffirmation of the carceral state. #BLM, President Obama, and all those who seek to critique abusive policing, ought to, in this thinking, keep their place.

Second, this kind of shaming of #BLM social activism is nothing new. Among many other places, it takes place in higher education, and in law schools in particular. Indeed, amid the posts that sought to blame #BlackLivesMatter for the Dallas shooting came a gem of a document that articulated answers to many of these complaints--a law professor's answer to students complaining that said professor wore a #BlackLivesMatter t-shirt to the law school.

This post, circulated anonymously two months contains a well-crafted set of answers to those who object to the movement and deconstructs the fallacies imbedded in many of those objections in the broader discourse around law schools and higher education--that law is objective and fixed, that the consumer model of education ought to reign out, and that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is inherently racist because of its focus on Black lives.

8fT06KeI found this an ingenious way of addressing the all-too-often intrusive objections that come with social activism within this neoliberal day and age. This document contains deep insights which can help sweep away misconceptions about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and effectively target the imbedded stereotype threats that buy into the white supremacist assumptions of respectability. And this document offers a model for all law profs who teach on race or other subjects that seek to confront subordination. 

I hope that the professor who wrote this will read this post as an expression of gratitude for their work, and I hope that the professor's students will understand the professor's point.

July 8, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)