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.
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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
By Bell’s reckoning, “the racism that made slavery feasible” was “far from dead.” He added: “Slavery is, as an example of what white America has done, a constant reminder of what white America might do.” Bell also railed against the racism that motivated acts of white-on-black crime, lamenting that “even our lives … are threatened because of our color.” That claim did not square with the fact that more than 90 percent of African American murder victims nationwide are actually killed by fellow blacks, but it made for a nice sound bite. And in fact, Bell did not entirely turn a blind eye to the epidemic of black-on-black crime. That phenomenon, he explained, was itself a reaction to white oppression: “Victimized themselves by an uncaring society, some blacks vent their rage on victims like themselves.” In other words, whenever something bad happens, it is always the fault of whites.
As Bell saw things, white malevolence knew no bounds. In one of his writings, he mused that if scientists were to someday develop a magical pill that could transform any black person who consumed it into a perfectly law-abiding individual, whites would undoubtedly conspire to destroy it so as to prevent such an effect. Why? Because black crime, he explained, benefits many whites such as those who profit from the manufacture of prison uniforms. Wholly disgusted by the white race, Bell predicted that eventually America would witness the rise of charismatic new black leaders who, in the interests of retribution, would “urge that instead of [African Americans] killing each other, they should go out in gangs and kill a whole lot of white people.” Presumably this was some of the lofty “scholarship” that so impressed Barack Obama.
Bell endorsed a journal called Race Traitor, whose stated aim is “to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of the white skin.” Moreover, the publication’s guiding principle is: “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” In 1999 Bell signed on to a Race Traitor article that stated: “If the task of the nineteenth century was to overthrow slavery, and the task of the twentieth century was to end legal segregation, the key to solving this country’s problems in the twenty-first century is to abolish the white race as a social category—in other words, eradicate white supremacy entirely.” Among Bell’s fellow signatories were Pete Seeger, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn.
So this was Derrick Bell, the man whom Barack Obama feted on that 1991 day at Harvard, just four years before Obama was to launch his own political career in the home of two America-hating Marxists in Chicago—Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. As Obama lauded Bell, a banner was displayed in the background which read, “Harvard Law School on Strike for Diversity.” To be sure, Bell had already staged numerous sit-ins on behalf of “diversity” during his time at Harvard. Particularly high on his priority list was his wish to pressure the Law School into hiring a black female for a tenured professorship. Even though 45 percent of Harvard Law’s faculty appointments during the preceding decade had gone to minorities and women, none was both black and female—hence Professor Bell’s objection. Bell’s students dutifully echoed the professor’s mantra, bleating that they desperately needed “black women role models” to help them combat “the status quo” that was dominated by “white men.” When Harvard’s dean stated that no attempt to increase “diversity” should override the University’s commitment to academic excellence, the protesters called his position “highly insulting to blacks” and symbolic of “the elitism of Harvard.” It is reasonable to assume that Barack Obama, who helped galvanize campus support for Derrick Bell’s crusade on behalf of black women, more or less shared these views.
At that time, there was one black woman in particular whom Professor Bell wanted Harvard Law to hire—Regina Austin, a fellow adherent of Critical Race Theory who had been serving as a visiting professor at Harvard Law. Though Harvard had a longstanding policy that forbade the hiring of visiting professors during the year of their residence on campus, Bell issued a “non-negotiable demand” that Austin be given a faculty position.
When the Law School refused to make an exception to its policy, Bell took a leave of absence from his teaching post and even staged a hunger strike in protest. Austin, you see, was a kindred spirit to Bell from an ideological perspective. An outspoken advocate of racial separatism and identity politics, she has long held that minority communities are not obliged to accept “traditional values” or “conformity to the law” as defined by the dominant power structure of a racist society. Rather, such communities require an “alternative source of [legal] authority.”
In acknowledgment of the professional sacrifices Professor Bell made on behalf of this same Regina Austin, Barack Obama reverently referred to Bell as “the Rosa Parks of legal education.”
What does Barack Obama’s high regard for Derrick Bell tell us about the President? Certainly the praise he heaped upon Bell in 1991 reveals something profoundly significant about Obama’s mindset at the age of 30. Some, though, would dismiss it as ancient history. Slightly less ancient, however, is the fact that a 33-year-old Obama routinely assigned works authored by Bell—including the latter’s racialist interpretations of seminal civil-rights cases—as required readings in the courses he taught at the University of Chicago Law School in 1994. To be sure, Bell’s work appeared on Obama’s syllabus more frequently than that of any other author—a clear indication of Obama’s high regard for Bell’s scholarship.
Still more recent was Obama’s alliance with William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn—an alliance that shifted into high gear when Obama was 34 and remained in high gear (via his collaboration with Ayers on the radical Chicago Annenberg Challenge) until Obama was at least 38. And of course Obama’s attendance at (and his monetary contributions to) Jeremiah Wright‘s famously racist church from approximately age 27 until he was 47, says something noteworthy about his mindset during those years as well.
Pro-Obama automatons will dismiss these and all other references to Obama’s alliances as nothing more than mean-spirited attempts to smear a great man by way of innuendo and “guilt-by-association.” By contrast, people with a capacity to reason can surely understand that there is something far more profound at play here. In the final analysis, people should be free to throw their support behind a socialist who has spent his entire adult life allying himself with America-hating radicals and Marxists, if that is whom they choose to embrace. But when doing so, it is vital that they at least be cognizant of the fact that they are indeed backing such an individual.
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