top of page
  • Writer's pictureJohnnie Cordero


Updated: Sep 11, 2021

Some years ago I had an opportunity to talk with the late Professor Derrick Bell on the subject of racism in the law. Professor Bell was a guest lecturer at the law school I was attending and after his formal lecture he took time to meet with our local chapter of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) of which I was Chair. We had about two hours of discussion, one on one, with Professor Bell.

I remember coming away from the meeting with the distinct impression that my views about the law were not far-fetched. Of course, Professor Bell was not openly as radical as I, after all he was the first black tenured law professor at Harvard, but it was clear that he recognized, as did I, that racism permeated the law and that the law could not be understood unless that fact was taken into consideration. Because I was a radical then as I am now and was anxious to hear his views on racism and the law (the title of his award winning treatise published in 1980). This was before Critical Race Theory (CRT) was a thing. At that time the subject was only talked about in academia and almost exclusively in law schools.


Professor Derrick Bell has been called the “godfather” of Critical Race Theory. The title was bestowed posthumously by a white Republican who could not have missed that the “godfather’ was a fictional gangster. Nonetheless, Professor Bell said he was not certain who coined the phrase and that he had been given more credit than he deserved for the movement's origins.

That’s right he saw it as a movement. But he did say that “... critical race theory is a body of legal scholarship, … a majority of whose members are both existentially people of color and ideologically committed to the struggle against racism, particularly as institutionalized in and by law. Those critical race theorists who are white are usually cognizant of and committed to the overthrow of their own racial privilege.” And that, “... [t]he work is often disruptive because its commitment to anti-racism goes well beyond civil rights, integration, affirmative action, and other liberal measures. This is not to say that critical race theory adherents automatically or uniformly “trash” liberal ideology and method (as many adherents of critical legal studies do). Rather, they are highly suspicious of the liberal agenda, distrust its method, and want to retain what they see as a valuable strain of egalitarianism which may exist despite, and not because of, liberalism.” It follows that Critical Race Theory is:

  • a body or legal scholarship;

  • a movement that is radical, critical and intentionally disruptive;.

  • It seeks to attack a legal system which disempowers people of color;

  • It holds that standards and institutions created by and fortifying [of] white power ought to be resisted;

  • It is a transformative resistance strategy;

  • It was intended to lay the groundwork for wide-scale resistance.

  • That goes beyond civil rights, integration, affirmative action and other liberal measures.


Critical Race Theory is not Racism.

Nowhere in the writings of Professor Derrick Bell or any other recognized CRT theorist is there to be found the argument or even the notion that all white people are racist. But, it is clear and undeniable that the system, that is the laws (policies) and law enforcement have always been and remain at base racist in intent and purpose. These

are accurately described as white supremacist rather than racist. The distinction is more than semantic.


According to Webster’s Dictionary “... racism is the belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; also : behavior or attitudes that reflect and foster this belief; racial discrimination or prejudice.


On the other hand Webster’s Dictionary defines white supremacy as (1) “. . . the belief that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” and (2) as “. . . the social, economic, and political systems that collectively enable white people to maintain power over people of other races.”

Webster’s first definition is racism plain and simple. It has no basis in scientific fact and is for that reason alone - irrelevant. Frankly, I don’t care that someone harbors the mistaken belief that I am inferior. Not to mention that the creation of the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws generally belies the notion that black people are in some way inferior. That we excel in every field of endeavor when the obstacles are removed is yet another. As an important aside according to Webster the first appearance of the word racism was in 1902 while that of the term white supremacy was in 1824. In short, white supremacy preceded racism.

Webster’s second definition of white supremacy is the accurate one. And it is this manifestation that we must fight against until it is completely uprooted and destroyed, i.e., “... the social, economic, and political [and cultural] systems that collectively enable white people to maintain power over people of other races.”

As I have said many times it is the system that is the conspiracy. Until the system of white supremacy is confronted head on and exposed universally no meaningful change will come. This can only be done by a transformative resistance strategy intended to lay the groundwork for wide-scale resistance . . . that goes beyond civil rights, integration, affirmative action and other liberal measures.”

bottom of page