Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

By Richard Delgado; Jean Stefancic | Go to book overview

4
The Imperial Scholar: How to Marginalize Outsider Writing

Ten years ago one of us wrote a law review article, "The Imperial Scholar: Reflections on a Review of Civil Rights Literature,"1 that became one of the more controversial pieces of its era. It has been cited innumerable times, as often without approval as with. Even as sympathetic a coreligionist as Derrick Bell describes it as "an intellectual hand grenade, tossed over the wall of the establishment as a form of academic protest." 2

The article showed that an inner circle of twenty-six scholars, all male and white, occupied the central arenas of civil rights scholarship to the exclusion of minority scholars. When a member of this inner circle wrote about civil rights issues he cited almost exclusively other members of the circle for support. This exclusion of minority scholars' writings about key issues of race law caused the literature dealing with race, racism, and American law to be blunted, skewed, and riddled with omissions. Among the reasons for the curious citation practices were (1) the mistaken belief that minority authors who wrote about racial issues were not objective; (2) the mainstream writers' need to remain in control, thus ensuring that legal change does not occur too quickly; and (3) the sense of personal satisfaction this group derived from being at the forefront of a powerful social movement. 3

The essay concluded by urging minority students and teachers to question insistently the unsatisfactory scholarship produced by the inner circle and encouraged white liberal authors to redirect their energies toward other areas. Although provoking a storm when they appeared, many of the article's premises and assertions seem commonplace today. 4

This chapter, a sequel to "The Imperial Scholar," addresses the "second generation" question: What happens when a group of insurgent scholars gains admission to the inner circle and earns the credibility and credentials that warrant consideration by mainstream scholars? Are these new scholars promptly granted equal standing, integrated fully into the conversations, colloquies, footnotes, and exchanges that constitute legal-

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