Letter from Cross-Racial Understanding

“A law school…should be a place where the free exchange of ideas is encouraged, not inhibited” resounds with truth. How, though, are we supposed to freely exchange ideas if a professor disseminates unsubstantiated beliefs damaging to every demographic outside of a privileged few? To encourage a free exchange of ideas, USD Law should commit itself to attracting students and faculty with divergent viewpoints–to providing equal access to education.


At USD Law, students’ education must be central. As law students committed to promoting diversity of people, ideas and cultures on campus, we received the Dean’s letter of support to the law school body with relief. When a professor publishes work and appears on national news supporting the subordination of cultures that fall outside of bourgeois values– “black rap culture,” “Plains Indians,” “anti-social” working class whites, Hispanic immigrants who embrace their native culture, and children of single parent households- he chills contribution to his class from students who identify with those groups, eliminating the possibility for them to receive push points and deterring them from attending office hours. Professor Alexander’s op-ed asserts that if these outsiders “accept the simple rules” then “their lives will go far better than they do now.” In contrast, outsiders already do well, maintain their unique cultural traditions, attain graduate level educations, and attend Alexander’s lectures.


The Dean’s statement offered these students support. We must publicly represent USD Law as a safe space for any individual with the will, drive and capability to attain a legal education, regardless of cultural affiliation. The Alexander op-ed, its consequential national stir, and the lack of an equal forum for the USD representatives who oppose Alexander’s ideals undermine such a representation and threaten the vibrancy of USD Law’s educational environment.


In light of the faculty response to the Dean’s statements, it seems appropriate to delineate how and why the op-ed’s premise models cultural subordination.


To start, Alexander’s op-ed evokes a sentiment of “exclusion…racial discrimination or cultural subordination” in title, content and image. The op-ed’s central image depicts John Wayne in The Searchers. Throughout the film Wayne’s character “searches” for his abducted niece to kill her rather than have her “live with a buck” because “living with Comanche ain’t living.” Similarly, the op-ed contends that “the culture of Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World.” As the Standing Rock controversy highlighted, Plains Indians do struggle to sustain themselves in 21st century. However, this reality grew out of U.S. army policy in supplying bullets to private hunters under the policy of: “kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”[15] Alexander’s article explicitly purports that if we regress to a value system that glorifies blood-thirsty racists, everyone will be better off.


Additionally, the title of the op-ed implies cultural subordination. If society is “Paying The Price For Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture,” then the nation must incur a debt each time an individual from a minority culture participates in society in a way that aligns with her own cultural traditions.[1] It follows from the title that the nation has something to gain from widespread assimilation.


Substantively, “bourgeois culture’s” purported breakdown occurred simultaneously with the nation banishing discrimination suggesting that the former informed the latter.  The embodiment of bourgeois values informed discrimination. A 1968 exchange between James Baldwin and Yale philosophy professor Paul Weiss demonstrates that the aspirations of the nation’s civil rights leaders were not to ignore facets of our identity, but rather to address social realities. When questioned if he agreed with Baldwin’s analysis of racial oppression within the country, Weiss responded that he agreed “with a great deal of it… but [that Baldwin] overlooked…that each of us is terribly alone” with some obstacle in life, “so why, then, must we concentrate on color?” Baldwin responded with his own experience, that he fled to Paris in 1948 to escape “America’s particular social terror, which was not the paranoia of [his own] mind, but a real social danger visible in the face of every cop, every boss, everybody.”[2] 


The value of “being a patriot, read to serve the country” contradicts the fundamental right to free speech. If society re-adopts values that make “condemning America and reviewing its crimes into a class marker of virtue and sophistication,” how will we as a people stop the government from committing crimes? The hallmark of cultural subordination is the suppression of positive minority cultural traits for the pursuit of pursing a larger cultural norm. Minority claims of injustice exemplify such a positive trait. The civil rights movement would not have gained any traction if societally harmed individuals opted to “be a patriot” in lieu of speaking their quotidian truth of state sanctioned unfair treatment.


Finally, contrary to the assertion that the “re-embrace of bourgeois norms by the ordinary Americans who have abandoned them [would] significantly reduce society’s pathologies,” a statement of Lee Atwater explaining how to use abstractions to win the vote of racists “without sounding racist themselves” demonstrates that people in power designed post civil rights movement policy to disparately impact minorities:


“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger…”  Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights… cutting taxes… you’re talking about…economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it…if it is getting that abstract… we are doing away with the racial problem… saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”[3]  


Atwater’s statements illustrate the calculated attempt to ‘do away with the racial problem.’ We have yet to find a remedy to the country’s affliction from being born on stolen land with stolen people. Huge disparities inherited from our origins indicate that the typical white household possesses sixteen times the wealth of a black household.[4] Consciously or unconsciously these households support the very legislation Atwater describes that end up disproportionately harming minorities. These individuals, “the upper-middle class [who] still largely observe [bourgeois values]” now hesitate to preach because they realize that these values fall outside the core value of the country- substantive democracy.


Academic freedom leaves room for one to express the opinion that the civil rights movement launched society into an “obsession with race, ethnicity, gender, and now sexual preference.” However, research indicates that black men are four times more likely to be killed than young white men,[6] that police use a lower standard of suspicion to search black and latino drivers than white drivers,[8] and as of the 2016 transgender bathroom fervor, no woman has reported being sexually abused by a transgender person; but, 22 transgender people were murdered.[9] Intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, is the number one cause of death for women.[11] Even when blacks are more educated than whites, black applicants face a similar unemployment rate[14] demonstrating that while minorities try to “follow the script,” external forces continue to hamper opportunities for success.


The Dean acted courageously in listening to the students’ concerns and taking steps to ensure that the law school may attract students and faculty from all walks of life. An interview with Atwater ten years after he set forth the strategy for using abstractions to rally racist support underscores the value in vindicating egalitarianism over personal gain. Atwater explained:


“The ’80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige…But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty…It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.”[16]


Our experiences shape and inform us. An institution of higher learning must include a wide variety of voices, opinions, and perspectives. If we do not take steps to ensure that our school is a safe space for all people, we will be paying the price for the breakdown of the country’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.


[1] Alexander & Wax, “Paying The Price For Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture,” Philly.com

[2] I Am Not Your Negro. Raoul Peck. 17 February 2017. Velvet Film. Film. See Interview Clip @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVlVnAKYuj0

[3] Interview with Alexander P. Lamis (8 July 1981), as quoted in The Two-Party South (1984)‎ by Alexander P. Lamis

[4] Shin, Laura. “The Racial Wealth Gap: Why A Typical White Household Has 16 Times The Wealth Of A Black One.” Forbes. March 26, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/03/26/the-racial-wealth-gap-why-a-typical-white-household-has-16-times-the-wealth-of-a-black-one/#12f2f1761f45

[5] Jon Swaine and Ciara McCarthy, “Young Black Men Again Faced Highest Rate of US Police Killings in 2016,” The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/08/the-counted-police-killings-2016-young-black-men.

[6] Id.

[7] Richard Winton, “Black and Latino Drivers are Searched Based on Less Evidence and are More Likely Arrested, Stanford Researchers Find,” Los Angeles Times (2017) http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-stanford-minority-drive-disparties-20170619-story.html.

[8] E. Pierson et. al., “A Large-Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in police Stops Across the United States” (2017) https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/data/.

[9] “Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2017,” Human Rights Campaign (2017) https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2017.

[10] Id.

[11] Emiko Petrosky et. al., “racial and Ethnic Difference in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence – United States 2003-2014” (2017) https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6628a1.htm?s_cid=mm6628a1_w

[12] “Researchers Examine Effects of a Criminal Record on Prospects for Employment,” (2014) https://csgjusticecenter.org/reentry/posts/researchers-examine-effects-of-a-criminal-record-on-prospects-for-employment/

[13] Id.

[14] Gillian B. White, “Education Gaps Don’t Fully Explain Why Black Unemployment Is So High,” The Atlantic (2015) https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/12/black-white-unemployment-gap/421497/ (“[W]hite Americans who only obtained a high-school diploma have a very similar unemployment rate to Black Americans who completed at least a college education: 4.6 percent vs 4.1 percent.”)

[15] Kappler, ed., Indian Affairs, 980-88; Sir W. F Butler, Sir William Butler: An Autobiography (London, 1911), 97.

[16] Lee Atwater and T. Brewster, “Lee Atwater’s Last Campaign,” Life magazine, February 1991, p. 67. See @ https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/05/05/going-positive

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