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Authenticity tests shut down debate—turns case and proves they turn dialogue into lecture



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Authenticity tests shut down debate—turns case and proves they turn dialogue into lecture


Subotnik 1998 – professor of law, Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center (7 Cornell J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 681)
Having traced a major strand in the development of CRT, we turn now to the strands' effect on the relationships of CRATs with each other and with outsiders. As the foregoing material suggests, the central CRT message is not simply that minorities are being treated unfairly, or even that individuals out there are in pain - assertions for which there are data to serve as grist for the academic mill - but that the minority scholar himself or herself hurts and hurts badly.

An important problem that concerns the very definition of the scholarly enterprise now comes into focus. What can an academic trained to [*694] question and to doubt n72 possibly say to Patricia Williams when effectively she announces, "I hurt bad"? n73 "No, you don't hurt"? "You shouldn't hurt"? "Other people hurt too"? Or, most dangerously - and perhaps most tellingly - "What do you expect when you keep shooting yourself in the foot?" If the majority were perceived as having the well- being of minority groups in mind, these responses might be acceptable, even welcomed. And they might lead to real conversation. But, writes Williams, the failure by those "cushioned within the invisible privileges of race and power... to incorporate a sense of precarious connection as a part of our lives is... ultimately obliterating." n74

"Precarious." "Obliterating." These words will clearly invite responses only from fools and sociopaths; they will, by effectively precluding objection, disconcert and disunite others. "I hurt," in academic discourse, has three broad though interrelated effects. First, it demands priority from the reader's conscience. It is for this reason that law review editors, waiving usual standards, have privileged a long trail of undisciplined - even silly n75 - destructive and, above all, self-destructive arti [*695] cles. n76 Second, by emphasizing the emotional bond between those who hurt in a similar way, "I hurt" discourages fellow sufferers from abstracting themselves from their pain in order to gain perspective on their condition. n77

[*696] Last, as we have seen, it precludes the possibility of open and structured conversation with others. n78

[*697] It is because of this conversation-stopping effect of what they insensitively call "first-person agony stories" that Farber and Sherry deplore their use. "The norms of academic civility hamper readers from challenging the accuracy of the researcher's account; it would be rather difficult, for example, to criticize a law review article by questioning the author's emotional stability or veracity." n79 Perhaps, a better practice would be to put the scholar's experience on the table, along with other relevant material, but to subject that experience to the same level of scrutiny.

If through the foregoing rhetorical strategies CRATs succeeded in limiting academic debate, why do they not have greater influence on public policy? Discouraging white legal scholars from entering the national conversation about race, n80 I suggest, has generated a kind of cynicism in white audiences which, in turn, has had precisely the reverse effect of that ostensibly desired by CRATs. It drives the American public to the right and ensures that anything CRT offers is reflexively rejected.



In the absence of scholarly work by white males in the area of race, of course, it is difficult to be sure what reasons they would give for not having rallied behind CRT. Two things, however, are certain. First, the kinds of issues raised by Williams are too important in their implications  [*698]  for American life to be confined to communities of color. If the lives of minorities are heavily constrained, if not fully defined, by the thoughts and actions of the majority elements in society, it would seem to be of great importance that white thinkers and doers participate in open discourse to bring about change. Second, given the lack of engagement of CRT by the community of legal scholars as a whole, the discourse that should be taking place at the highest scholarly levels has, by default, been displaced to faculty offices and, more generally, the streets and the airwaves.



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