I was recently sent a link to a Twitter video with Ben Shapiro making statements about CRT on an episode of Bill Maher.
Shapiro, as his main claim in that video clip, says “And the argument is by, Derrick Bell, for example, that Brown v. Board of Education — this is an argument he made in 1991 — that Brown v. Board of Education was actually a way for the white community to leverage its own power.”
Shapiro’s claim is blatantly and provably false.
What follows from his claim – that in two days this video has been retweeted and shared over 2000 times and “liked” by over 8000 other Twitter users) illustrates a current real problem in the socialverse: an activist makes an unfounded or false statement, but one that agrees with the sentiment of a large block of individuals who proceed to forward and quote and retweet it ad nauseum, never bothering to wonder whether it might be true. It doesn’t matter which side that activist is on – both sides of multiple issues are guilty of this trend lately.
Before discussing the 9th Commandment, I wish to address Ben Shapiro’s claims in that interview.
Actually, Professor Bell did NOT argue that Brown was a way for the white community to leverage its own power. In fact, while he consistently argued that the END RESULT was pro-white, he did not argue that it was so intended as implied by Shapiro (who as a lawyer understands exactly how to parse words to bring people to a specific conclusion).
From Professor Bell’s paper from 1991: titled “The Law of Racial Standing” in the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository (which Shapiro is apparently discussing, since there was apparently nothing else by Professor Bell that was published in 1991):
Professor Bell says “The Brown 2 decision overruled Plessy while (perhaps unknowingly) maintaining the concept, custom, and tradition of white priority.”
In this 16-page paper in the Harvard Law Review by Professor Bell from 1980, titled “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma“:
Professor Bell goes into great detail about his concerns about Brown. It’s a very careful investigation of the foundational problems with the Supreme Court ruling, and the way that the white majority society turned the original intent on its head. Nothing in there makes the claim that Brown was a white ploy.
Since I want to know what Bell actually believes and has taught for 40 years, I find reading his own words is a better way to learn than trusting a Twitter video from a CRT opponent. (The above papers are reasonably short and might be good to read, if you’d also like to educate yourself on the unfair ways in which people like Shapiro and Rufo are characterizing not only CRT but also the actual works of its thinkers.)
As to what others have said about Bell’s work:
This 1991 work about Professor Bell, titled “Derrick Bell’s Racial Realism: A Comment on White Optimism and Black Despair”, was written by Richard Delgado, one of the other primary founders of Critical Race Theory:
In it, Delgado discusses Professor Bell’s general pessimism about the racial situation at the time of the founding of CRT. He describes Professor Bell’s feelings as follows: “When Derrick Bell tells us (as he does in his case book and Racial Realism) that we cannot rely on the good faith and intentions of whites, that the legal system will only provide us with, at best, sporadic and unreliable relief, these things strike a chord.”
Interestingly, that paper also shows that Delgado disagreed with Professor Bell, and was generally optimistic that Brown would prove useful to the cause of equality. That’s particularly fascinating to me, in that it shows that the principle founders of CRT didn’t even agree on something as fundamental as Brown. So it’s completely deceptive for Shapiro to make a sweeping claim to the effect that “the CRT founders believed that Brown was a white plot.”
This 2004 paper titled “Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform” in the Oxford University Press carefully discusses Bell’s later views about Brown, using language like “an unfulfilled dream for racial reform.”
“In conclusion, Bell argued that Brown v. Board of Education ultimately failed to remove barriers to equal education based on race. “Our hopes that it would do so have been replaced by a reluctant observation that it unintentionally replaced overt barriers with less obvious but equally obstructive new ones. The campaign continues.”
As to Shapiro’s claim that “When it comes to schools, what this tends to boil down to is kids who are white have experienced privilege because the system was built for white people” that is a fully true statement, and scholarly CRT carefully explores that claim, with plenty of demonstrations of ways that statement is true.
Regarding Shapiro’s statement “You seem to be a pretty good beneficiary of the meritocracy because you have merit. If you’re going to criticize the meritocracy as an outgrowth of white supremacy, then you’re going to have to tear down the system … you’ve succeeded in.” I would fully agree that the system does benefit me and other whites. But I disagree that it has to be torn down, and that’s where I diverge from many hard-core advocates of CRT.
However, recognizing the inherent problems in our systems is an excellent place to start understanding what less drastic things might be done to address the lack of equality that demonstrably still exists. And that’s where CRT excels: carefully looking at all the systems and underlying laws in America with a “critical” eye for inequity and inequality.
Why This Is Relevant
I think we need to do better.
I find that the more preposterous a claim or quote happens to be, the more caution I need to exercise.
In my view, promoting false information via social media or email or even word of mouth is violating one of the original Ten Commandments, bearing false witness against our neighbor (or in this case, our countrymen, either individually or collectively).
And the wider the distribution of my words, the more culpable I become.
So I find that I need to be exceedingly careful in choosing what information or opinions to promote.