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Critical Race Theory

Racial Critiques of Legal Academia

In the lead up to Volume 134, the Harvard Law Review republished five classic Critical Race Theory articles from our archives. This is the fourth piece in our series. 

Professor Kennedy provided the following statement upon republication: “I am glad that the editors of the Harvard Law Review believe that Racial Critiques of Legal Academia warrants republication.  I stand by the key arguments I offered three decades ago.   Alas, they remain all too pertinent today.” 

The full version of this Article may be found by clicking on the PDF link below.

In this Article, Professor Kennedy analyzes writings that examine the effect of racial difference on the distribution of scholarly influence and prestige in legal academia. He argues that these writings articulate two interrelated theses: the first—the exclusion thesis—is the belief that the intellectual contributions of scholars of color are wrongfully ignored or undervalued; the second is the racial distinctiveness thesis: the belief (i) that minority scholars, like all people of color in the United States, have experienced racial oppression; (2) that this experience causes minority scholars to view the world with a different perspective than their white colleagues; and (3) that this different perspective displays itself in valuable ways in the work of minority scholars. Focusing on three exemplary scholars, Kennedy argues that the emergent field of Critical Race Theory has placed on scholarly agendas questions that have heretofore received little or no attention, questions that explore the nature and consequences of racial conflict within legal academia. At the same time, he argues, these writings reveal significant deficiencies—the most general of which is a tendency to evade or suppress complications that render their conclusions problematic. Stated bluntly, he explains, they fail to support persuasively their claims of racial exclusion or their claims that legal academic scholars of color produce a racially distinctive brand of valuable scholarship. Kennedy also challenges: (i) the argument that, on intellectual grounds, white academics are entitled to less “standing” to participate in race relations law discourse than academics of color; (2) the argument that, on intellectual grounds, the minority status of academics of color should serve as a positive credential for purposes of evaluating their work; (3) explanations that assign responsibility for the current position of scholars of color overwhelmingly to the influence of prejudiced decisions by white academics. He concludes with a discussion of political considerations that impinged upon the writing of his Article, focusing particularly on fears that it will be used against the cause of racial justice.