For the first black president, Barack Obama doesn’t really talk a lot about race. People talk about his race all the time, and once again it’ll be a critical factor in the campaign, but the president himself doesn’t often wade into racial controversies.
But the excellent people at Buzzfeed have hopped into the waaaay-back machine and uncovered video of Obama speaking eloquently about a racial controversy while he was president of the Harvard Law Review.
It’s a fun video, not just because of the content, but because it turns out that 20 years ago, Obama sounded exactly the same.
The set-up for this is a racially charged situation at Harvard Law School — a real one, not the fake one the kids are inventing today — that arose when Obama was a third year. Professor Derrick Bell, who recently passed away, led a major campus protest about the the lack of African-American faculty members at HLS.
Buzzfeed picks up the story from there:
Bell was the first black tenured professor at the school, and a pioneer of “critical race theory,” which insisted, controversially, on reading issues of race and power into legal scholarship. His protest that spring was occasioned by Harvard’s denial of tenure to a black woman professor, Regina Austin, at a time when only three of the law school’s professors were black and only five women. He told Harvard he would take a leave of absence — a kind of academic strike — “until a woman of color is offered and accepted a tenured position on this faculty,” and he launched a hunger strike to dramatize his point.
Obama was a major figure on campus, the first black president of the Law Review. Some friends, in a prescient joke, just referred to him as “the first black president.” He had a reputation as a conciliatory figure, not a confrontational one like Bell.
“”How Obama would react to Derrick Bell’s protest was a matter of some interest,” New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote in his exploration of Obama and race, The Bridge.
Into that tense situation, enter the future president. And note how Harvard Law professors are listening to him from the windows:
Just contrast that with the email I posted earlier from the student running to be head of the Harvard Law Student Government.
But, you know, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: either you are on your school’s law review, or your on-campus extracurricular doesn’t matter.
At Harvard, Obama Dived Into Diversity Fight [Buzzfeed]