Derrick Bell (Courtesy photo)
By Wayne Dawkins
Special to the AFRO
Thirty years ago, there was an HBO movie titled “Comic Slop” that included a wicked segment, “Space Traders.” Aliens entered earth’s atmosphere and broadcast this message to America: We will clean up your pollution and balance your budgets if you give us something valuable in return, your melanin. Translated, give us your Black people.
“Space Traders” the movie segment leapt from fertile imaginations of “House Party” co-directors Reginald and Warrington Hudlin.
The U.S. president and Cabinet agreed to give the space traders what they wanted, that is with the exception of the Black conservative Cabinet member, deftly played by Robert Guillaume. The conservative waged a counter campaign to convince colleagues it would be against strategic and economic interests to give the aliens the Black folks, er, melanin.
In the end, wait … pull up video clips on YouTube so you can see what happened.
I share this anecdote because of the raging debate about Critical Race Theory. Harvard Law
professor Derrick Bell, considered the father of CRT, was the original author of “Space Traders. ”It was a chapter in his book “Faces at the Bottom of the Well.”
The handful of mostly Black scholars at elite universities argued that American racism is
embedded in its institutions and is much more pernicious than hateful people spitting racial
epithets, or worse, committing racially motivated violence. Institutional racism has guided
housing policy, employment and policing.
Not a shock to many African Americans, but possibly startling to many White Americans. As a historian noted recently, when people now go to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home, the tour will make them react one of two ways: Shock that Jefferson was such an unapologetic owner of 600 slaves, or angry as in, “I wasted airfare and hotel money to hear about this?”
However, institutionalized racism is as American as apple pie. Enslaving and marginalizing
Black people was written into the U.S. Constitution. That compromise meant to appease southern planters still haunts us in the 21st Century.
CRT emerged as 2021’s bogeyman, released from college classrooms and spread among the masses primarily to scare enough Whites about Black radicals who want to teach children to hate America. To that scheme that I say nonsense. Children can walk and chew gum at the same time, love America with all their hearts, but understand that in working to create a more perfect union, ugly events occurred and practices remain in place to harm and impoverish Black people.
The urgency to eradicate institutional racism is not hating America; actually, it aspires to
American moral idealism.
Derrick Bell in the early 1970s became the first Black tenured Harvard Law School professor. Two decades passed and Bell was still the first and only. He protested and even left Harvard Law for NYU Law School. When Bell wrote “Faces at the Bottom of the Well,” he argued that American racism was a permanent condition.
I refuse to accept Bell’s premise. Bravo to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, when he said CRT is not to ridiculed or demonized, but studied and understood.
A handful of school district firebrands who believe K-12 curriculums will be radicalized should calm down. Critical Race Theory is suited for debate – like other provocative ideas – in collegiate settings, not used as a hot-button gimmick to distract and scare people.
For real tragicomedy, see the ending of “Space Traders.”
The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.
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