Is Racial Justice Getting Better or Worse? Scholars Explore at Conference

Center for the Study of Race and Law Conference Explores Current Issues
Risa Goluboff, Claudrena Harold, Phil Lee and Alex Johnson Jr.

UVA Law Dean Risa Goluboff; Claudrena Harold, associate professor at the University of Virginia; Phil Lee, associate professor at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia; and UVA Law Professor Alex Johnson Jr. discuss race during the opening panel discussion.

June 12, 2017

After the 2008 landslide election of Barack Obama, many declared that racial barriers in the United States had finally fallen. Yet today the future of race relations feels uncertain for many, with the country facing a seeming rise of racially motivated violence and hate speech.

“Racial Justice Reform After Obama: Reconsidering Goals and Means,” a conference held last week at the University of Virginia School of Law, sought to put into context the conundrum of both racial progress and a deepening racial divide.

The two-day conference, hosted by the Center for the Study of Race and Law, brought together interdisciplinary scholars from over 15 academic institutions to address the complexities of racial injustice in the 21st century and goals moving forward in the quest for equality.

“We wanted to explore a big, wide-open question: What is the most important problem or goal for racial justice reform in America today?” said conference co-organizer Kim Forde-Mazrui, director of the center and the Mortimer M. Caplin Professor of Law at UVA.

Forde-Mazrui co-organized the conference with Richard Banks of Stanford Law School and Guy Charles of Duke Law School. They aimed to bring together scholars from interdisciplinary fields, including from social science and humanities departments in addition to law.

“We had an enriching, respectfully debative discussion that both diagnosed existing challenges and proposed reforms going forward,” he said.

UVA Law Dean Risa Goluboff kicked off the conference with her presentation, “A Broader Understanding of Jim Crow and the Possibilities of Racial Justice.”

“You have to understand the past in order to understand the present and figure out where you’re going in the future, and I think that’s very true when we’re thinking about racial justice and how we define it,” said Goluboff, whose areas of expertise includes civil rights, equal protection, race and constitutional history.

UVA Law Professor Alex Johnson Jr., James C. Slaughter Distinguished Professor of Law, said the past plays a major role in how people view race relations. He analyzed historical patterns in his presentation, “Taking a Long View: The Cyclical Nature of Race Relations in the United States.”

Johnson said today’s racial and political climate can be compared to Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. He said the reactions may not be exact, given the nature of history and politics, but after empowerment there has always been pushback, beginning with Brown and continuing through the rise of the Tea Party Movement.

“The election and subsequent re-election of Barack Obama, an African-American, was the primary cause for the force of the rise of the Tea Party Movement,” Johnson said, citing thoughts from his 2015 article, “What the Tea Party Movement Means for Contemporary Race Relations: A Historical and Contextual Analysis.” Looking towards the future, Johnson said the cycle will eventually bring positive change for racial reform. The current negative standings of race relations in the United States will ultimately advance racial progress, he said.

“To say I am optimistic is an understatement,” Johnson said.

Forde-Mazrui presented his work: “Black Lives Are All Our Lives:  Motivating Racial Justice Reform Through Empathy?”

He said black people still experience higher rates of poverty and incarceration, and are more likely to be victims of violent crime.

The conference also included presentations by UVA Law professors Rich Schragger, George Rutherglen and Deborah Hellman.

Racial Justice Reform After Obama: Reconsidering Goals and Means

Tuesday, June 6

9-9:15 a.m.

Opening Remarks and Dean’s Welcome

  • Risa Goluboff, Dean, University of Virginia School of Law
  • Kim Forde-Mazrui, Director, Center for the Study of Race and Law, University of Virginia School of Law

Panel One
9:15-10:45 a.m.

  • Risa Goluboff, “A Broader Understanding of Jim Crow and the Possibilities of Racial Justice”
  • Claudrena Harold, University of Virginia Department of History, “What About Us: The Struggle of the Black Working-Class in the Age of Diversity”
  • Phil Lee, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, “The Vicious Legacy of White Supremacy as an Institutional, Not Individualized Issue”
  • Alex Johnson, University of Virginia School of Law, “Taking A Long View – the Cyclical Nature of Race Relations in the United States”

Panel Two
11 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.

  • Kim Forde-Mazrui and Jeremy Bennie, University of Virginia School of Law, “Black Lives Are All Our Lives: Motivating Racial Justice Reform Through Empathy?”
  • Sophie Trawalter, University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, “On the Denial of Black Americans’ Humanity and Pain”
  • Larycia Hawkins, University of Virginia Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture-, “Zombie Politics: Black Bodies Beyond the Policy Pale”
  • Brandon Paradise, Rutgers Law School, “Are We and Have We Ever Been (Really) Committed to Integration?”

Panel Three
1:30-3:00 p.m.

  • Michelle Adams, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, “The End of Integration”
  • Rich Schragger, University of Virginia School of Law, “Race and the City”
  • Kimberly Jenkins Robinson, University of Richmond School of Law, “Why the Path to Racial Justice in Education Requires Reforming Education Federalism”
  • R. Richard Banks, Stanford Law School, “How Diversity Corrupts Affirmative Action”

Panel Four
3:15-4:45 p.m.

  • Kimberly West-Faulcon, Loyola Law School, “The Continued Role of Scientific Racism in Perpetuating Racial Inequality”
  • Camille Gear Rich, University of Southern California Gould School of Law, “Racial Commodification in the Era of Elective Race”
  • Atiba Ellis, West Virginia University College of Law, “Confronting the Erasure Problem for Racial Justice Reform”
  • Guy Charles, Duke Law School, “Racism as Pathology”

Wednesday, June 7

Panel Five
9-10:30 a.m

  • George Rutherglen, University of Virginia School of Law, “Racial Justice: Progressive or Defensive?”
  • Deborah Hellman, University of Virginia School of Law, “Indirect Discrimination and the Duty to Avoid Compounding Injustice”
  • Lawrie Balfour, University of Virginia Department of Politics, “Reparations After Obama”
  • Reva Siegel, Yale Law School, “Banning the Ban: How Courts Explain the Muslim Ban’s Unconstitutionality, and Why it Matters”

Panel Six
10:45 a.m.- 12:15 p.m.

  • Darrick Hamilton, The New School, “The Political Economy of Education, the Racial Wealth Gap, and the Paradox of Persistent Disparity Even For High Achieving Black Americans”
  • Khiara Bridges, Boston University School of Law, “Excavating Race-Based Disadvantage among Class-Privileged People of Color”
  • Timothy Lovelace, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, “Neoliberalism and Racial Justice under Law”
  • Kevin Brown, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, “The Social Construction of Liberation Struggles from an International Perspective”

Media Contact

Julia Davis
Communications Associate
jdavis@law.virginia.edu / (434) 924-1625

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