Now, it’s bad luck to speak ill of the dead, but I’ll risk it, since that’s precisely what Breitbart’s own post-humous smear hoped to do, too. Before his sudden death last week, the professional hit-job artist vowed that he had explosive, damning video that would redefine the public image of Obama. Yesterday, as Breitbart.com prepared to finally release the film, BuzzFeed scooped them. What was it? A video from the archives of WGBH in Boston that showed Barack Obama being, well, Barack Obama.
In 1990, Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review and spoke at a Harvard protest that demanded diversity in hiring. Specifically, those gathered were concerned about the low number of black women who were offered tenure at the law school. The late Derrick Bell, who is considered the intellectual father of critical race theory, had announced an unpaid leave of absence from his own job as an act of protest. Bell was by then a celebrity in the world of academia; he was Harvard Law’s first tenured black professor.
Bell’s protest was one example of his many contributions to both defining equity and articulating how we can achieve it—equity often demands that those with privilege be willing to make sacrifices. Bell explained during that 1990 rally that his own sacrifice was “not intended to coerce my colleagues, but rather to honor my commitment to those responsible for my being here.” He continued: “To be candid, I cannot afford a year or more without my law school salary. But I cannot continue to urge students to take risks for what they believe, if I do not practice my own precepts.” He added that he held his esteemed position only because activist students had taken risks to create the conditions for his hire. Equity is a positive feedback loop.
A baby-faced Obama introduced Bell before he gave that speech, saying “open your hearts and open your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell.”
I know, you’re waiting for the controversy here, but that’s really it. Obama introduced Bell at the rally. He said nice things about a famous professor who was sacrificing his job in order to support women and honor the student activism that got him the job in the first place.