Kendall Thomas is the Nash Professor of Law and co-founder and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University. Drawing on interdisciplinary writing about the law and politics of race, Professor Thomas made three overlapping claims, offering a critical account of the recent attack on Critical Race Theory by the Trump administration and its allies. First, he suggested that it would be a mistake to view the executive branch's effort to "purge" and "extinguish" Critical Race Theory (to use the President's own terms) from the national discourse as an aberrant or deviant moment in U.S. national life. Second, tracing its roots to 19th-century state statutes outlawing the education of enslaved African-Americans, and noting its coincident connections with the 21st-century campaign for constitutional recognition of a "right to literacy", he argued that President Trump's assault on Critical Race Theory is best seen as the latest historical chapter in the legal and political "weaponization" of "compulsory racial illiteracy". He concluded with a few reflections on what Mr Trump's ideological war against critical racial literacy tells us about the limits of the dominant "anti-discrimination" and "diversity" paradigms for understanding law's foundational and continuing role in the "development of Black underdevelopment".
Particularly pertinent in a calendar year which has featured such an intense focus on the presence of racial injustice in the constitutional legal systems of northern and western countries, the lecture attracted over 500 signups, most of which came from current students and alumni. Professor Thomas' lecture was the third of The Equality and Diversity Lecture Series, following Haben Girma (2019), the first deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law, and The Right Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE (2018), then President of the UK Supreme Court.
Below you will find the recording of the event.