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 Breitbart.com’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.