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Derrick Bell and the Ideology of Racial Reform: Will We Ever Be Saved? And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice by Derrick Bell Review by: Richard Delgado The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 97, No. 5 (Apr., 1988), pp. 923-947 Published by: The Yale Law Journal Company, Inc.

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Review

Essay

Derrick

Reform:

Bell

Will

and

We

the

Ever

Ideology

Be

of

Saved?

Racial

And

Bell.*

We Are

Basic

Not

Books,

Saved:

Inc,

The

1987.

Elusive

Quest

for

Racial

Justice.

By

of

Derrick

his

1985

is

about

the

vehicle

of

the

exposes

soci?

book's

the

that

may

rights

rare

our

Pp.

xii,

288.

$19.95

Not

Saved,1

an

The

Civil

Rights

 

problem:

race.

tales

designed

to

with

analyses

of

ego,

Geneva

those

Crenshaw,

probe

race-remedy

the

yet

a somber

law.

operation

prognosis:

intended

for

to.

blacks,

whites'

serves

Richard

Delgadof

Derrick

Bell's

And

Harvard

Law

Review

America's

oldest

and

of

ety's

narrator

nerves

ten

"Chronicles,"

treatment

and

of

his

and

does

sinews

this

rather

and

race,

fictional

of

with

not

Bell

we

never

law

occasions

system

assuring

would

recover,

is

not

of

aimed

when

civil

that

We

Are

expansion

Foreword,

Chronicles,2

Through

aspects

tales

Bell

by

discloses

The

American

except

most

imaginative

intractable

together

alter

United

States

surgical

skill,

see.

Bell

offers

perhaps

was

at

doing

improving

so

coincides

rights

society

statutes

has

much

patient

civil

on

the

Instead,

never

conditions

with

case

the

law

right

self-interest.

of

and

a homeostatic

racism:

function,

Too

little

exactly

amount

*

?f

Professorof Law, Harvard Law School.

Professor of Law, School of Law

University of California at

Berkeley

my research assistants, who researchedand

drafted portions of this Review with the care and concern that make teaching a joy, and to Jean

Stefancic, AssociateLaw Librarian,University

were needed.Mari Matsuda, John Powell and Michael

Olivas read drafts and made invaluablecommentsand suggestions. This Review is dedicatedto Ge?

criticism, and information exactly when they

for supplying support,

University

of Wisconsin School of Law. J.D.,

(Boalt Hall), 1974.

I am indebtedto Harriet

Cummings and Leslie Proll,

of San FranciscoLaw School,

neva Crenshaw.

1.

2.

D. Bell,

Bell, The Supreme Court, 1984 Term?Foreword: The Civil Rights Chronicles, 99 Harv.

And We Are Not

Saved (1987) [hereinafter cited by page number only].

Rev. 4 (1985).

L.

923

924

The

Yale

Law

Journal

[Vol.

97:

923

would

tion.

such

their

at

struction, foot-dragging, moderate-liberal

ist,

sympathizers

forfeit

psychic

and

financial

and

the

the

delay.

that

new

benefits,

courts

with

events

rights

The

characterizes

optimistic,

too

much

would

announce

risk

disrup?

victories,

and

is

con?

teaching

Accordingly,

as

Brown

Then,

Congress

v.

Board

of

hail

these

predictably,

or

mindset

periodically

great

Education,3

landmark

fanfare.

that

by

Blacks

salvation

as

are

evidence

cut

back

most

hand.

narrow

incremental-

ahistorical,

writing

and

about

cause

irony,

civil

and

rights

may

in

actually

the

United

impede

myth,

and

anecdote?to

States

thus

does

little

it.

show

Bell

uses

how

this

literary

mindset

to

advance

blacks'

techniques?humor,

operates.

In

the

at

Chronicle

one

of

the

of

tenure-track

She

as

initially

a

frowns,

of

and

to

teaching

the

Geneva,

law

applicants,

school

the

DeVine

Gift,4

law

Geneva's

in

her

for

example,

the

Geneva

first

of

is

her

hired

race

to

to

teach

hold

are

sive

leagues

smiles

usual

sulting

deepens

to

nority

a

nation's

position

graduated

civil

pleased

leading

there.

high

schools,

credentials

as

a

law

school

class

and

Accordingly,

among

begins

their

to

her

law

had

faculty

teacher

exten?

impeccable:

experience

are

turn

to

measures

bring

jobs,

when

rights

to

litigator.

have

when

her

she

merit:

to

a

parade

each

col?

Their

in

the

con-

concern

is

able

mi?

such

company.

them

however,

by

outstrip

professional

appointment

aided

a

teaching,

scholarly

commissions.

wealthy

more

hired.

publication,

Their

prestigious

of

mysterious

of

whom

even

is

benefactor,

superbly

When

the

qualified

seventh

candidate

is

proposed,

the

faculty

decide

they

will

go

no

minorities

and

the

black

candidate

is

rejected.

The

Dean

Geneva,

lamely

reporting

that

the

alumni

were

beginning

to

faculty

was

taking

on

the

appearance

of

"a

professional

 

When

Geneva

hears

of

this

reaction,

she

quits

her

teaching

rejoin

the

world

of

practice.

The

Chronicle

suggests

that

tion

programs

are

intended

to

benefit

blacks,

but

only

so

 

blacks'

gains

threaten

whites'

status,

limits

 

set

in.

For

Bell,

is

not

simply

a

tale

revealing

the

psychology

of

particular

far;

this

further

in

fear

basketball

hiring

to

the

team."

to

ac?

as

apologizes

that

position

affirmative

as

soon

Chronicle

individuals;

rather,

it

 

The

on

a

beach

despair

over

buried

in

the

nizes

as

a

African

 

scroll,

whose

people.

The

Chronicle

in

the

sand,

replica

captives.

writing

message

illuminates

the

way

that

law

functions

is even

in

our

society.

ofthe

Ghana

Slave

during

Scrolls5

a

of

the

of

hollow

ship

to

more

painful.

aimed

at

On

ship,

the

which

used

to

a

survival

Geneva

walks

her

half

recog?

personal

race

a miniature

pilgrimage

problem.

model

slave

she

losing

beach,

she

intractability

she

of

Inside

discovers

type

the

the

exhorts

her

is

simple:

that

vessel,

preach

blacks

traders

transport

parchment

to

history

black

of

discovers

of

a message

the

Teach

seldom-read

3. 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

4. Pp. 140-61.
5.

Pp. 215-35.

1988]

Racial

Reform

925

slavery

with

imagine or easily comprehend."6

ages blacks throughout

cate

the

trials

their

churches

vanishes.

entertainment,

blacks

must

as

murder,

and

more

black

subordination

mutilation,

to

the

learning

metal

in

i n America,

America,

rape,

and

Geneva

to

their

form

and

a history

brutality

becomes

"healing

the

scrolls.

to

remind

of

the

groups

joblessness

on

in

welfare

"gory,

than

Those

brutal,

of

filled

us

can

most

who

a preacher

groups,"

and

which

encour-

dedi-

complete

of

the

transform

Black

nation

the

themselves

lessons

their

lessons

on

Graduates

of

wrists

wear

forbears

bands

themselves

quickly

drop

endured.

Crime,

self-help

begin

which

act

exactly

full

communities.

become

Blacks

begin

act

to

to

win

addiction,

centers.

rapidly.

Reliance

whites

shallow

people

Rather

than

agencies

virtually

and

short,

blacks

with

out-achieving

they

scorn

as

white

every

area

but

unfulfilling.

unfulfilling.

unfulfilling.

sports

In

and

have

long

maintained

respond

warmly

and

acceptance.

congratulations

white America

competition

improvement

eration

tices

burn

to

finds

the

loss

sudden

improvement

are

to

passed,

prohibit

hatred.

The

in

blacks'

status,

however,

the

self-

Tol?

prac?

itself

of

Soon

are

of

threatened.

status,

laws

applied

racial

carry

Working-class

out

violent

whites,

attacks

termed

healing

churches

resenting

on

black

Racial

groups'

are

forced

to

Contradic?

and

centers.

which

preaching

and

eight

ironically

black

black

Laws,7

as

the

the

scrolls

the

of

model

additional

ship.

Chronicles?the

Each

Constitutional

tion,8

Black

the

Celestial

Reparations

Curia,9

the

Foundation,11

Sacrificed

the

Black

Amber

Schoolchildren,10

Cloud,12

the

the

Twenty-

6. P. 217.

7. P. 220.

8.

Pp.

26-42. In the Chronicle ofthe Constitutional Contradiction, Geneva is

the time of the Constitutional Convention.

Entering

about the tragic results of the

that the nation's

the

great

hall in

transported backin

Philadelphia, she

the twenty-firstcentury. The audiencelistens to her impas-

history to

introducesherselfas a blackwoman from

sioned speech

her request on the ground

The narratorand Geneva then discusshow the taint of these compromises set the nationon its current

unfortunatecourse.

slavery compromisesthey are about to enact, but rejects

slavery.

unity depends on preserving a system of black

9. Pp. 51-56. The Chronicle ofthe Celestial Curia considersthe

justice for blacks. After Geneva's reformcases and concludethat civil

potential of litigation to achieve

recent law

rights litigation proceeds, at best, with one step forward, then one

benefitto blacksis limited

no betteroff than before, and

agita-

bellyaching, an unreasonableinsistence on benefits not deserved by

completion of the tale, she and the narrator analyze

benefit

whites;any

step back. Judicial breakthroughs occur only when they

through narrow interpretation,recalcitrance, and delay. Blacks end up

often worse: Society is led to believe that the "race problem" has been solved, and that further

tion on blacks' part is simply

people who have suffered no unfairness.

10. Pp.

102-07. After Geneva recites the Chronicle ofthe Sacrificed Black Schoolchildren, she

and the narratordiscuss the failure of court-mandatedschool desegregation to improve the lot of

blacks. Black schoolchildrenend

and administratorsare reassigned or fired, black schools are closed, and the black

darity is impaired.

community's soli?

up worse off than before in newly integratedschools, black teachers

11. Pp. 123-30. The Chronicle of the Black

extremely wealthy

improve

discusses an imaginary

through economic supports and incen?

white benefactorturns over his and his friends' fortunes to poor blacks

Reparations Foundation

program to improve the circumstancesof the black underclass

tives. An

who wish to

class blacks intolerable, and the

their lot. Society finds the ensuing rapid improvement in the fortunesof lower-

program is stopped.

12. Pp. 162-65. The Chronicle of the Amber Cloud discusses the limits of the equal protection

926 The

Yale

Law

Journal

[Vol.

97:

923

Seventh

Black

here

legal rhetoric.

color

to

Year

Crime

stay

in

at

every

this oppression

well

probe

at

night:

and

test

Syndrome?

Cure??sounds

the

Ultimate

this

same

Voting

Rights

Act,14

bleak

note:

American

and

racism

the

is

our

most

prized

society

legal

to

institutions

and

despite

our

ideology

most

exalted

of

finds

sleep

American

turn,

oppresses

a

subordinates

invisible

minorities

that

subscribing

natural,

perverse

the

Chronicles.

nearly

tolerable,

This

in

is

the

and

inevitable.

Our

virtue

of

the

mindset

oppressors

Bell's

characters

Despite

(which

the

should

these

hammerblow

messages,

the

final

pages

nor

of

neither

the

book16

are

in-

unabashedly

tegrated education,

tion

Nonetheless,

formed

so

tional

will

and

the

allow

who

positive.

would

the

Bible,

a

to

try

The

ten

Chronicles

emigration,

separatism,

be

ruthlessly

is

put

there

told, it a source

in

sympathizers

a

program

make

it

The

and

the

show

that

litigation,

self-help,

will

Just

armed

insurrec-

racism.

trans?

struggle,

constitu?

This

down)

is

of

undo

as

and

American

blacks

continued

the

reader

finding

and

to

their

to

many-faceted

organizing.

reform

to

it;

Bell

occur

both

as

itself,

hope.

have

strength

they

structure

work

within

of

current

source

of

extra-legal

humanizing

reforms.

require

community

education,

are

United

tactics

is

litigation,

will

sufficiently

put

disruption,

pressure

flexible

ennoble

attitudes

on

to

all

and

system

It

Constitution

The

reform

labor

may

in

be,

without

its

means

hopes,

that

bloodshed.

and

in

ends

the

struggle

ethical.

States

will

racial

clause in

well-behaved white youths to

motivation and propensity to commit crime. Society displays great concern and leading scientists

quickly discovera cure. The

whites, even

on the distributionof the treatmentis

13. Pp. cited by the

problems in intimate relationships between black

men and women.

14. Pp. 75-88. In the Chronicle ofthe Ultimate VotingRights Act, a southernsenatorwith a long

track recordas an opponent of black causes is saved from

epiphany, after which

citizenship rights through the black codes, poll taxes, and violence. The Senator introduces a bill

which provides a $100 incentive to citizens

representation. After Geneva relates this Chronicle, the narratorand she consider the bill's

potential effectivenessin

declared unconstitutional, and Geneva doubts its effectiveness, even if it

blacks'interests.The narratorconcludesthat such a bill would be

and

who vote, and guarantees minority voters proportional

achievingjustice for blacks. Geneva describesan

suffer

imaginary disaster that causes

previously

"ghetto disease," an illness

whose main symptoms are lack of

cure is expensive, however, and is therefore restrictedto

though it would also help black youths become

productive membersof society. The racial limitation

challenged but upheld in court.

198-203. The Chronicle of the

Twenty-Seventh Year Syndrome?the only Chronicle re-

drowning by a black woman. He has an

blacks' historical exclusion from

constitutionality

survived challenge.

young

narratorand not by Geneva?discusses

he delivers an

impassionedspeech decrying

promoting

black criminals

discoversa bed of brightly coloredstones while

vertently swallows it. The stone has an immediate effect; the boy's

longer is interestedin dealing drugs or mugging pedestrians.Instead, he is seized by a desire to work

for good. The message of

black

absorb the large numbersof

changes;they can no longer

tell themselvesthat

ously destroyed. The status quo returns. Inner-city

again

supply of magic stones is mysteri-

guards are threatenedwith loss of their

youths demanding work. Police and security

community almost disappears. Yet again the story has an unhappyending. White society cannot

15.

Pp. 245-48. In the Chronicle of the

Black Crime Cure, a gang of

exploring a

cave. One youth tastes a stone and inad-

characteris transformed.He no

the stones soon spreads and

clean-cut, peaceable black

jobs.

many others swallow them. Soon crime in the

Lower-classwhites fear the

they are better off than the blacks. Soon, the

crime increasesto its former level, where it once

serves its usual function

of uniting the white community against blacks.

16. Pp. 248-58.

1988]

Racial

Reform

927

laws

gest?have

painted

the

Black

before?yet

does

abandons

which

slave

plained.

vehicle

are

elastic.

elastic.

a

way

by

the

of

Crime

the

she

first

to

her

tell

book

or

Yet

of

elastic

snapping

things?as

back.

part

of

final

the

book

chapter,

despairing

shifts

why

and

it

as

Chronicles

between

rosy

ending

recites

Chronicle

of

usually

hope

and

spunky

Bell

in

the

startling

as

the

gap

the

repeatedly

sug?

The

and

the

the

bleak

bleak p i c t u r e

picture

puzzling.17

At

of

the

is

Chronicle

as

any

she

optimism.10

told

Bell

and

challenging,

hazy

homilies

with

any

produced

is

by

the

unex-

in

a fictional

her

so

start

little

the

scroll

book's

Cure18?as

suddenly

the

skeptical

reader

ends.

the

crime

we

must

does.20

a

Geneva

a

tone

joins

is

to

Geneva,

stance

Although

cure

search

What

stones,

for

an

Geneva's

explanation,

to

transformation

travelling

to

Geneva

Thus

as

Bell

happened

leave

optimistic?

17. At least one reviewer in the liberal

Review, New

Yorker,

Dec. 7,

edifying.").

press noted this disjunction, but praised it. See Book

1987, at 192, 193 ("[H]is surprising conclusion is noble and

18. See supra note 15 (describing Chronicle of the Black Crime Cure).

19. The starknessof this sudden change in Geneva'soutlook

be witnessedin the book'sfinal

ten pages.Just after Geneva recitesthe Chronicle ofthe Black Crime Cure, the narratorobservesthat

"[n]one of her touchedthe

sion which comes shortly thereafter:

may

stories had

been models of optimism, but this Chronicle of the Black Crime Cure

very

nadir of our despair." P. 248. Compare this observationto Geneva's ringing conclu?

Both history and experience tell us that each new

to racial equality and reveals another obstacle that we

and?eventually?overcome.

victory over injustice both removesa barrier

must, in

turn, grapple with

.

.

.

Let us, then, rejoice in the memory of the

'many thousands gone,' those men and women

beforeus who have brought us this far

endurance, as of our own

carry but of all human beings of whatever race or color or creed.

faith and

way. Let us be worthy of their courage and

hopes, our own efforts. And, finally, let us take up their legacy of

along the

it forwardinto the future for the sake not alone of ourselvesand our children

P. 257. The eleventh Chronicle seeks to answer this

question: How does Geneva travel from the

Chronicle ofthe Black Crime Cure, in nine short pages, to this almost transcendentconclusion?

stories, it is metaphorical, not literal. It

attempts to show how consciousness may

for several reasons. Like Bell, I believe that stories are useful vehicles for probing mindsets.See B.

metaphor are particularly useful

in the highly charged area of race, where the zigs and zags of doctrineare less easily explained by

precedent than by history, economic conditions, and class

can probe the tensions and contradictions

choose elements of either

that rings true in light

ers, 62 Harv.

the Chronicles, Harv. sors' classroomexercises

readersto suspendjudgment, listen for, and reflecton the point

in our society, as all movementsfor change must gain the white.

and

dialogues

Bettelheim,

this format

20. My

explanation takes the form of a story. Like all

The Uses of Enchantment

story of his or

L. Rev. 616 (1949)

Blackletter

work, for Geneva, Bell, or anyone else. I

(1975). Narrativeand

adopt

consciousness.Stories that contain

among world views, permitting the reader to

pick

and form a new story that

her experience.See, e.g., Fuller, The Case

synthesizes the dialogues into an account

ofthe Speluncean Explor-

Commentary on

(mythical case report); see also Greene, A Short

J., Spring 1986, at 60, 62 (Platonic dialogues and law profes?

support of

the dominant group, which is

probe and test belief). Storiesare useful tools for the underdog, as they invite

of the story. This process is essential

My friend Bill Powers has

arriving

suggested to me that dialogues which presentopposingviewpoints with?

"cop-outs." But I

believe that authors

out

a disservicein

with their biases, as many legal writers do.

opposingviewpoints(or disregard them entirely, see

Review

given of any legal inquiry.

answerscan be

at conclusionsas to which are correctare

of

Civil

L. Rev.

perform

accord

"Neutral" approaches often mischaracterizeor dismiss

purporting to reason neutrally and then coming to predetermined conclusionsin

Rights

Literature, 132

U.

Pa.

Delgado, The Imperial Scholar: Reflections on a

561

(1984).

Implying

that

objective, correct

to legal questions also obscuresthe moral and political value choicesat the heart

928

The

Yale

The

Eleventh

Chronicle:

 

Liberal

Law

Journal

Hope,

Despair