Numerous students, faculty and members of the Schenectady community came out to the Nott this past Wednesday at 5 p.m. to see Michael R. Klein Professor of Law Randall Kennedy present his ideas in a speech entitled, “The Racial Promised Land? Creating a Racially Just Social Order.”
Before Professor Kennedy presented his work, all participating departments were lauded for their efforts. The event also celebrated the ninth annual presidential forum on diversity.
The departments involved were African Studies, Humanities, American Studies, History, Sociology and Political Science. Representatives from all departments stated that all of their studies were deeply connected to the work presented in Kennedy’s lectures, papers and books.
Professor Kennedy was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. Kennedy graduated from Princeton University in 1977 and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University from 1977 to 1979. He received his doctorate from Yale College of Law in 1982. After receiving his doctorate, Professor Kennedy served Kelly Wright, a reporter for Fox News, as Wright’s legal clerk from 1982 to 1983.
He then served as the clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme court from 1983 to 1984. After serving under Justice Marshall, Kennedy proceeded to teach at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1984 onward.
Those who Introduced Professor Kennedy include professors from the humanities and history department, as well as Kennedy’s son Henry Kennedy ‘17. Subsequent to introductions, Professor Kennedy began his presentation, thanking the audience for coming to hear him talk about the issue of racism in America.
Kennedy started the discussion with reflections on America’s past with racism. He discussed how the idea of a racial promise land was first discussed by Martin Luther King Jr., specifically in his “I Have a Dream” speech given during the 1963 March on Washington.
Kennedy discussed that this idea is most prominently recognized by the quote “I have a dream that one day my children will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Kennedy asserted that while Martin Luther King Jr. had discussed his ideas of a racial promise land, he had not formally planned it out.
Kennedy went on to discuss how throughout history, only racial classification and violent classification have taken root and notice in society. Kennedy stressed that there are still underlying issues that we as a country face, including obstacles that hinder the achievement of a racial promise land.
One difficult issue that Kennedy states is that many organizations that are affiliated with specific racial groups, such as the Italian Brotherhood and the Foundation for African Americans, further racial segregation. Kennedy believes that these organizations, while beneficial to many in giving aid, are ultimately deleterious to the racial promise land.
Kennedy proceeded to discuss various other issues, including affirmative action in state and national legislatures and popular media’s depiction of various minorities and racist remarks.
Following the lecture was a question and answer session, in which the audience inquired where the stronger obstacles in modern racism lie. Kennedy responded by saying that schools are a major issue. Kennedy explains that schools attempt to regulate how students of different races are treated, as to prevent minorities from being outcasted. These efforts, Kennedy believes,simply lead to more segregation.
When asked the conceptually similar question “Do we currently live in a racial utopia?” Kennedy replied that we live in neither a racial utopia or dystopia.