November 27, 2015


By now, you may already have seen the 1991 video footage of Barack Obama, who was then a 30-year-old student at Harvard Law School, speaking in glowing terms about Harvard professor Derrick Bell, whom Obama described as a man known for “speaking the truth” and for an “excellence of … scholarship” that had not only “opened up new vistas and new horizons,” but had “changed the standards [of what] legal writing is about.” “Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell,” Obama urged the sizable crowd which had gathered to show their support for Professor Bell that day.

Since the release of the video, Obama’s backers have been quick to dismiss it as nothing more than a young scholar’s affectionate tribute to a liberal academic icon who not only made major intellectual contributions to his profession, but who also was a leading champion of racial “diversity” in higher education. For instance, CNN host Soledad O’Brien, when interviewing’s editor-in-chief Joel Pollak yesterday about the significance of the video, described Bell benignly as “the first tenured African American professor of law at Harvard University,” and characterized the gathering merely as “a rally in support of racial equality among the faculty at Harvard Law School.” O’Brien then asked her guest, with apparent bewilderment, “What part of that was the bombshell? Because I missed it. I don’t get it. What was a bombshell?”

In a similar spirit of willful blindness, Media Matters describes Derrick Bell as “a respected academic” and “an influential figure in the Civil Rights movement.” This portrayal is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s pathetic characterization, a few years back, of Bill Ayers as “just a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” But just as the reality of Bill Ayers was far more interesting than Obama indicated at that time, the truth about Derrick Bell is likewise far more compelling than the pablum the left has provided in the wake of this latest video. For you see, by the time Barack Obama was delivering his glowing remarks about Derrick Bell in 1991, the professor had already established—and would continue to cultivate for another two decades—a reputation as someone who thoroughly, resolutely detested the United States and who viewed the nation’s institutions and its people as irremediably racist. In short, until his death last October at the age of 80, Bell was secular academia’s version of Jeremiah Wright—a raging, fulminating racist without the clergyman’s robe. And something about his philosophy resonated strongly with Barack Obama.

Derrick Bell is best known as the founding father of Critical Race Theory, an academic discipline which maintains that society is divided along racial lines into (white) oppressors and (black) victims, similar to the way Marxism frames the oppressor/victim dichotomy along class lines. Critical Race Theory contends that America is permanently racist to its core, and that consequently its legal structures are, by definition, racist and invalid. A logical derivative of this premise, according to Critical Race Theory, is that the members of “oppressed” racial groups are entitled—in fact obligated—to determine for themselves which laws and traditions have merit and are worth observing. Such a perspective’s implications for the ability of civil society to function at all, are nothing short of monumental.

Further, Critical Race Theory holds that because racism is so deeply ingrained in America’s national character, racial preferences (favoring blacks) in employment and higher education are not only permissible but necessary as a means of countering the permanent character flaws of white people who, as Bell put it, seek to “achieve a measure of social stability through their unspoken pact to keep blacks on the bottom.”[1]  Asserting that “few whites are ready to actively promote civil rights for blacks,” Bell—right around the time Obama was praising him at the Harvard rally—believed that “racial discrimination in the workplace is as vicious (if less obvious) than it was when employers posted signs ‘no negras need apply.’” Bell complained, in fact, that most white employers were loath to hire African Americans for “any position above the most menial.”[2]  Nor did the professor look kindly upon his black colleagues who failed to share his enthusiasm for affirmative action. Indeed, Bell was among the first critics to condemn the June 1991 nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, stating: “To place a person who looks black and who, in conservative terms, thinks white, is an insult.”

Ideological conformity among blacks was of the utmost importance to Bell, since wherever he looked, he saw white racism. Lamenting that “no African Americans are insulated from incidents of racial discrimination,” Bell excoriated “a white society that condemns all blacks to quasi citizenship as surely as it segregated our parents.”[3]  Claiming that racism was “an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society,” Bell went so far as to state: “The fact that, as victims, we suffer racism’s harm but, as a people, [we] cannot share the responsibility for that harm, may be the crucial component in a definition of what it is to be black in America.”[4]  On the premise that “black people will never gain full equality in this country” due to the unending evils of the white “oppressor class,” Bell advised African Americans to squarely confront “the otherwise deadening reality of our permanent subordinate status.”[5]  This gloomy view of black destiny was reflected most vividly in the title of Bell’s 1992 book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism.

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