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Fan, ‘97 [Copyright (c) 1997 The Columbia Law Review Columbia Law Review May



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Fan, ‘97 [Copyright (c) 1997 The Columbia Law Review Columbia Law Review May, 1997 97 Colum. L. Rev. 1202 LENGTH: 17247 words SYMPOSIUM: TELECOMMUNICATIONS LAW: UNSCRAMBLING THE SIGNALS, UNBUNDLING THE LAW: NOTE: IMMIGRATION LAW AND THE PROMISE OF CRITICAL RACE THEORY: OPENING THE ACADEMY TO THE VOICES OF ALIENS AND IMMIGRANTS NAME: Stephen Shie-Wei Fan]
While the narratives of all critical race theorists bear the same purpose of bringing to the surface the perceptions of those outside of the societal mainstream, these narratives present themselves in a number of different formats. The most well-known narratives of critical race theorists fall into two primary types: the "agony tale" and the "counterstory." n51 1. Agony Tales. - The agony tale is often described as a "first-person account, usually of some outrage the author suffered," n52 although these tales may also encompass experiences related by legal writers on behalf of [*1213] third parties. n53 While such narratives usually do not rise to the level of severity suggested by their name, they nevertheless describe occurrences that sufficiently deviate from socially-accepted norms to elicit disapproval, if not outright anger. Patricia Williams's "Benetton story" typifies the agony tale: I was shopping in Soho and saw in a store window a sweater that I wanted to buy for my mother. I pressed my round brown face to the window and my finger to the buzzer, seeking admittance. A narrow-eyed, white teenager wearing running shoes and feasting on bubble gum glared out, evaluating me for signs that would pit me against the limits of his social understanding. After about five seconds, he mouthed "We're closed," and blew pink rubber at me. It was two Saturdays before Christmas, at one o'clock in the afternoon; there were several white people in the store who appeared to be shopping for things for their mothers. I was enraged... In the flicker of his judgmental gray eyes, that saleschild had transformed my brightly sentimental, joy-to-the-world, pre-Christmas spree to a shambles. He snuffed my sense of humanitarian catholicity, and there was nothing I could do to snuff his ... n54 Agony tales are often embraced by their readers for being "so poignant, so moving, so authentic, so true. [Readers] accept them immediately and call them poetic and soulful" n55 by virtue of their immediate and vivid format. It is precisely because the subject matter of agony tales is frequently shocking that the tales can be accepted so completely: n56 overt and obvious racial discrimination elicits easy empathy. n57 Such discrimination fits comfortably into a majoritarian world view n58 in which discrimination still [*1214] exists, but only in lingering, discrete, and highly specific harms to individuals, n59 which civil rights jurisprudence seeks to cure, at least whenever such discrimination falls within the purview of the law's corrective scope. n60 The generally receptive reactions that greet this variety of agony tale often belie the very problems which, from the point of view of critical race theorists, pervade a societal understanding of race and race relations in the United States. Delgado has noted that an article of his - the subject matter of which rendered it in "some respects ... a classic agony tale" n61 - garnered expressions of sympathy from the academy, but little substantive support, precisely because it underscored, by contradistinction, the cherished order and sanctity of the American legal system: [Law professors] could empathize with the black subjected to the vicious racial slur. They could say how terrible it is that our legal system doesn't provide redress. They sincerely felt that way. Indeed, I think it allowed them to say to themselves how much they loved the First Amendment. They loved it so much that they had to sacrifice these unfortunate Negroes and Mexicans, for which they were genuinely sorry and apologetic. n62 Though frequently graphic enough to elicit genuine outrage, the agony tale often fails to go beyond merely engendering a passive sense of identification from sympathetic listeners.

To make micropolitics visible is to coopt it by giving resistance an object – this understanding allows resistance to be framed, to be declared a failure and prevents the immanence of imperceptible politics from coalescing around mundane practices of existence



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