Friday, May 11, 2018

Equality Law Scholars' Forum: Call for Papers


Call for Proposals for the Second Annual Equality Law Scholars’ Forum

Building on the success of the Inaugural Equality Law Scholars’ Forum held at UC Berkeley Law last fall, and in the spirit of academic engagement and mentoring in the area of Equality Law, we (Tristin Green, University of San Francisco; Angela Onwuachi-Willig, UC Berkeley; and Leticia Saucedo, UC Davis) announce the Second Annual Equality Law Scholars’ Forum to be held this fall.  This Scholars’ Forum seeks to provide junior scholars with commentary and critique and to provide scholars at all career stages the opportunity to engage with new scholarly currents and ideas. 

We hope to bring together scholars with varied perspectives (e.g., critical race theory, class critical theory, feminist legal theory, law and economics, law and society) across fields (e.g., criminal system, education, employment, family, health, immigration, property, tax) and with work relevant to many diverse identities (e.g., age, class, disability, national origin, race, sex, sexuality) to build bridges and to generate new ideas in the area of Equality Law.  

We will select five relatively junior scholars (untenured, newly tenured, or prospective professors) to present papers from proposals submitted in response to this Call for Proposals. In so doing, we will select papers that cover a broad range of topics within the area of Equality Law.  Leading senior scholars will provide commentary on each of the featured papers in an intimate and collegial setting.  The Equality Law Scholars’ Forum will pay transportation and accommodation expenses for participants and will host a dinner on Friday evening.  

This year’s Forum will be held on November 9-10, 2018 at UC Davis Law School.

Junior scholars are invited to submit abstracts of proposed papers, 3-5 pages in length, by July 1, 2018.   Full drafts must be available for circulation to participants by October 19, 2018.

Proposals should be submitted to: Tristin Green, USF School of Law,  Electronic submissions via email are preferred.


May 11, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review of Claudia Rankine's "Citizen"


Professor Susan Ayres' forthcoming article Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen”:  Documenting and Protesting America’s Halting March Toward Racial Justice and Equality, provides a critical review of Claudia Rankin's multi-genre book "Citizen."

 Here is the abstract to this timely article:

"After the first election of President Barak Obama in 2008, there was a sense that the United States had reached a post-racial phase in its history.  That sentiment was relatively short-lived, because by 2013, when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, it was clear that President Obama’s election was not transformative.  More recently, during the presidential campaign and after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, undisguised racism in the United States has reared its ugly head.  Activists such as the Reverend Al Sharpton have been outspoken in their criticism of President Trump.  Sharpton has claimed, “Everything King fought so tirelessly for is under attack once again.”  Similarly, poet and activist Claudia Rankine considers the Trump Administration to be “about the primacy of whiteness,” and that as citizens, we must discuss and confront the concept of white privilege which undergirds our society.  Rankine does this in Citizen, a multi-genre work that documents racist microaggresssions and macroaggressions.  In this article, Citizen is analyzed using the tools of critical race theory and rhetoric for its potential to effect change in the fight for racial justice and equality." 

And here is an excerpt:

"A stunning and powerful work, Citizen’s documentary poems and art gallery of images may not trigger a revolution, but Rankine’s use of epideictic rhetoric encourages new perspectives and critical reflection and inspires the “possibility of social transformation. Rankine personally hopes for transformation, as she says in an interview: “I believe in possibility. I believe in the possibility of another way of being.” In another interview, Rankine comments, “The experience of writing it, which might or might not be the experience of reading it, was to see my community a little better, to see it, to understand my place in it, to know how it sounds, what it looks like, and yet, to stay on my street anyway.” Rankine’s belief in possibility and her tenacity inform a reading of Citizen."

To download the article forthcoming in the Alabama Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review, click here.


April 18, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Racialization of US Law Schools (Professor Riaz Tejani)


Professional Apartheid: The Racialization of US Law Schools after the Global Economic Crisis published in the American Ethnologist (August 2017)

Riaz Tejani, Assistant Professor of Legal Studies, University of Illinois at Sprinfield

Below is an excerpt of Professor Tejani's article:

"The 2008 global financial collapse was a watershed for US law schools. The sudden loss of capital, triggered by overspeculation and the repackaging of debt among multinational banks, caused global corporations to cancel transactions, settle litigation, and demand greater effi- ciency in remaining legal-services agreements.

Large global law firms laid off thousands of attorneys, canceled new recruitments, and began outsourcing work to legal temp agencies, which in turn benefited from a professional labor oversupply and the new “gig” economy. In the preceding years, US law schools had expanded their operations and planned their budgets based on tuition priced against once-widespread lucrative corporate law incomes. Now they faced austerity.

And because it was already in doubt whether law school job outcome reports were accurate, the moral hazard that they generated seemed to multiply after the economic crash. Prospective students took heed. Whereas legal education had seen increased demand in prior economic downturns, this time would be different: enrollment in US law schools plunged 30 percent from 2011 to 2015. 

Indexing public fascination with this, failures in legal education made headlines in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Huffington Post. In an age of new cultural insurrections like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, people grew fascinated by the discomfort of this once-elite knowledge community. Beneath those news stories lay serious lessons about difference and knowledge capitalism in the contemporary global system. The so-called crisis of legal education and the legal profession, along with the overwhelmingly market-based reaction to it, suggests something deeper about the state of social justice under neoliberal political economy.

This is in part because, in the United States, formal legal education is virtually the only pathway to legal expertise, and law school—namely the three-year course of study in pursuit of the JurisDoctor, or JD degree—is a graduate-level, professional program only. Falling law school enrollment in the United States would shrink the legal profession, but the country already has one of the largest lawyer-to-population ratios in the world.

Prominent legal academics have nevertheless argued that the demand for legal education should remain high because the profession still lacks ethnic and racial diversity and because existing attorneys have not equitably served minority communities. In this context, the “crisis” of US law schools is as much about political economy as it is about the character of the legal profession.

Inequalities in legal education have long been present. For instance, the ethnographically salient division of US law schools into “top tier,” “second tier,” “third tier,” and “fourth tier” already long signified a preoccupation with hierarchy. The economic crisis would only exacerbate these inequalities. Facing declining enrollments, so-called fourth-tier law schools saw a market-based solution: to increase their marketing to ethnic and racial-minority communities and to style this as a mission to diversify legal services (Taylor 2015; Tejani 2017).

The suggestion appeared to be that US ethnic and racial minorities—long limited in their ability to access the justice system (Herrera 2014; Rhode 2004, 2015b)—can benefit merely from greater representation in the legal profession, if largely at a lower level of prestige and opportunity. This new approach to political-economic redemption in the legal-education community captures the marketization of race as a new feature of neoliberalism and has been critically labeled by at least one former law dean an “apartheid model.”"

To read the full article, click here.


March 30, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

On Wakandan Constitutionalism or the Humanized Blackness of Black Panther

This post is part of the blog's symposium, "Wakandan Jurisprudence: How Black Panther Challenges Us to Examine the Past, Present, and Future of Race.”

The Black Panther movie has drawn the attention of the entire world. It is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s highest-grossing movie. Think pieces have proliferated across the internet—and this blog’s symposium is no exception.  And this boundary-breaking moment in pop culture has revolved around the unabashed humanization of Africans, the African Diaspora, and the subjugation of the African people.

In other words, despite this being a movie based on a comic book, Black Panther humanized blackness in a complicated and real-feeling way. This realization offers us a moment where we can reimagine our conversation about race. 

To appreciate this, let’s think about how popular blockbuster films has typically portrayed blackness. While there are certainly exceptions, Hollywood has deployed numerous tropes that misrepresent and underrepresent blackness. These include the “Magical Negro” who uses powers in service as a sidekick to a usually white character, the “Black Thug,” who is intended to be a receptacle of dehumanized behavior and pathological violence, and the "deracialized Black hero" who is virtuous but only happens to be black.

But Black Panther, as Afrofuturistic fiction, forces us to re-imagine, confront, and defy the underlying narratives that drive those Hollywood tropes. And it unapologetically does so by, first and foremost, forcing us to imagine a world wholly owned by Africans, a world where Blackness is unbounded by white supremacy.

Wakanda is separate and apart from the white settler colonist world, yet its technology and sophistication (and its infiltrative practices and policy of noninterference) are more powerful than the nation-states of the colonialist or colonialist-influenced powers. While this utopia is imperfect and the film serves to expose its flaws—and this state-view is open to critique, as Saru Matambanazo has suggested in this symposium—this imaginative offering of Black statehood not subjugated by white settler colonialism defies the tropes that blackness is bounded by in Hollywood blockbusters.

Moreover, Black Panther humanized blackness by making it the moral norm within this cinematic construct. Wakandan blackness and Oakland blackness are the poles of the film. The alien infiltrators into this world are the two white characters, jokingly known as “the Tolkein white boys.” This defies the received-tradition of antiblackness.

Wakandan women and men are royalty, leaders, followers, citizens, and soldiers. Not the British Crown, the American President, or the Russian Federation. Wakandans own the conversations. Wakandans own the family, policy, and visionary disputes of the film. Within this dynasty built entirely apart from white supremacy, it is the Wakandans —all Wakandans—who are the whole moral agents. And T’Challa is their king and lord protector of this legacy.

N’Jadaka—aka “Erik Killmonger”—disrupts T’Challa’s Afro-utopia by making present and persistent the question of how the power of Wakanda ought to be used in relation to Black liberation. As Robin Walker Sterling pointed out during this symposium, the heart of N’Jadaka’s complaint—and his anger—is the Black privilege that Wakanda’s isolation and power allows.

But stop for a moment and appreciate that—Black privilege as a norm and a possibility rather than an oddity; Black anger as legitimate usurping political power rather than vicious trope.

Black Panther forces attention onto racial subjugation by giving N’Jadaka the most provocative and persuasive voice in the film. He demands redress for the diaspora’s dispossession through deploying the power of Wakanda to destroy white settler colonialism by force. He transforms Wakanda—for a moment—into an imperialist interventionist state powered by what Tabias Olajuawon called during this symposium a “fugitive politic” informed by “Black Combustibility.”

Let’s be clear: the film forces us to imagine Black anger as legitimate and normalized. Black anger is given a place at the table. It grants Black anger political power and vibranium weapons. But this anger is ultimately contained when T’Challa kills N’Jadaka and retakes the throne. Many see this as a failing, as if with N’Jadaka’s death the anger ends. But the film makes this reading more complicated.

The movie ends not with N’Jadaka’s death, but with T’Challa transformation. Pivotal to this is the defiance T’Challa shows in his second ancestor scene, where he confronts the tradition of nonintervention by telling T’Chaka, his father, and the host of ancestral kings that they were wrong to be passive. Thereafter, the re-awakened T’Challa accedes to N’Jadaka’s core thesis, the need for intervention to help the African dispossessed, but he fights N’Jadaka over the throne and the means. T’Challa’s victory leads to his use of soft power intervention instead of hard power. Moreover, this use of soft power shows T’Challa’s transformation from passive caretaker to interventionist leader.

The Black Panther movie thus offers us a thought experiment that imagines an empowered state (and statehood) of blackness and forces all of us—children of the dispossessed African diaspora and children of settler colonialism privilege alike—to imagine its potential scope. Nareissa Smith spoke to imagination and vision in this symposium. She rightfully puts Black Panther in the genre of films that encourage African Americans to imagine themselves anew and then “conceive a brighter, Blacker future.”

I think there is an additional possibility: Black Panther teaches us, the world at large, that Black diasporic anger has a place at the table in our political and legal discourse. Consciousness of the harm of racism can transform our thinking and challenge us to act differently and for the better. We must grow our imaginations by focusing on the evidence in front of our eyes.

Black privileged T’Challa now seeks to build bridges because he had to confront N’Jadaka’s diasporic anger and its moral claim. T’Challa had to make sense of that anger in both his final journey to the ancestors and his final confrontation with N’Jadaka. I believe T’Challa’s preparation in Wakandan constitutionalism intersected with his new awareness of diasporic anger. This synthesis transformed his imagination. T’Challa then rejects isolationism and reaches out in a humane way. Thus, T’Challa now possesses privilege and power but that privilege now incorporates race consciousness rooted in the realities of subjugation.

The real world needs more of T’Challa’s kind of consciousness raising.

For example, consider the limits of the Supreme Court’s judicial imagination around race. In an essay entitled “Normalizing Domination,” I argued that the Supreme Court’s treatment of racialized voting rights concerns represents an unwillingness “to believe what is before them by substituting other explanations for racial discrimination.” My explanation for this is the legacy of colorblind constitutionalism made manifest in a post-Shelby County v. Holder period of post-racialist retrenchment about the politics of race. The Court focuses on narrow measures of antidiscrimination success rather than broader discourses that continue to suppress poor minorities’ votes.

Black Panther would suggest that limited imagination can be turned around through taking in the evidence before our eyes and hearing the claims of the angry and dispossessed. This kind of listening requires going beyond the narrowest of measures and tendencies towards triumphalism. It requires a more expansive vision, the normalizing of the so-called “other,” the goal of actually learning from the other side and putting of privilege at risk.

For the Court, it would require embracing—rather than denying—the benefits of a constructive constitutional race consciousness meant to humanize all citizens. It requires recognizing that our constitution is dynamic and, as Justice Thurgood Marshall recognized, this dynamism is necessary to attain the freedom we have now. By changing the premise about race and the Constitution, the outcome in cases like Shelby County can too change. 

I believe that judicial imagination, political imagination, and even our collective societal imagination can be transformed through these ideas. This is the larger moral of Black Panther.

March 27, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Black Panther/s: Fight, Fugitivity, and Combustibility (Guest Post by Tabias Olajuawon)

This guest post is part of the blog's symposium, "Wakandan Jurisprudence: How Black Panther Challenges Us to Examine the Past, Present, and Future of Race.”

There is much to be said about Black Panther, much to be said about a movie that has caused many to sit and drift, both anxiously and unwittingly, into the planning, enactment and re-imaging of Black Utopia and Black Reconciliation. There is something to be said for sitting and drifting. Both are often understood as passive acts, or non-acts, but in all truth require a type of still movement only found in focus and discipline. To drift is to the relieve the mind and/or body of navigational responsibility, to duty and desire to remain; it is always, already a type of freedom making. Submissive flight. Sitting, the upright folding of one’s body that relieves ankle and foot from the responsibilities of mobility and/or erection. A submission to gravity. A relief. A de/reactivation of specific muscles and joints. A re/balancing.

N’Jadaka emerges as a complicated and familiar character, destabilizing the narrative of Black Utopia. He is familiar, and forbidden, in the way the way that violent protest is a reoccurring, forbidden and familiar option that visits Black people in Amerikkka in the still of black being and the quiet of black rest. N’Jadaka--Eric Killmonger--operates as a stand in for myriad understandings and markings of what Black rage is and isn’t. He is the reminder and the promise of the uncontrollable nature of Black rage, what we might call Black Combustibility; the danger of black feeling, of black being, of black insistence on life and resistance.

“Combustibility is a measure of how easily a substance bursts into flame, through fire or combustion. This is an important property to consider when a substance is used for construction or is being stored.”

Black Combustibility is often marked and pathologized as the site of uncivilized blackness or Black excess. It is sometimes mis/understood as the inability of black people to control ourselves and imagined in tropes or hyper sexuality, hyper masculinity and excesses of strength and emotion. It finds its roots and routes in the transmutation of the Black being from subject to object in the wake of the transatlantic slave trade. Brandings, scars and Bodily regulations. These markings of Black Combustibility work together to create a narrative that marks the most expressive, authentic and charismatic of Black folks as not only dangerous to themselves—combustible—but also dangerous to the community and creates, or at least contributes to, the logic of anti-Black policing, surveillance and assassination plots (COINTELPRO). Here, I imagine Black Combustibility not as excess but as access and ability. It is the ability to become fire, that must be regulated, lest the ship of captivity burn from the hold. I imagine Black Combustibility here then, as the power of black rage, of black witnessing and black insistence on being, as having always, already been capable of undoing regimes of racial-sexual terror, subjugation and violence. Black Combustibility is the flame of black (after) lives that burns freedom present.

This harkens back to what Baldwin famously noted as a constitutive element of the reality of Black (woke) life, “to black and conscious in America to is to be in a state of rage.” To be conscious though, is not simply to be aware of what is happening, but to bear witness to these moments and to gird oneself—one’s people—for the wake, the aftershock, the ripples: wake work. This witnessing engenders a type of responsibility to recall and give voice to what has taken place and to do something with it; even if that something is to simply hold the truth of the occurrence and reckon with it.

N’Jadaka embodies the ultimate witness. First, he witnesses himself as other in Amerikkka. Not simply other as African American, but as Wakandan; knowing that there is a place where Black bloodletting need not occur, if only someone would invite him—and perhaps all those he’d lost—to the refuge. Second, he witnesses father’s death. Not the actual murder itself but the cosmic circumstances that marked his departure. The place that did not want, or perhaps see, him had made itself real only to steal his father, to take more of his birthright. Finally, he witnesses the both grandeur of Wakanda and the struggle of Diaspora. He comes to Re-present the story of abandonment, of rage, of wounds, of love, of home-crafting familiar to the descendants of slaves. He embodies the rupture. He yells the secret. He ushers in the shame of Wakandan (African) complicity in the transatlantic trade and gives voice and muscle to the trauma of dislocation, of orphanage of un/mothering.

N’Jadaka signifies the unrecoverability of African-Americans, while also speaking to a simmering, unmarked fugitive politic. Much like many Black Americans he has temporarily embedded himself in anti-Black institutions in order to afford some modicum of Black life. Even more so, he has used the tools of the CIA to create a pathway to his own understanding, and realization of, a Black liberation politic. “The sun will never set on Wakanda,” he says, not merely because all of the world will now be a Wakandan empire, but instead because all Black people are now Wakandans; entitled to her technology, her history and her future. In fact, all Black people are technologies of the Wakandan project. How might we understand this as a modern iteration of Pan-Africanism, infused with what Saidiya Hartman has called the fugitives dream?

Where Hartman embraces a statelessness that would be contrary to N’Jadakas vision of being King or “the” Black Panther, a re-imagining of both created exciting possibilities. For instance, what happens if we take Hartman’s idea of autonomy—from states, borders and rulers—seriously, and imagine N’Jadakas Wakanda empire as collective rather than monarchy? What if Wakanda is transformed from magnificent location to a collective politic? What if Wakanda is not only where you are, but how you are? The connective fabric of Wakandans then, might be transformed from the realm of monarchical rule and submission to free flowing bonds of culture, spirit and politic.

The embrace of Black Conbustibility isn’t a call to accept the ways in which Black people are continually pathologized; but to instead to see how we are being seen, to stop investing in the belief and practice of trying to change minds for the acquisition of freedom and instead revive or create a new language of freedom, a language of insistence, a language of flight. Perhaps it is a language yet to be made, one that is laying wait in the practice of home or space making, as we learn to come together again, anew. This is a language N’Jadaka stutters through. He is not yet fluent, but he is also not simply babbling.

Today, as Black people are routinely disciplined through legal and economic lashings of violent lessons of comportment—from laws criminalizing sagging to ongoing manifestations of the afterlives of slavery—there is little to lose from trying something old, in a new way. The state has failed to save us from itself; indeed, that is an impossible task it was not built for. However, by making our own fugitive homes, designing our own fugitive flights and dreaming our own fugitive dreams; we might fashion ourselves as the children able to save ourselves from the latest, in a long line predatory states, that lived off the consumption of our foremothers. Perhaps we’ll all be stateless. Perhaps, at some moment, we’ll create a town, a city, a nation, a Wakanda. Perhaps, we’ll continue to scatter in the moonlight. One thing is for certain; we have the ability to take flight and the weather is ripe for departure, with or without vibranium.

Tabias Olajuawon, JD  is an author, scholar, and Ph. D Candidate at the University of Texas-Austin.



March 25, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

In Defense of Black Anger (Guest Post by Professor Robin Walker Sterling)

This guest post is part of the blog's symposium, "“Wakandan Jurisprudence: How Black Panther Challenges Us to Examine the Past, Present, and Future of Race.”

Killmonger is ruthless. Intelligent. Single-minded. Strategic. But above all, he is angry.

And I have to admit, it was thrilling for me, a black woman who has recently come out as “angry,” to see black anger depicted so brilliantly on screen. I mean brilliant in the sense that it burned so bright I felt that I had to shield my eyes or look away from it. Killmonger’s every scene was pulsating with a blood-deep hostility that motivated him. It focused him. It propelled him to great successes, like a Ph.D. at MIT, and great evils, like killing hundreds of people and reducing them to nothing more than another notch on his body. This was a villain unlike almost any other I had seen. He was not motivated by greed or a protean, gossamer-edged sense of evil. Killmonger’s anger took the shape of a spear aimed unerringly at the heart of Wakanda. Here was the shimmering personification of righteous anger, turned poisonous, but sprung from love for his father, devotion to his father’s vision, and commitment to righting centuries of race-based wrongs. Why not remake the world with black people on top? Forge black privilege, black supremacy, and black power from vibranium and kimoye beads. I found myself nodding in agreement with Killmonger more often than not. And although I was sorry he died, I understood why he chose to, instead of accepting T’Challa’s offer of trying to heal him. His choice of death over bondage was completely consistent with his character. With his anger.

As thrilling as his anger was for me to watch, it was also a lightning rod for criticism. People were unsettled that Killmonger was so angry. His anger colored everything else about him: his intellect, such that he could have a Ph.D. from MIT and still be labeled a thug, and his motivations, such that his plans were labeled divisive.

I took these accusations debasing Killmonger’s anger personally. He gets to be angry, I thought. He has a right to his anger – especially since he is right to be angry. Because his anger was one of the things that, for me, made him black. It was part of his blackness. It certainly is part of mine. At least once a day, in ways large and small, I am reminded of ways in which my country fails me because I am black. I am angry that my black husband and I are far more likely to be stopped, detained, searched, and shot by the police than other people. I am angry that I have to worry that my black daughter’s teachers are underestimating her abilities or attributing any typical toddler misbehavior to personal failing, lack of ability, or some other deficiency based in implicit racial bias. I am angry that my chances of dying of a heart attack, of breast cancer, and of child birth are markedly higher than those same statistics for other women – and that, if I were in severe pain suffering from any of those things, I am less likely to get medication to adequately manage my pain. I am angry that when we apply for mortgages or car loans we will automatically be charged higher interest rates because we are black.

My anger is not colorblind.

Colorblindness reduces race to a physical concept. It erases black culture, black history, and black lived experiences. And it also washes out black anger. In order to be heard, we are supposed to be able to have debates with Tomi Lahren without seething, to discuss each millisecond of a video of police brutality without being overwhelmed by its graphic contents, to let people take pictures of our scarred backs to convince them that things are as bad as we say they are.

There needs to be more space for black anger in the law. James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” And Maya Angelou said, "Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns all clean." Anger can be just as much an engine of social change as any other emotion.

Perhaps that, ultimately, is a big part of why black anger gets such a bad rap. If you are angry enough, you might choose resistance – no matter the cost – over bondage.

Robin Walker Sterling is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law

March 24, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Black Panther, Boyz in the Hood, and the Power of Imagination in Black Life

Black panter boyz

Image credits:  Top, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios.  Bottom: Columbia Pictures

Like nearly every other person of color that viewed "Black Panther," I left the theater mesmerized.  While the movie's all-Black cast makes it a unique Hollywood offering, its depiction of Blackness is even more striking.

From the beginning of cinema, depictions of Blackness have been largely negative.  One of Hollywood’s earliest blockbusters, “Birth of a Nation,” depicted Black people as stupid, lazy, lascivious monsters intent on destroying white society.  In later years, Hollywood depictions broadened to include roles such as the docile slave (“Gone with the Wind”), the simple buffoon (the ‘Stepin Fetchit’ films, “Amos ‘n’ Andy”), the sassy domestic (“Beulah”), and other negative portrayals. 

The Civil Rights Movement ushered in an era of more positive representations.  For the first time, African Americans were portrayed as educated professionals (“I Spy,” “Julia,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Who’s Coming to Dinner,” - any movie starring Sidney Poitier, really) capable of holding their own with whites. 

In the 1970s, blaxploitation films such as “Superfly,” “The Mack,” and others presented an alternative view of Blackness that emphasized sexuality and criminality.  Though this movement briefly waned, in the 1990s, films such as “Boyz n the Hood,” “New Jack City,” “Menace to Society,” and others also explored drug culture and crime.  Though each of these films had strong anti-drug, anti-crime messages, for some, the takeaway was that these films were a realistic depiction of Black life.

To be sure, many African-Americans bristle at negative media portrayals because they fear – and somewhat justifiably so – that these films will negatively influence how whites view us.  But, this argument is problematic for several reasons.  Not only does this argument absolve whites of the responsibility to befriend actual Black people rather than celluloid substitutes, but it is also frequently used as a convenient excuse to engage in respectability politics.  But the largest, glaring flaw in this argument is that it ignores how labelling certain depictions of Blackness “realistic” limits the Black imagination.

The wonderful thing about "Black Panther" is that it challenges Black viewers to see themselves in a different light.  Wakanda is a peaceful, technologically advanced nation with a populace that lives together in harmony.  Yes, it is fictional.  No kingdom with the qualities of Wakanda exists – not in Africa, not in Europe, and not in North America.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get as close to Wakanda as we can.

I came of age in the “New Jack City” era.  While the movies of that era were not my reality, they did accurately depict the reality of any number of African-Americans.    But when reality is so bleak, why must we double-down on it?  If we can’t imagine beyond reality, how can we ever hope to transcend it?

According to an old saying, “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas.”  To co-opt that phrase into this discussion, average Black minds can dissect our reality, but great Black minds can see beyond our current reality into a more just and prosperous future.

The value of “Black Panther” and other films that portray Blackness and Africanness in a positive light is that they allow African Americans to see ourselves in a different light.  By altering perceptions, they stretch the Black imagination.  Energized imaginations are then able to conceive a brighter, Blacker future.

It would be silly to argue that the reality of Black life as it is should never be portrayed.  Every Black movie need not be set in Wakanda to be meaningful.  However, “Black Panther” proves that while paying homage to our reality is important, imagining our future is equally so. 

Hopefully, “Black Panther” will usher in a new era of creativity that stretches the limits of Blackness in cinema and beyond.  

March 22, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Liberation and the Limits of Imagination in the Black Panther -- Guest Post by Saru Matambanazo

This guest post is part of the blog's symposium, "“Wakandan Jurisprudence: How Black Panther Challenges Us to Examine the Past, Present, and Future of Race.”

Black Panther fulfilled a diasporic desire that seemed impossible to articulate prior to its release. As a child of the Black African Diaspora, Black Panther made my heart feel full. I was hardly alone. Many African-American viewers met Ryan Coogler’s vision of the Black Panther as king of the exquisitely conceptualized Black African Utopia, Wakanda, with enthusiasm and joy. Its premiere was an emotional global event for many Black People.

But the cultural resonance has also stirred up many debates within the Black Diaspora (one example is the fascinating debate around the museum scene). However, the film’s treatment of the central struggles for Black Liberation left me dissatisfied. Black Panther is a wildly imaginative film, but its treatment of the possibilities for Black Liberation is grounded in the dualities of White Patriarchal Settler Colonial Supremacy and thus obscures the potential for alternative ways of being, becoming, and birthing freedom through solidarity.

This realization becomes clear when we explore closely the utopia of Black Panther and how the core conflict of the film is resolved.

Even before we are introduced to the Black Panther or his nemesis, we are first introduced to Wakanda—a fictional and technologically advanced African utopia that draws on the precepts of Afrofuturism and a range of African traditions and actors from across the Black African Diaspora. This Wakanda is a utopic ecosocialist African monarchy. It is untouched by the ravages of colonialism. Although perceived as poor and underdeveloped, it is actually a highly advanced confederation of five tribes whose peace and prosperity is fed by unlimited access to a mythical mineral vibranium. Tradition and technology thrive together in a complementary harmony.

But this utopia is maintained through a kind of “Wakanda First” isolationism. Wakanda relies on its technology to mask its prosperity and protect its traditions. This isolation leads to not only the fierce defense of its boarders against white “colonizers,” it also closes off Wakanda from beneficial trade and refugee protection. Furthermore, Wakanda refuses to intervene in the suffering of Black persons throughout the diaspora. The first thing viewers learn about Wakanda is that the nation failed to intervene when white colonizers enslaved Black men and women.

Accordingly, the first political act viewers see is King T’Chaka’s willing to murder his own brother, Prince N’Jobu, and leave a half Wakandan child in Oakland, California rather than either expose Wakanda’s true nature. N’Jobu offense runs deeper than this. In the course of conducting surveillance on the United States for Wakanda, N’Jobu compromises Wakandan security to arm and protect insurgent Black Americans. N’Jobu seeks a larger liberation--ending the continued terrorism and bondage that has grown from legalized slavery. Before his death, N’Jobu indoctrinated his son, N’Jadaka in Wakandaian culture and language, and ensured that N’Jadaka possessed the vibranium “mark” that identified him as a Wakandian.

To this world, we introduce Erik “Killmonger,” nee N’Jadaka (the sensational Michael B. Jordan) and son of N’Jobu. Erik is as much a product of US imperialism and foreign policy as he is of N’Jobu’s effort of liberation. A brilliant MIT graduate and an elite soldier, Killmonger fought for the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan. His methods include destabilization of established nations and institutions. After Killmonger wins the throne from T’Challa, he institutes a new foreign policy for Wakanda—an imperialist model of interventionalist destabilization and death that would make the Reagan/Bush era CIA proud. His strategy is to give Wakandian technology to insurgents of African descent to further their Pan-African vision of Black struggle so that the victims of the Diaspora end up “on top” of the global hierarchy.  

Killmonger is, perhaps, the film’s most compelling character. His intellectual and physical swagger trigger unconscious nostalgia for “[the] sexified second coming of the extremist Nat Turner.” It is unsurprising that Killmonger’s desires for revolution resonate with viewers, particularly with African-American viewers who feel the tensions of his struggle in a visceral way. Killmonger, like other revolutionary villains before him (Magneto), engenders feelings from ambivalence to passion to sadness.  Many Black audiences have received Killmonger as a woke Pan-African anti-hero who is on the right side of history. In his battles with T’Challa, it was difficult for many of us to determine who the real villain was. Killmonger is unapologetically angry but his anger is legitimate. He believes the Black elites of Wakanda have abandoned peoples of African descent globally when they could have made a difference. And while Killmonger is defeated, he is not all wrong.

After Killmonger’s death, T’Challa takes Wakanda in an alternative direction. T’Challa adopts a policy of openness, increased transparency, and global assistance. But this policy is nonetheless squarely within the neoliberal model. T’Challa buys up real estate in Oakland to open the “first of many” Wakandan technology and science education embassies headed by his sister, and chief technology officer, Princess Shuri. And in the first “reveal” scene in the credits, T’Challa announces his openness policy to the unsuspecting members of the United Nations.

While I admire the film and I believe Black Panther somehow, renders my existence more intelligible, I am at the same time deeply dissatisfied with the film’s the political elements. While I feel the pull of Killmonger’s wrath and revolution, I must reject the film’s oppositional way of thinking about Black Liberation. When we are dreaming dreams of liberation, I find it fascinating that we are so tame and so timid in how we can imagine alternative possibilities for liberation. 

In the film, strategies for Black Liberation are filtered through a Western lens that privileges what is as opposed to expressing what could be. The knowledge and praxis of indigenous persons, particularly women of color who draw on these traditions, remains invisible and unintelligible. Liberation is seen as emerging from one of three possibilities:  (1) isolation of Black Persons from others, (2) Neo-Imperialism designed to colonize the historical colonizers, and (3) Neo-Liberalism’s investment in globalization, open markets, trade, and education. Neoliberalism, in Black Panther, is presented as a healing third way that enabled T’Challa to embrace both Wakanda and the highest objectives that Killmonger represents. But I found myself feeling dissatisfied and annoyed that STEM education, technology, and market trade are represented as a path to liberation – because such approaches carry costs and entrench existing institutional structures of power. Why tame the possibilities of Wakanda with neoliberal normativity? Neoliberal answers to inequality center individualism, mythologize merit, and valorize markets at the expense of community and solidarity. They refuse to disrupt dominant norms and fail to make reparations for past transgressions. The path to liberation cannot be won through real estate development, hackathons, and coding camps. 

Though many claim claim Black Panther as feminist (because of the fierce women stars and in spite of the erasure of queer women), the film failed to offer an intersectional feminist approach for liberation. A key premise of the work of feminists of color who work toward liberation—from bell hooks to Lilla Wilson—is that we are bound to one another. Our liberation is entwined. Those who oppress and those who are oppressed must seek liberation together or none shall be free.

Killmonger and T’Challa could take a lesson from feminists of color. Their praxis reveals the paradox of bondage and the possibility of liberation.

Bondage binds both victims and oppressors. Liberation, in its truest form, frees not only the marginalized but also the privileged. Liberation cannot be accomplished through only individuals acts. It requires a radical recognition of interdependency and solidarity. And liberation cannot be accomplished by merely inverting the hierarchy. Reparations must be made. The path to liberation requires forging communities across difference and making institutional amends for past transgressions. It also requires unprecedented forms of accountability where those who have done wrong acknowledge the wrong and alleviate it.

In one of the most iconic moments of the film, Killmonger is confronted by Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett) and he says, “Hey, Auntie.” Killmonger and T’Challa alike would do well to listen to the wisdom of Aunties, particularly feminist women of color. It is my hope that Black Panther, as much as it sates these diasporic desires, has the potential to create the ground for future possibilities that we can use to envision what liberation could be beyond isolation, neo-imperialism, and neo-liberalism.


Saru Matambanadzo is the Moise S. Steeg Jr. Associate Professor of Law at Tulane University Law School. 

March 21, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Welcome to "Wakandan Jurisprudence: How Black Panther Challenges us to Examine the Past, Present, and Future of Race"

Black panther poster


Black Panther has been a box office juggernaut.  The film claimed the number one spot in its debut weekend and has yet to relinquish the top spot at the box office.  The action-packed superhero film easily surpassed one billion dollars in ticket sales over its five week theatrical run.  It is not only commercial successful, but also critically acclaimed. 

This blog is not an entertainment blog.  It's not even a media and the law blog.  We are a blog that focuses on race, racism, and the law. Why would we devote time to a superhero movie?  

For us, the significance of Black Panther goes beyond its ticket sales or comic book origins.  This film has a cultural significance that goes beyond the silver screen.  Its portrayal of Africa, Africans, and Blackness in general makes it more than mindless popcorn-munching entertainment.  At the end of the day, the law is merely the codification of social mores.  Black Panther challenges those social norms on many fronts. 

There are a number of reasons why Black Panther deserves scholarly consideration.  King T'Challa, the Black Panther, is one of only a handful of superheroes of color.   Though Hollywood has created multiple interpretations of heroes such as Batman and Superman, Black Panther is first feature film dedicated to a Black superhero.  Though that alone would be significant, the fact that T'Challa reigns over the kingdom of Wakanda, a fictional African realm, causes us to rethink how Africa has been historically portrayed in Western media.  The prominence of Black women in the film - and the varied roles that they occupy - is directly contrary to the standard Hollywood fare.  Moreover, the fact that Wakanda has achieved untold technological advances  adds another layer, as it causes us to consider the impact of racism and colonization on the African continent.  To that end, T'Challa's foe, his American-born cousin Erik Killmonger, is also a metaphor for the relationship Africans forcibly taken to the New World have with the Continent. 

For these reasons, and many more, we believe that an examination of Black Panther is fully in line with the goals of this blog.  This week's online symposium will feature provocative, enlightening, and entertaining posts.  We hope you will enjoy it!

March 19, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Only 12 Hours until . . . .

Black panther2

March 18, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Legacy of Frederick Douglass (Tanya Hernandez)

Frederick Douglass: A Multi-Racial Trailblazer

by Professor Tanya Hernandez, Fordham Law School

Last year President Trump made statements that left the impression he believed that abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive. In some respects, he still is. This month marks the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth, and his racial justice work continues to be relevant today. In fact, after President Trump was informed that Douglass died in 1895, the president signed into law the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act to organize events to honor the bicentennial anniversary of Douglass’s birth.

While slave records mark Douglass’ birth month as February — he was born in a plantation on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County — his status as a slave meant he had no information about the exact day he was born. As an adult he chose Feb. 14th for himself as a birth date. He was also never told who his father was, but circumstances lead him to conclude that it was his white slave owner.

Despite his mixed-race heritage and likely connection to his owner, Douglass was separated from his mother at an early age and exposed to physical abuse from his owners.

After escaping to freedom, Douglass established himself as a luminary of the abolitionist movement with his eloquent speeches regarding the savagery of slavery and its blight on our Constitution. His reputation as a compelling orator and writer garnered him a pivotal role in both lobbying for the inclusion of much needed black Union soldiers in the Civil War and then recruiting them once Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. After the Civil War, Douglass continued to write and speak out on matters of racial justice. His contributions to the nation were officially recognized with various government appointments.

Yet when Douglass married a white woman (fellow abolitionist and feminist Helen Pitts) after his first wife died, his interracial marriage created great controversy. It was immaterial that Douglass had white ancestry himself. Douglass’s mixed-race status did not alter his experience of racial discrimination. This is still true for mixed-race persons today.

In the 200 years since Douglass’ birth, we have has seen the growth of interracial marriages and mixed-race “multiracial” and “biracial” identity. In fact, the Census Bureau projects that the self-identified multiracial population will triple by 2060.

-- This is an excerpt of an oped published in the Baltimore Sun by Professor Tanya Hernandez. To read the full article, click here.


February 19, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Disparate Impact Canon - New Article by Professor Michael Morley

Professor Michael Morley of Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law recently posted an interesting essay on SSRN, entitled "The Disparate Impact Canon" (University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online, Forthcoming).  Professor Morley builds on one of Justice Sonya Sotomayor's remarks during the recent oral arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph InstituteHe posits and evaluates a "disparate impact canon" of statutory interpretation: a principle "that would require courts to construe ambiguous federal statutes in a manner that avoids, combats, or prevents racially disparate impacts."  Professor Morley also considers how such a disparate impact canon would fit into larger debates about the role of judges, with particular attention to Justice Sotomayor's jurisprudence.

February 7, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Call for Papers: Presumed Incompetent - II

Presumed Incompetent – II Yolanda Flores Niemann, Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Carmen G. Gonzalez (Eds.)

CALL FOR PAPERS (deadline for abstracts is February 28, 2018)

Presumed Incompetent, The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012), continues to be a wild success, connecting with faculty across a wide spectrum of our academic world. The book continues to receive glowing reviews in academic journals and blogs. Multiple university groups and organizations have selected Presumed Incompetent as their focus-reading book. As we, the editors of Presumed Incompetent – Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris - have continued to respond to speaking requests based on Presumed Incompetent, we have been implored to develop a follow up volume. The stories that we hear from faculty all over the country leave no doubt that the extraordinary challenges for women of color in academia persist. We have decided that second volume of Presumed Incompetent is needed, and that now is the time to expose additional experiences laden with unjust and poor treatment. As Oprah Winfrey said in her Golden Globes speech, “…Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Our vision, as editors of Presumed Incompetent, is that by telling our truths, by courageously making our truths public, we will collectively facilitate an improved climate for women of color in academia, and, indeed, for all persons. For a climate of fairness, respect, and equity affects the quality of life for all persons. We also envision a time when, with an increased understanding of the personal and career damage that can result from biases and unjust treatment, those around us will speak up on our behalf. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

In this volume, we will feature narratives from academics facing challenges based on the following topics:
• Race/ethnicity
• Social class
• Serving in administrative positions
• LGBTQ and Transgender
• Adjuncts & Lecturers (contract employees)
• Disability
• Sexual harassment
• Filing grievances
• Tenure and promotion
• Activism and public engagement
• Attacks on scholars via social media

We welcome personal narratives on these and other topics. We also invite empirically based articles, although the focus of the volume, as in Presumed Incompetent, will be experiential – on the lived experiences of women of color in academia. We invite narratives from scholars from all academic disciplines and career stages, and from all demographic groups, prioritizing those from women of color, including trans and cisgender.

Submission Guidelines:
The deadline for abstracts is February 28, 2018. Submit your three-page abstract and a short biography electronically to In your abstract please outline the focus of your narrative, including risks and challenges you have undergone, how your treatment was out of the ordinary in the context, and indicating advice you will provide others in a similar situation. One of the questions we are frequently asked has to do with telling the truth about one’s experience while avoiding defamation lawsuits. Attached to this call for papers are some general guidelines on this topic. These are only guidelines. What you write and publish is your responsibility. We can tell you that no lawsuits have resulted from the works in Presumed Incompetent. We will provide feedback regarding acceptance of your paper by March 30, 2018.

Full-length submissions of accepted papers will be due May 31, 2018. Please submit your papers as Microsoft Word documents, double-spaced, using 12-point Times New Roman font, one inch margins, maximum of 8000 words (about 30 double-spaced pages), including references in APA style. Please submit your CV and a short bio, maximum 300 words. In your bio please include your basic identifying information, e.g., Yolanda Flores Niemann, Ph.D., Mexican American, female, cisgender.

We are very pleased that for this second volume of Presumed Incompetent we have an advance contract from Utah State University Press (an imprint of Colorado University Press). We expect to submit the completed manuscript to the press by December 1, 2018. Our goals are that the manuscript will undergo review in early 2019, copy editing in spring, 2019, and be in print in by summer or early fall, 2019.

Please address questions to:

About the Editors:
Dr. Yolanda Flores Niemann
Yolanda Flores Niemann is Professor of Psychology at the University of North Texas (UNT). Previously, she served as Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at UNT, Vice Provost and Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Utah State University, and held numerous administrative and faculty positions at Washington State University. She was also an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow at Penn State. Most recently, Dr. Flores Niemann was an invited panelist at the White House for the Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics --Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S. She has been Principal Investigator of over 42 million dollars in federal outreach grants to prepare low socioeconomic status students for entry into and success in higher education. Her research interests include the psychological effects and social ecological contexts of tokenism – to the individual faculty member and to the tokenizing institution. She has recently developed a faculty training video to help prevent faculty to student microaggressions, Current research includes examination of stereotypes in superhero portrayals, and effective mentoring across demographic groups. Her most recent books are Surviving and Thriving in Academia: A Guide for Members of Marginalized Groups, Third Edition (2017, coedited), and is one of the editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Dr. Flores Niemann is author of seven books, the film, (, and ~ 40 published journal articles, including in Peace Review, Journal of Applied Psychology; Journal of Applied Social Psychology; Sociological Perspectives; Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; The Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior; Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, and Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, The Journal of Social Issues, and The Counseling Psychologist.

Dr. Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs
Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs is the author of several books, including being first editor of the revolutionary Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012). She has authored multiple articles, poetry collections, and encyclopedia entries, and in 2015, was awarded the Provost’s Inaugural Award for Scholarship, Research and Creativity at Seattle University. Gutiérrez y Muhs was also selected university-wide as the Director for the Center for the Study of Justice in Society (2015-2017). Her collection ¿How Many Indians Can We Be? is forthcoming with Mango Press. In 2017, she published The Runaway Poems with Finishing Line Press. Professor Gutiérrez y Muhs is also a renowned poet and literary critic and the author of two published academic books on Helena Maria Viramontes and Norma Elia Cantú: Rebozos de Palabras: An Helena María Viramontes Critical Reader and Word Images: New Perspectives on Canícula and Other Works by Norma Elia Cantú, respectively. They were both published with University of Arizona Press, 2013, 2017. Her work focuses on the expansion of Latinx subjectivities, spirituality, social class and gender.

Carmen G. Gonzalez
Carmen G. Gonzalez is a professor of law at Seattle University School of Law. She has published widely in the areas of international environmental law, human rights and the environment, and environmental justice. Professor Gonzalez was a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina, a U.S. Supreme Court Fellow, a visiting fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and a visiting professor at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in Nanjing, China. In 2017, she served as the George Soros Visiting Chair at the Central European University School of Public Policy in Budapest, Hungary and as the Norton Rose Fulbright Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Houston Law Center. Professor Gonzalez is member of the Board of Trustees of Earthjustice, Deputy Chair of the Governing Board of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Academy of Environmental Law, and past president of the Environmental Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools. She has worked on environmental law capacity-building projects in Asia, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, and has represented non-governmental organizations in environmental treaty negotiations. Professor Gonzalez was one of the co-editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Utah State University Press, 2012). She is also the co-editor of International Environmental Law and the Global South (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Professor Gonzalez holds a BA from Yale University and a JD from Harvard Law.

Checklist_Defamation copy (2)-1

February 1, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The quietest endorsers of misogyny and white supremacy are the most dangerous (David Troutt)

The Quietest Endorsers of Misogyny and White Supremacy are the Most Dangerous

by Professor David Troutt, Rutgers Law School

When it comes to misogyny and white supremacy, we’ve held the wrong audience accountable.

For years, Harvey Weinstein’s and Donald Trump’s private audiences could be divided into two types of (often) men: his vocal supporters and his silent endorsers.

The outspoken supporters — whether casual misogynists or white supremacists — are henchmen who helped take down women’s careers or allies in Congress who are themselves proponents of a white nationalist agenda. Most critics of both Weinstein and Trump consider this “base” group the real problem. For they are the fringe who have somehow become the norm.

But the people who really sustain misogyny and white supremacy are the quiet endorsers. Because they have the power to denounce the words, to reject the assumptions and, if necessary, to walk out of the room. They were the first to know and could have rallied — or become — the opposition.

And because so many of us have acted like quiet endorsers, Weinstein and Trump have the power they have (or, in Weinstein’s case, had).

Fortunately, the Weinsteins of our world are finally losing their power. This is in part because their actions behind their closed doors have been outed by brave women. But they could not have built that power in the first place without the presence of men (and some women) who failed to ask questions, or looked the other way or ignored their own beliefs about the equal value of women. #MeToo will become a movement of transformative change when brothers join their sisters to say #TimesUp.

White supremacy deserves the same fate. Trump has enjoyed a coterie of supporters and endorsers of white supremacy. Putting his misogyny aside for a moment, much of Trump’s electoral base, Congressional allies and conservative media henchmen and women seemed to support his barely veiled animus toward people of Latin American or African descent and Muslims. Yet more worrying are those congressmen who were in the room when Trump called El Salvador, Haiti and the continent of Africa “shithole countries,” yet refused to speak out. They equivocated or offered “no comment,” quietly endorsing Trump’s bigotry.

This is the normalization of the most dangerous racism the United States has seen in a generation. “Unfortunate,” as Paul Ryan would mutter (again). Never “racist” — though it clearly is.

Most Americans are coming around to an understanding that normalizing sexual predation represents an existential threat to the nation. White supremacy is — we should know by now — no less threatening. The harms in each are eerily similar.

-- This is an excerpt from Professor Troutt's article on  The full article is available here.


January 31, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Valuing Identity - New Article by Professor Osamudia James

Professor Osamudia James of the University of Miami School of Law recently published "Valuing Identity" in the Minnesota Law Review.  Using Black identity as an example, she argues that identity politics are "[m]ore than just a useful vehicle for antidiscrimination efforts[;] [they] are also important social goods, central to a properly functioning democracy, and integral to political and social resilience among minoritized identity groups."  Professor James critiques American courts for adopting "'colorblind' legal analysis" and proposes that they move beyond framing racial identity in negative terms such as stigmatic harm and focus on the positive aspects of identity for minoritized groups.


January 29, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

CFP: International Restorative Justice Conference

The University of Vermont School of Law is hosting the International Restorative Justice Conference on June 28-30, 2018 in Burlington, Vermont.  Below is a summary of the conference.  The Call for Papers (deadline is February 1, 2018), is available here.

Globally our most pressing challenges reveal in poignant fashion our interconnection and interdependence. Our lives are shaped by relationships at many levels: interpersonal, in community and with the environment. A restorative approach holds significant promise to meet the global need for healing and transformation in these fundamental relations on the earth, in communities, and with one another and the ways in which they are intertwined. This conference will bring together researchers, policy-makers and practitioners to share the difference a restorative approach makes and consider its potential to reveal and address the complex and relational nature of some of our greatest problems and challenges. Come be a part of this important learning opportunity including a rich blend of hands-on learning through workshops, panels, presentations and keynote addresses. The conference will focus on three areas that reflect the levels of relationship that are so interconnected and central to building a better world:


The impact of climate change and environmental disasters are felt most acutely by the most vulnerable and marginalized in our societies who have fewer resources to protect and with which to recover from these harms. The distribution of our natural resources and access to environmental security also reflect significant social inequalities resulting in patterns of environmental racism and injustice. The depth and significance of our interdependence with the environment has perhaps never been so apparent or demanded so much care and attention.


Including interpersonal violence with a particular focus on the seemingly intractable challenge of addressing domestic violence and sexual assault. The conference is an opportunity to attend to the social and political nature of interpersonal violence and the contexts and inequality that continue to generate vulnerability and hear and consider the preliminary results from the recently funded US Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women survey of programs across the country that are focused on individual, family, or community healing when responding to domestic violence and/or sexual assault. This overarching theme will also examine a restorative approach in the contexts of criminal and youth justice, and family engagement practices.


In collaboration with leaders from the Restorative International Learning Community who are exploring the possibility and potential of restorative communities committed to implementing a restorative approach to governance and across human services in proactive, preventative and responsive ways. Under the umbrella of building safe, healthy and inclusive communities multiple elements will be examined including education, leadership and policy, and human resources.

Addressing the problems and challenges in any of these areas requires careful attention to the structures, systems and institutions in and through which we live, work and play. The potential of a restorative approach to any and all of these challenges will require a consideration of the difference it makes within existing systems and institutions.

This conference will be an important and timely gathering of leaders in each of these areas to share cutting edge research and work through the lens of a restorative approach. It will address the intersection and interplay of our relationships at all these levels – interpersonal, the social in community and environmental – and the potential of a restorative approach to respond to the resulting complexity.

Plenary presentations will explore these key relations and their interconnection.  Workshop and training sessions will provide opportunities to focus on targeted topics and network with colleagues and partners from around the globe.

The Call for Proposals is available here. (Deadline is February 1, 2018)


January 16, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 15, 2018

How Women Could Save the World

In her new law review article,  How Women Could Save the World, Professor Catherine Powell investigates the oft-made claim that women's empowerment is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for global and economic security. This idea – which underpins law and policy in the women, peace, and security field – is of heightened importance today because, with the #MeToo movement, we are reminded that women are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions and have yet to "shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling" as U.S. Commander-in-Chief. Moreover, such claims raise fundamental questions for international law, equality theory, and feminism.

Reviewing new research, this Article argues that while some evidence supports instrumentalist claims to increase women’s participation in peace and security, the quantitative data underlying the claims suffers from methodological flaws. Plus, the forms of gender performance reflected in the data – for example, correlating women’s participation in international peace processes to more sustainable peace – are based on the socially constructed (not inherent) roles that (some) women play as caregivers, nurturers, and collaborators.

Conclusions gleaned from this data often rely on essentialist observations about women as being more pacifist than men. Having to maneuver around formal equality, on the one hand, and instrumentalist claims that women will "save" the world, on the other, means that the category of "woman" can restrict even as it liberates. After all, not all women are "peace-loving," particularly in a world where the women who succeed are often those who can succeed on macho terms defined by men. Borrowing the notion of democratic legitimacy, the Article develops a novel third approach missing from the security debate, which could reframe the notion of inclusive security and would center grassroots women in local conflict zones over professional feminists from the West. 

How Women Could Save the World, If only We Would Let Them: From Gender Essentialism to Inclusive Security is published in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, and can be downloaded here.


January 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New Policing, New Segregation: From Ferguson to New York


Professors Jeffrey Fagan and Elliot Ash's article "New Policing, New Segregation: From Ferguson to New York" was recently published in the Georgetown Law Journal.

Here is the abstract to this timely article:

Modern policing emphasizes advanced statistical metrics, new forms of organizational accountability, and aggressive tactical enforcement of minor crimes as the core of its institutional design. Recent policing research has shown how this policing regime has been woven into the social, political and legal systems in urban areas, but there has been little attention to these policing regimes in smaller areas.

In these places, where relationships between citizens, courts and police are more intimate and granular, and local boundaries are closely spaced with considerable flow of persons through spaces, the “new policing” has reached deeply into the everyday lives of predominantly non-white citizens through multiple contacts that lead to an array of legal financial obligations including a wide array of fines and fees. Failure to pay these fees often leads to criminal liability. We examine two faces of modern policing, comparing the Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.

We analyze rich and detailed panel data from both places on police stops, citations, warrants, arrests, court dispositions, and penalties, to show the web of social control and legal burdens that these practices create. The data paint a detailed picture of racially discriminatory outcomes at all stages of the process that are common to these two very different social contexts. We link the evidence on the spatial concentration of the racial skew in these policing regimes to patterns of social and spatial segregation, and in turn, to the social, economic and health implications for mobility. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of the “new policing” for constitutional regulation and political reform.

To download the article, click here.



January 10, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Responsibility to Share What We Know (Final Blog in Syrian Refugee Blog Series)


A Responsibility to Share What We Know 

December 23, 2017

On our last night in Jordan, we dined with a Jordanian political science professor who received his PhD from the United States.  He currently teaches courses on the refugee crisis and serves as a leader in his tribe.  He spoke to us about the history of the Middle East, the U.S.’ involvement in the myriad political crises in the region, and the richness of his tribal traditions. I was struck by the disruptive effect of the artificial borders drawn between Jordan and Syria by European powers during colonization.  Tribes and families were split apart when they suddenly found themselves citizens of different states for which they had no say.

Nonetheless, the family links between the two countries remain strong. People with whom we’ve spoken, including this professor, will say they have thousands of family members scattered across the Levant and the Gulf states, divided by arbitrary lines drawn in the sand. When the Syrian crisis started, the professor’s hometown more than doubled in size as his town accepted their Syrian refugee family members.

After dinner, the professor led us on a tour of downtown Amman, pointing out shops laden with spices, toys and crafts as we strolled down streets strung with lights. We tasted, knafeh, a Middle Eastern dessert for which Jordan is especially famous. He invited us, multiple times, to his home to meet his family the next time we visited Jordan. Receiving such hospitality is humbling; and learning from the wisdom accumulated through generations of life in Jordan, a wisdom that is inaccessible in the U.S., is a privilege.

IMG_0081When I reflect on the unique perspective I’ve gained in our 10-day visit to Jordan, I am filled with gratitude. So few people in the U.S. are provided with opportunities like the one we’ve experienced this week: traveling to the Middle East, experiencing a new culture firsthand, and, above all, engaging in meaningful conversations with the people who live there so that we may learn from their points of view. 

Our experiences have provided us with insights that make for a more humane approach to tackling the massive problems in our world.  Imagine how different our public discourse on the Syrian refugee crisis, and the Middle East writ large, would be if more of our policymakers, and ordinary Americans like me, had an opportunity to build mutual understanding of the humanity of those deemed the “other?” To be sure, it would counter the human tendency to mistakenly classify Arabs and Muslims into homogenous boxes.

Traveling requires humility. As a white Christian traveling in a majority Muslim, Arab country, I have felt keenly aware of not being completely on the “inside,” not understanding all the cues, not speaking a common language, literally and metaphorically. And yet, our hosts went out of their way to make me feel welcome.  It’s a humbling experience, a tiny glimpse into what it’s like to be a member of a minority group. It requires modesty to understand more deeply the ways I take for granted the privileges of being a member of the majority in my daily life in the United States. The learning that happens while traveling requires openness and a willingness to allow your perspective to be shifted. There’s growth in allowing yourself to be proven wrong, in admitting that your framework of the world isn’t necessarily accurate.

Our role now is to share the knowledge and experiences we’ve gained here with an audience in the U.S. who has not had the opportunity to learn from those on the ground most affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Each of us on this trip has been shaped by this experience in ways that will reverberate throughout our careers and lives. It is both our privilege and our responsibility to multiply the benefits of this experience by passing on the knowledge we’ve gained.

Just as the Jordanian professor shared his reality with us in a way that enlightened our understanding of the complexities in Jordan and challenged us to change our perspective, we are now empowered to shape the perspectives of others in America. Person by person, one interaction and one conversation at a time, we can change minds and hearts, slowly building a global community of that will create more humane American policies and a more just world.

 -- Joanna Gardner, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019

 To read previous blogs in this series, see Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, and Day 9.


January 2, 2018 in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On the Alabama Special Senate Election: Meme of Voter Fraud Edition

Late Wednesday night, the campaign to elect Judge Roy Moore to the vacant Alabama Senate seat sought to enjoin the Secretary of State for Alabama from certifying the result of the December 14, 2017 special election where Moore lost to Doug Jones. The basis: allegations of rampant voter fraud apparently among and related to African American voters that need to be investigated. Fortunately for us, an Alabama judge denied the motion to enjoin the certification and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

It is easy to write this off as a last-ditch attempt of a disgraced candidate to stop the inevitable. But we should reflect on the larger context. Once again, the meme of voter fraud — the rampant supposition without proof that illegal voters (largely voters of color) are distorting our elections through voter impersonation — rears its head again as a direct weapon to suppress the votes for Jones. This use of the specter of voter fraud as weapon against the word of voters, particularly minority voters, is nothing new. And it’s the new normal in the post-Trump world.

As you know, Jones defeated Moore largely due to the significant turnout of the Black vote and anemic moderate Republican vote. The day after the election, I argued that this happened despite voter suppression laws seemingly designed to stymie the transformative power that a fully enabled and mobilized African-American vote would represent.

Yet, the day after the election the meme of voter fraud emerged. In this case, the meme apparently starts publicly here, when Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii), who is, apparently, “a famously outspoken Trump supporter,” tweeted this:


And there’s the meme of voter fraud in one tweet — the explanation for the higher turnout that swung the election was not lack of enthusiasm for a candidate who allegedly sought sexual relations with teenage girls, or the Alabaman African-American turnout that rivaled 2012 or 2016 turnout (coupled with lagging moderate white conservative turnout). It was voter impersonation — Mississippian voters impersonating Alabaman voters. The comments to this tweet included accusations of election rigging by outsiders, a “mysterious convoy of black buses,” and something completely random about the War on Christmas.

On December 13, Twitter responded with sarcastic comments like this:


But with the December 27 complaint by the Moore campaign, the meme is once again elevated to a last-ditch adversarial tool with the apparent end to subvert the will of the people. Yet the campaign’s complaint basically makes the same argument uttered in the tweets and comments. (1) irregular high turnout by black voters raises suspicion of voter fraud; (2) rumors of voter impersonation voter fraud by outsider voters raise concern; (3) outside partisan involvement (what other people call “politics”) raises suspicion; and (4) statistical analyses by election fraud experts raise suspicion. Moreover, in a quite-odd paragraph 22 of the complaint, we also see the Moore campaign seeking vindication of the truthfulness of their candidate in relation to the allegations that he sought sexual relations with teenage girls:

  Moore-complaint-par-22This, somehow, bolsters Judge Moore’s credibility.

Clearly this is a last-ditch effort to forestall the conclusion reached by the Alabama Secretary of State, the Republican Party, President Trump, and, in at least this instance, an Alabama judge — that Jones beat Moore fair and square.

And yet, these allegations should be situated in the larger context of the evolution of the meme of voter fraud into a political weapon designed to distort elections, which started as long ago as 2000 in the hotly contested race between then-Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri and the late governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan. In the face of a loss to a dead man, the Ashcroft camp argued that dead voters in Missouri tipped the balance. Nothing came of this as Ashcroft went on to be Attorney General and, through investigations by his Department of Justice, put in-person voter impersonation voter fraud on the map. And this leant credence to the movement for voter identification laws.

More famously and recently, President Trump argued via Twitter that the participation of “illegal voters” (read, illegal immigrants) were the reason why he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. A year later, President Trump has offered nothing in the way of proof to support this allegation. Also, in the election of 2016, Pat McCrory, who lost the governor’s office in North Carolina to then-Attorney General Roy Cooper, alleged a mass conspiracy of voter fraud denied him the election. Like Moore, McCrory filed objections and when those objections were denied, he sought a recount. The recount, and a subsequent audit by the North Carolina Board of Elections showed few irregularities, including several hundred miscast votes by former felons, some double voting, and one — ONE — vote out of the 4.5 million cast in the North Carolina 2016 gubernatorial race that could have been forestalled by voter identification laws. Voting errors are to be expected, and in North Carolina, those errors certainly did not amount to a grand conspiracy by the Democrats — what McCrory alleged — to steal the election.

Moore’s post-election litigation in the face of the door closing on his campaign fits this same pattern. And, true to form, a judge has declined to equate rumor and innuendo with proof — or even concern — sufficient to stop the mechanisms of democracy from working. The influence of political outsiders, the rumors of black votes being bussed in from Mississippi, and higher than expected African American turnout in predominantly African American counties (which, by the way, was at the same rate as for Clinton last year, as I noted earlier) does not equate to a mass conspiracy of voter fraud.

Alleging a mass conspiracy of voter fraud with nothing but rumor is a bad play. No major state or national election has been reversed because of the meme of voter fraud. Yet it persists because it is a political statement. It is a politics that exists around the idea that the meme is real, and therefore such subversion ought to be opposed. This kind of paranoia can motivate voters. And so, it becomes the equivalent of a party line.

On another level, this use of the meme of voter fraud to attempt to thwart an election is really another battle in the war over American identity. In Alabama, we saw the power of the black vote met with unbelievable conspiracy theories. To make such a claim of voter fraud without tangible proof is to engage in identity politics of the worse kind. It is to delegitimize the votes of citizens because of a set presumption against their citizens’ worthiness through complaining about their votes’ validity. This parrots our too tragic history of violence against minority voting by legislative means. 

But it is also the old tactics of voter suppression coming into their own in the era of Trump. This won’t be the last you will hear of the meme of voter fraud.

December 30, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)