Affirmative Action, Hate Speech, and Tenure: Narratives about Race, Law, and the Academy

Article excerpt

Affirmative Action, Hate Speech, and Tenure: Narratives about Race, Law, and the Academy Benjamin Baez. New York: Routledge Falmer, 2002


The topics of race, ethnicity, and oppression have been debated by scholars from a range of perspectives. Many now shout "enough is enough," believing that these topics have been hyperdiscussed or even resolved. However, Affirmative Action, Hate Speech, and Tenure: Narratives about Race, Law, and the Academy provides a unique lens with which to view race. In particular, Benjamin Baez notes that the way race is framed by the courts, in terms of intention, effects, injury, evidence, and rights, dictates the way race is seen by the academy and, ultimately, by society.

Reviewing legal cases and recharacterizing the debates on affirmative action, hate speech, and tenure discrimination, Baez demonstrates the dominant role of the legal system in "defining and policing race conventions and norms" while simultaneously discarding other possibilities "for conceptualizing and resisting those conventions and norms." Simply put, the way the legal system frames issues of race limits nonjuridical responses. For example, the court's determination that freedom of speech is more important than protecting individuals from victimization has shaped the way college campuses deal with hate speech. Furthermore, Baez discusses how this power gives "courts the opportunity to enact their own kind of violence against racial minorities." This leads Baez to suggest that there are significant limitations to relying on the courts when it comes to issues of social justice. Defining race in legal terms has created "obstacles to a critical response to racial injury" by dictating how racial injury is discussed and proven, thereby placing limits on our understanding of who has power and how it is exercised. Baez goes so far as to argue that by blindly accepting the courts' conceptions of race, many who believe they are fighting for racial justice are acting counter to their own interests by crediting conceptions of race and ethnicity that should be challenged.

Baez's review of the law is novel; he studies court cases and the related literature as narratives (thus the subtitle of the book) and then uses the narratives to provide noteworthy assessments about the legal system, race, the academy, and society. Essentially, Baez offers additional evidence for what many of us already know: that the legal system and the academy perpetuate the struggles of people of color by stagnating the possibility for positive change.

Although his analysis is interesting, Baez leaves us unsatisfied by focusing largely on revelation rather than on solution. For example, his discussion of raising awareness of these issues in law schools, the training sites of future lawyers and judges, and his suggestions that we develop "counternarratives" and disrupt the conventions of the academy are important. Yet the book would be more valuable if it expanded on these and the other practical suggestions for ending the cycle of violence and oppression that Baez spends so much time revealing.

Baez closes his book with an example of his premise that "legal and political discourses are dictating the terms of how race will be understood." He discusses the recent social science research that documents the impact of student diversity on education. Baez contends that this research agenda-- initiated after the 1996 Hopwood v. Texas decision that asserted that diversity does not provide a compelling interest for race-conscious decisions in student admissions-was developed to provide evidence of higher education's compelling interest in race-conscious admissions policies. …