A week ago, someone put black tape over the portraits of African-American professors at Harvard Law School. The incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime, did not surprise or anger me. But the reaction of some professors and members of the administration to the student activism that followed the act has. The message imbedded in their op-eds and community meetings have been clear: students of color, keep silent. Your voice is not valued and your activism is not warranted.
Ironically, a black professor whose portrait was defaced has responded by using his words as a tool to silence students protesting racial apathy at HLS. In his recent op-ed, Professor Randall Kennedy asked dissidents (code word students of color) to tell him “with as much particularity as possible” why we feel “burdened, alienated, disrespected, oppressed.” Professor Kennedy categorized several concerns students raised as having a “ring of validity” but disregarded most as “dubious” and “exaggerating the scope of the racism that the activists oppose and fear.” By concluding that students are displaying “excessive vulnerability” and “nurturing an inflated sense of victimization” when we say we perceive racism in the way our classes fail to contextualize our legal education or when we use permanent marker to “x” out the Royall family crest on our HLS gear in a small act of rebellion against the visual embodiment of this institution’s legacy of slavery, Professor Kennedy proclaims our view of racism invalid and our proposals for change inadequate for the long-term. He re-categorizes our advocacy as an attempt to get attention instead of a call to have a real stake in identifying and addressing the problems around race that exist at HLS. Continue reading “#HLSUntaped: Despite the Call to Be Silent, I’ve Decided to Scream“