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The Legacy of Derrick Bell

Courtney Bowie,
Racial Justice Program
Inimai Chettiar,
Brennan Center's Justice Program
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October 7, 2011

The following is an excerpt from a longer article appearing on ACSblog:

Professor Derrick Bell, who passed away on Wednesday, was a racial justice pioneer and teacher who enlightened many. His actions spoke as loudly as his words and influence the work we do today at the ACLU.

Professor Bell was not afraid to state the truth: that structural and insidious racism pervades our society, institutions and thinking. He pioneered the development of critical race theory — which recognizes that racism is embedded deep beneath the surface of our laws and legal institutions. He explained that, even where there is no de jure segregation or explicit racism, there are often far more harmful subtle forces that hinder access to equality and result in de facto segregation.

In order to understand the structural nature of racism, we need to follow Professor Bell through the proverbial “looking glass.” Things aren’t always what they seem. The work of Bell and other scholars showed that, in order to achieve true racial equality, it’s insufficient to eliminate de jure segregation laws if the majority of our institutions continue to be created by, for and around heterosexual white men of privilege. When our societal or legal “norm” automatically leaves out women and people of color, it may look like those populations are asking for a handout or an “unfair advantage” when what they are really asking is to be included in the creation of our institutions and laws. Continue reading this article at ACSblog.

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