What race-based assault is common to legendary civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recently deceased Harvard Law School Professor Lani Guinier and Critical Race Theory (CRT) – the analytical framework some academicians use to dissect institutional racism in America?
Intense, irrational ire mainly from white conservatives bent on blocking both racial progress and any recognition of the realities of racism embedded at all levels of American society.
Dr. King endured constant vitriol and violence during his all too brief career that ended on April 4, 1968 at age 39. A fatal shot from an assassin’s rifle severed King’s spinal cord as he stood on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Eighteen years after King’s assassination, his January 15th birthday became a national holiday – the first African American with that honor.
An often overlooked fact about King is that he staged his first protest against discrimination in June 1950 at a café in Maple Shade, NJ, 13-miles outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Professor Guinier once worked as a law professor in Philadelphia, the largest city in Pennsylvania. The legal scholar credited as an initiator of CRT was born in Pittsburgh, second largest city in Pennsylvania, where he graduated from law school.
King utilized non-violent campaigns to break what he described during his fabled 1963 ‘Dream’ speech in Washington, DC as the “chains of discrimination” that crippled life for African Americans.
King’s peaceful protests to achieve societal change contrasted sharply to actions of the violent, predominately white mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 intent on blocking change. Those rioters, who pummeled police, sought to overturn the lawful election that ended the presidency of Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed White Nationalist.
Professor Lani Guinier, who died in January 2022 at the age of 71, endured a vicious onslaught in 1993. Those attacks, principally from politicians and press pundits, erupted after then President Bill Clinton nominated the distinguished equal rights lawyer to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.
That onslaught against Guinier caused Clinton to cave. Clinton withdrew the nomination of his friend since their days as students at the Yale Law School. Guinier had the qualifications to head the Civil Rights Division where she once served as a top assistant. A recognized legal scholar at the time of her nomination, Guinier’s career included winning rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and heading the Voting Rights Project of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
During that onslaught on Guinier in late Spring 1993, opponents pilloried the then law professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as a quota queen and a reverse racist. Those false characterizations of Guinier mirrored earlier smears on Dr. King who opponents lambasted as a liar, con man and a communist.
It’s hypocritical how conservatives who still castigate Dr. King as a communist remained silent when former President Trump constantly cozied up to Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, a country most Americans consider communist. Trump repeatedly defended that elected authoritarian head of Russia, who once worked in the police state apparatus of the old Soviet Union communist government.
Hypocrisy was also evident in miscasting Guinier as a quota queen. The Republicans in the Philadelphia area who assailed Guinier remained silent about the quota still contained in Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter. That quota benefits Republicans.
Two of Philadelphia City Council’s seven Council-At-Large positions are guaranteed to Republicans in Article II, Chapter 1, Section 2-101 of the Charter. Republicans get those At-Large seats even if they receive fewer votes than At-Large candidates in the Democratic Party.
That quota scheme – devised for political diversity in the heavily Democratic city – conflicts with the supposedly sacrosanct American procedure of winner-takes-all elections.
Conservatives slammed Guinier as too wrong-headed for the USJD position because of law review articles she authored suggesting alternatives to standard electoral procedure – like winner-take-all elections. Those suggestions sought to overcome impediments embedded in America’s political system that inhibit opportunities for minorities. Typical of conservatives’ standard fact-free attack tactics, the fact that Guinier’s suggestions were already used in some communities around America before her suggestions was not a factor of relevance to critics.
Conservatives behind the anti-CRT campaign have riled white parents with fraudulent claims that their K-12 children confront an existential threat from forced CRT indoctrination. Critics have convinced millions that CRT is a real-time danger despite the fact that no CRT instruction exists in 99-percent of K-12 classrooms nationwide.
The roots of CRT date from a few years after Dr. King’s murder. This subject has and remains an area of scholarship presented in some graduate schools, primarily law schools.
A “manufactured controversy” is how a June 1993 editorial in The Philadelphia Tribune termed the assault on Guinier’s nomination. That phrase is applicable to the current assault on CRT – an arcane academic subject for decades that persons with agendas hyped into an existential threat in the past year. As noted in some analyses, the phrase Critical Race Theory appeared in U.S. newspapers more than 6,000 times in 2021, far more than the less than 1,400 newspaper mentions in the prior 21-years.
Attacks on CRT also call for elimination of diversity-&-inclusion initiatives in schools and workplaces. Those attacks employ bogus assertions that diversity/inclusion initiatives cast all whites as bigots.
Attacks on CRT have similarities to prior backlashes, like a few decades ago when critics assailed affirmative action as reverse discrimination against whites. Affirmative action was introduced — with Republican support — to remediate America’s centuries-long apartheid in America that legally benefited whites and legally disadvantaged non-whites. South Africa’s old white minority government often defended its apartheid practices as similar to racist discrimination in America.
CRT evolved in part from detailed examinations of racism embedded in America’s legal system conducted by Derrick Bell, a legal scholar and law school dean. In 1973, Bell authored the seminal law school textbook “Race Racism And American Law.”
In the book’s Preface, Bell stated laws enacted to address racial discrimination have always faced “neglect and outright repeal” that enabled the discrimination those measures were designed to eliminate to continue “in the same or a more sophisticated form.”
While CRT opponents blast examinations of institutional racism as assaults on whites, Bell stated in the book that the white majority is not “rigidly opposed” to Blacks having rights and opportunities that whites take for granted. However “whites are not willing to alter traditional policies and conduct that effectively deprive blacks of” rights and opportunities, Bell wrote.
In 1971, Bell became the first Black tenured law professor at the Harvard Law School. Bell, frustrated about failures in fair hiring, launched a protest at Harvard’s law school twenty-years after his tenure. He demanded tenured positions for Black females. Bell lost his Harvard Law position due to his protest for racial/gender equity. In 1998, Harvard Law hired Lani Guinier as its first tenured Black female professor.
The fact that anti-CRT campaigners seize that famous passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Dream’ speech as defense for their onslaught is proof that those campaigners need more understanding about the history of racism, not less.
CRT opponents cite King’s wish for people being judged by the “content of their character” not their skin color to justify their claim that instruction on diversity is divisive racism because it’s not colorblind.
These campaigners are obviously oblivious to the fact that before King articulated that ‘Dream’ his speech contained a detailed, searing analysis of the nightmares Blacks endured due to the ravages of institutional racism sanctioned by law. Items King castigated in that ’63 speech like voter suppression, police brutality and economic inequities persist today.
An observation King made in a book published in 1963 provides strong rebuttal to CRT opponents and others who claim they know the evils inherent in instruction about institutional racism.
Dr. King, in a sermon contained in that book, said: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”