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The Books of Derrick Bell by Jana Cates

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The Books of Derrick Bell by
Article Posted: 04/06/2012
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The Books of Derrick Bell

Books,Current Affairs,Law

Rediscovering A Civil Rights Attorney And Legal Scholar
In March 2012, less than a year after his death, Derrick Bell became the focus of conservative haters, especially and Sean Hannity, in yet another attack against President Obama. After the images of a young Barack Obama hugging Professor Bell at a Harvard Law School student demonstration was shown on all the television news shows, the “scandal” fizzled as not much of a news story. Ironically, this worthless attack against America's 44th President has reacquainted us with the late civil rights activist, respected author and legal academic Derrick Bell.

Critical Race Theory
Many of us who heard the reports of Derrick Bell's death probably had little acquaintance with his unparalleled career as a lawyer and law professor or his significance as one of the creators of critical race theory.

The Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an academic discipline based upon the application of critical theory, a neo-Marxist exploration and review of culture and society, to the intersection of race, power, and law. According to CRT racism is engrained in the system and fabric of American life.

Bell went on writing about Critical Race Theory after taking a teaching position at Harvard University in 1969. Writing in a story form, Bell added to the intellectual dialogue on race. According to Bell, his purpose in writing was to study the racial issues within the context of their political, social, and economic aspects from a legal point of view.

Embracing the Narrative
A lot of Professor Bell’s scholarship discarded dry legal analysis in favor of stories. In books and law review articles, he presented parables and allegories about race relations, then argued their meaning with a fictional alter ego, a professor named Geneva Crenshaw, who forced him to face the truth about racial bias in America.

Bell is arguably the most influential source of thought critical of conventional civil rights discourse. He used three major arguments in his analyses of racial patterns in American law: constitutional contradiction, the interest convergence principle, and the price of racial remedies. His book Race, Racism and American Law, now in its sixth edition, has been consistently in print since 1973 and is considered a classic in the field.

Noteworthy Writings of Derrick Bell

Race, Racism and American Law
Published in 1973 by Little Brown:
This is Bell’s milestone work in the study of race, racism and civil rights law in the United States. This was the first book of judicial decisions focused on race and racism in relation to the American law. It has been part of law school curricula for nearly four decades and is currently in its sixth edition.

And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice
Published in 1987 by Basic Books:
Bell initially wrote And We Are Not Saved as a foreword to a 1985 publication of the Harvard Law Review on the Supreme Court. In this expanded version, professor Bell stated that although racial equality has been legally affirmed, economic equality after initial gains is retrogressing despite affirmative action. He suggested the formation of a alliance of disadvantaged blacks and whites, urging that entitlement standards include class as well as racial disadvantage.

Faces At The Bottom Of The Well: The Permanence Of Racism
Published in 1992 by Basic Books:
This assortment of essays dealt with the problem of racism in America and the class differences involved in discrimination against minorities. In this book, Bell discussed the civil rights movement in American society, and determined that racism is endemic, and will always be part of contemporary culture.

Confronting Authority: Reflections of an Ardent Protester
Published in 1996 by Beacon Press:
This book was written three years after Bell’s tenure at Harvard Law School was ended. Bell furnished a detailed account of the events that led him to give up his job as a Harvard Law School professor to protest the school's never having granted tenure to a minority woman.

Gospel Choirs: Psalms of Survival in an Alien Land Called Home
Published in 1997 by Basic Books:
Gospel Choirs the third entry in a series of essays and parables by Derrick Bell that offers eloquent social commentary on one of the most complicated problems of our day--racism. Bell mixed dreams and dialogues through his own voice and that of the fictional civil rights lawyer of the 1960s, Geneva Crenshaw. Not to mention, it's not just racism that Bell pondered. Many of the writings ponder black American's views on sexuality and sexism.

Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth
Published in 2002 by Bloomsbury USA:
In this book, Bell produced excellent insight into an individual's quest to live by the highest of personal standards and ideals. Bell looked at his struggle to meet what he called an ethical standard. He conceded that an preoccupation with ambition, even in an altruistic sense, may violate the ethical obligations owed to family. He considered the conflicts of issues in his own religious traditions that he negotiated to reach a higher spiritual awareness frequently lost in traditional religions. Bell also noted cases of widely known ethically principled individuals--W. E. B. DuBois and Martin L. King Jr., among others--who often strove for higher ethical standards, alone and at exceptional personal cost.

Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform
Published in 2005 by Oxford University Press:
In Silent Covenants, Bell critiqued the function and limitation of the far-reaching Brown decision. He asserted that he, like many of his colleagues, confused the means of integration with the goals of excellent education and racial equality. To analyze racial reforms, he created a theory of converging interests into one of racial fortuity. In other words, when the interests of African-Americans converge with the interests of whites, blacks are more likely to have their requirements dealt with; otherwise they are not. Derrick Bell advised blacks to not abandon their real interests even when they do not converge with the majority, and certainly prominent among those interests is the educational betterment of black children.

Whether you see Derrick Bell as a dangerous radical or a brilliant academic, introducing his publications to your non-fiction bookshelf would be a sensible step. In 1971 Derrick Bell became the first African-American tenured professor in the history of Harvard Law School. That marked a major critical point in his life. Two years later he wrote his seminal opus, Race, Racism and American Law, thus starting his career as one of America’s most influential thinkers.

Jana Cates is a cat lover who writes in her spare time. You can visit her website at or check out her collection of luxury cat bed images on her blog.

Related Articles - african american lawyers, american lawyers, american legal scholar, american legal writer, harvard law school faculty, law school deans,

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