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What's Useful and Correct About Critical Race Theory? (w/ Randall Kennedy)

Dec 9, 2021

Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy has been known for decades as a critic of Critical Race Theory, which was developed in part by his late colleague Derrick Bell. But Kennedy's critiques come from a position of intellectual respect, and over the years he has become more sympathetic to some of the central claims CRT makes about the pervasive and intractable nature of American racism. His new book Say It Loud! On Race, Law, History, and Culture collects his essays from the past several decades, many of which deal with the question of how American racism has functioned historically, how it has morphed over time, and what a rational way to think about it is. In this wide-ranging conversation, he and Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson discuss:

- The way Black intellectual thought has long had "optimistic" and "pessimistic" camps, and CRT fits squarely in with a long tradition of Black pessimism about racial progress

- Why Prof. Kennedy thinks there are ample factual grounds for holding that pessimistic perspective, even as someone born in the Jim Crow South who has witnessed certain kinds of major progress during his lifetime

- Why Donald Trump's birtherism was a sign of a deep ugly undercurrent of lingering racism that Kennedy does not expect to see disappear, and the disturbing ways that Republicans are rolling back important democratic gains

- How law professors foolishly pretend the Supreme Court is politically independent and why we need to acknowledge that it is a powerful unaccountable institution seized by reactionaries

- Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer have had completely delusional views of the role of politics on the court

- The greatness of Thurgood Marshall, for whom Prof. Kennedy once clerked, and why Marshall was no more "political" than other justices 

- Why Prof. Kennedy has developed a deep respect for CRT scholar Derrick Bell in the years since Bell's death and why Bell was an impressive example of someone who mixed great scholarship with uncompromising activism 

Say It Loud! is available from Pantheon Books. Kennedy's essay on Derrick Bell is available on SSRN.  Nathan's essay on Ginsburg's decision not to retire and the illusion of the apolitical court is here, and his essay on critical race theory is here. The Manhattan Institute panel on CRT that Prof. Kennedy was on is here.

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