Now these young black people are in law school but there’s no evidence that they know anything about the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Little Rock Nine, James Meredith, or Autherine Lucy. Ask Elizabeth Eckford about how lonely she felt in 1957 when she tried to enter Little Rock Central High School while having to endure the threat of a bloodthirsty white mob. Maybe these students need to consider how welcoming James Meredith found enrolling at Ole’ Miss in 1962.
Perhaps these law students need to consider how Autherine Lucy’s experience of fighting to gain entry into the University of Alabama predated the riot as welcoming party that greeted Meredith six years later. If anyone had the right to complain about hostility and estrangement within the context of a learning environment, it was folk like Eckford, Meredith, and Lucy. In the face of outright hatred, violence, and contempt these black students fought back anyway. I don’t disagree with the 33 black law students at UCLA about the white supremacist violence they’re confronting, but I don’t support how they’re responding to it. They’re not clearly presenting their concerns through the language and tools they should be equipped with as graduate students to make it pointedly clear that they are even engaging with problems posed by systems of domination. So while they’re in law school, they’re censoring what they say, in their own film, despite their recognition of the first amendment. Too, you don’t need any of your law school colleagues to like you, welcome you, listen to you, or respect your ideas to graduate from school–and that’s true whether we’re talking about kindergarten or law school. The concerns of these law school students suggest that they want to be liked, welcomed, heard, and respected because they want the perceived perqs of being the teacher’s pet instead of being the outcast and thus recipients of the disadvantages of disfavor. Thus, these students don’t want to dismantle an unjust system, they want this system to work to their advantage; shouldn’t this be a problem for law school students?
Black people don’t have to fight to attend any school in the United States of America because the Brown decision affirmed that segregation in schools was unconstitutional; now, whether or not you feel that you “belong” there is on you. You have a “right” to be at the school you choose, but feeling like you “belong” there is something altogether different. So let’s say that “belonging” to this “community” that you regard as hostile and unwelcoming is something you want, why not agitate against their hostility. These young black students, however, never seem to think that agitation is an option (and they want to become attorneys)–they never seem to think that they can have another idea about their relationship to school. Why can’t they simply “go” to that school and consider “belonging” somewhere else; like somewhere less hostile and more welcoming? It’s a bad idea to think that you’re going to be loved everywhere you go. Ones youthful experience of making friends should have taught you that you have the power to put together your own community of people who welcome and embrace you.
When I was taking those god-awful feminist theory courses with those silly women who wanted to know if they could bake cookies and still call themselves feminists, I never wanted to have anything to do with them; not in class and certainly not beyond it. I wrote more notes to myself about how foolish they were than I ever took notes regarding the material. I had my own community of friends who I could discuss ideas with–and being in graduate school was not necessarily indicative of one’s ability to be communicative over ideas. If you cannot translate your understanding of ideas that matter to those you like, love, and respect then you should feel very insecure about your claim to understanding the material. Working to complete an advanced degree should prepare you to speak to multiple communities, not fewer ones.
Finally, I hate the name of this film: 33. 42 made sense for a movie about Jackie Robinson–but even then, the number represented a person with a name and a legacy much richer than his jersey number. Why would you give yourself a name that references a status that your film describes as degraded and marks suffering without acknowledging an intention to create social change? To that end, identifying with the Little Rock Nine bears witness to the sacrifices of young black people to make this country responsible for honoring its laws for all Americans. These nine students did not have faculty like Kimberle Crenshaw and Cheryl Harris as instructors; instead, their teachers advocated for segregation and state’s rights. I was recently at an event where Kimberle Crenshaw was the featured speaker and one of the things she noted is that black students seldom take her classes, visit her during office hours, or ask her for letters of recommendation. Even though Brenda Stevenson, Patricia Turner, and Robin D. G. Kelley–to name only a few-are not located in the law school at UCLA, I’m sure those 33 law school students could get with them during office hours…but there’s no evidence that these students even know who these prominent scholars are; Lord have mercy.