Derrick Bell: Liberal Whites Are Oppressors

It’s been established that Barack Obama counseled his fellow Harvard law students to open up their hearts and minds to Derrick Bell because he was speaking “truth.” A 1990 New York Times book review of Bell’s “And We Are Not Saved The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice” sheds light on just how racialist was Bell’s alleged truth, which Barack Obama embraced. Bell didn’t only de-legitimize white critics based upon race, he de-legitimized his white liberals colleagues, as well, seeing them as incapable of being anything other than oppressors. (Emphasis mine.)

”Even liberal white scholars … have to imagine that they are not oppressors. Black people have stories and experiences that provide the basis not only for their lives but for their scholarship.” Does he then consider it impossible for white scholars to understand and to teach on this issue? “It’s not that they can’t, but they do face barriers to their ability to explain the reality of racism in America.”

Racialism is so woven into the thinking of Bell, and many believe Barack Obama, any white individual, regardless of ideology or personal attribute lacks the ability to understand and relate racism in America. Consequently, the notion of racial quotas is not simply based upon some idea of equality of opportunity, they must be imposed as white’s are inferior to blacks in an area Bell and Obama see as critical. While we like to think of equality as color blind, that is not the view Bell shared as a “truth” Obama embraced and encouraged others to do, as well.

While the quote below is from the review’s author, Vincent Harding, not Bell, it serves to interpret how individuals like Bell, Obama and progressives in general, view the Constitution. It also explains some of the actions we see from Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department today. Whether something is “constitutional” or not, doesn’t matter. It’s a flawed document and the duty of the progressive jurist, legislator, or public servant is not to abide by it, but to ignore it in favor of laws, policies and positions they themselves interpret as correct. Whether something is constitutional is irrelevant. Bell’s thinking gives the individual the freedom to ignore it.

LAST spring, during the bicentennial celebrations of the Constitutional Convention – sometimes called ”The Miracle at Philadelphia” – Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall reminded us that ”the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our making.” So he insisted that credit for the expansion of constitutional democracy in the United States belonged not to the original framers and their narrow, exclusionary vision, but to those people ”who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of ‘liberty,’ ‘justice,’ and ‘equality,’ and who strived to better them.” Derrick Bell is surely one of our own generation’s important strivers and framers.

Now, in his book ”And We Are Not Saved,” Mr. Bell has taken that valuable experience, combined it with a relentless commitment to justice, and offered us a fascinating and provocative contribution to the continuing search for a more perfect union.

Harding’s observation below may have come as a surprise and disappointment to him; it shouldn’t have. While the book engaged the thinking of radical blacks like Malcom X, Bell made no room for Martin Luther King, Jr. Bell’s thinking, like that of Obama and Holder, as pointed out here today by J. Christian Adams, was more in line with Malcom X, Malik Zulu Shabazz and other black radicals. At this point, there’s little reason to believe Barack Obama sees himself as anything but one, a radical, as he sits in the White House today, as the individuals and truths he embraced were that. Unfortunately, the media never did get around to pointing that out in 2008.

Perhaps the most surprising omission of all is a serious discussion with the post-1965 Martin Luther King Jr., surely the black American leader who represented the spiritual traditions Mr. Bell values, who envisioned the new society that Geneva Crenshaw calls for, who set it in a context of international peace and justice, who sought to create coalitions across racial lines with and on behalf of the poor. And here was the leader who in his last years sought to combine the self-transforming spiritual values and the strategic power of nonviolent action with what he called the need for ”radical reconstruction” of American society.


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