Monday, September 25, 2017

Abstract

 


Angela Mae Kupenda, Equality Lost in Time and Space: Examining the Race/class Quandary with Personal Pedagogical Lessons from a Course, a Film, a Case, and an Unfinished Movement , 15 Seattle Journal for Social Justice 391-437 (Fall, 2016) (154 Footnotes Omitted) (FULL ARTICLE)

 

Angela Mae KupendaAuthor's Note: My article is rooted in my own continuing personal and pedagogical growth and consideration of issues of race and class. I especially appreciate and dedicate this article to my former student, Attorney Justin Earl Townley, class of 2010. I have benefitted greatly from his collegiality and wise perspectives in our ongoing conversations about race, economic (dis)empowerment, and the ruling class in America. Attorney Townley, who like me is a first-generation lawyer, is very accomplished and is currently an Assistant State Public Defender in Ohio.

I also benefited greatly from presentations and discussions at various law schools. I presented an earlier draft of this article as a Plenary Panelist at the Tulane University Law School Forum on the Future of Law and Inequality, New Orleans, Louisiana, November 2014. Tulane Law Professor Saru Matambanadzo, as the inaugural Gordon Gamm Faculty Scholar, organized and convened this Forum to enhance scholarly engagement and further the pursuit of equality. The comments of Forum participants were extremely valuable. In addition, I appreciate the encouragement of the Tulane Dean of the Law School and Mitchell Franklin Professor of Law David D. Meyer. A later essay draft was presented at Seattle University School of Law, at its Poverty Law: Academic Activism Conference, held February 2016. I appreciate greatly the comments of the participants, especially the suggestions offered by Professor SpearIt, Thurgood Marshall School of Law. The editors and staff of the Seattle Journal for Social Justice offered tremendous insights on this essay. This essay also received support from my home school: with a summer 2015 scholarship grant, through feedback from attendees in our 2015-16 Faculty Forum, and with funding of my travel and participation in the Poverty Law Conference at Seattle University School of Law.

I further dedicate this essay to several amazing women who have had numerous discussions with me about race, gender, and class and whose work to advance equality I greatly admire: Attorney Constance Slaughter-Harvey, Founder and President of Legacy Education and Community Empowerment Foundation, Inc.; Ms. Patricia Anderson, Faculty Assistant, Mississippi College School of Law; Dr. Loretta A. Moore, Vice President for Research and Federal Relations and Professor, Department of Computer Science, Jackson State University and Principal Investigator of National Science Foundation funded JSU ADVANCE; Dr. Michelle D. Deardorff, Adolph S. Ochs Chair of Government, Professor and Department Head, Political Science and Public Service, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and, Professor Maritza Reyes, Florida A&M University College of Law. Congratulations again, Maritza, on your very well deserved award of Tenure!

While so many have encouraged me in my steps on my personal and pedagogical journey discussed in this essay, all missteps are indeed my own.

. . .

My essay is both personal and pedagogical. My hope is that it issues a clarion call to legal educators and administrators to choose the pursuit of racial and class equality. I believe that, as law faculty and administrators, we must first address our personal quandaries with race and class before we can effectively address the racial and class implications in our pedagogical or administrative roles in legal education.

As one model for this clarion call, I present part of my personal story of race and class, including my continuing attempt to reconcile the two in my pedagogical experiences, and my hope that other faculty and administrators in legal academia will engage in their own personal and pedagogical examinations of race and class. Their own personal and pedagogical linkages must be admitted and understood for legal academics to make the great difference, which I think we can, in achieving racial and class equality in America.

This racial and class personal exploration in our pedagogies is critical. I do not think we will advance as a society until we thoughtfully develop creative ways to rectify racism and classism. Fortunately, I believe legal education can provide a place for exploratory vehicles to rectify the two. After all, the racial desegregation of legal education opened the doors for broader integrative attempts. However, while fortunately legal education can be this place, unfortunately it has roots implanted deeply in isms. For example, for many years, access to obtaining legal training was barricaded against women, nonwhites, and the economically disadvantaged. With declining enrollment in legal education, a door of opportunity is now slightly ajar as law schools attempt to maintain enrollment numbers. This heightened effort to recruit students could afford more opportunity for access for those from groups once excluded. Hence, legal education is ripe for improving diversity and reaping the benefits that could flow from the richness of that diversity--benefits nurtured through the broadening of perspectives to eliminate societal ills of racism and classism.

These benefits of diversity in legal education in eradicating racism and classism will not naturally occur. Productive change will require personal and pedagogical self-awareness and effort by the faculty and administration at legal institutions. While the current legal education enrollment crisis may lead to more diverse student faces and bodies enrolled, such does not automatically mean more equality in legal education or in society broadly. Just because a school has more diverse faces and bodies does not mean the faculty and administration will necessarily welcome that diversity. Nor does it mean that diverse perspectives will flow freely to tackle racism and classism, open minds, and address America's lingering isms.

Hence, the effort to address, rectify, or, I prefer the phrase, "finesse race and class," issues must be deliberate. I intentionally use the phrase "finesse race and class" in this clarion call to faculty and administrators to personally explore their own limited perspectives and foster the elimination of racism and classism through their pedagogies and their institutions. To finesse race and class means for us to see the commonalities and differences in how poor whites and poor/non-poor nonwhites experience racism and classism.

Finessing race and class will also require that we acknowledge our own related experiences and any biased or prejudiced perspectives that have developed in us over our lifetimes. This finessing of race and class calls for a graceful growing in our pained awareness of how racism and classism fuel each other in our own personal lives, in our pedagogies, and in our institutions. Otherwise, rather than gracefully finessing race and class, we will clumsily just add a few more diverse faces and bodies for tuition dollars, while still maintaining rooted systems of racism and classism in ourselves and in our institutions. Ultimately, I think finessing race and class means that we must advance full equality and finish the movement Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started and endeavored to finish, even on the day of his assassination as he planned for the Memphis, Tennessee, sanitation workers' strike to unite the interests of economically disempowered and racially disempowered Americans. As professors and administrators in the legal academy, we lay hold to the claim that we are critical thinkers and can train and situate others to be astute problem solvers in America's legal justice system. Thus, finessing of race and class is a huge responsibility for legal academics and administrators. This is a responsibility that I fear we may not yet be up to accomplishing. We have not been successful in that regard with a major problem--the continuing injustice rooted in racism and classism, even within our institutions. While we are charged with helping to solve problems even in these difficult areas of race and class, I doubt if we are presently personally up to the task.

I think our present personal limitations in our understandings of those who differ from us hinder our effectiveness, or even our desire, to pursue goals of equality. Consider the following questions: How can a white, male professor play a justice-instigating role unless he understands, and is willing to cede, his own unearned and unmerited white and male privilege? How can a white, female professor address widespread supremacy unless she also realizes, on a deep level, that her experience of femaleness in America is not the only experience of femaleness? And how can a black professor, like myself, help her students finesse race and class? My understanding of class has been moderated to address what seemed to be the more pressing realities of racism and sexism, and their intersection. Our personal stories, when we admit to them, reveal their complexities and the engrained hindrances that we are up against, as we wage the battle against racial and class oppression in our legal institutions and in America.

Thus, in this essay, while reflecting on my personal quandary with race and class, I draw from pedagogical lessons I have both learned and taught while incorporating associations from race and class. I cannot call for self-examination by other academics without engaging with the task myself. Therefore, in this essay, I share some of my own experiences and the lessons I have learned in my personal life and in my pedagogical experiences. My ultimate aim--connecting inequality themes--is not a new movement, just an unfinished one. This movement was started by Dr. King and others when I was still a young girl in Mississippi.

This essay focuses on race and class and is a clarion call for legal academics and administrators to address ongoing structural racism and classism in our institutions, by starting with our own selves. As a legal educator, my goal is to participate in finishing the movement of uniting race and class inequalities in the pursuit of justice. I am taking a tiny step, but a step nonetheless, by examining my own personal and pedagogical quandary in this pursuit.

I take this step with this essay, which will be divided into three parts. Part one will examine the nature of Dr. King's unfinished movement of finessing race and class and will consider the modern impact of finishing it. While the focus is on the movement Dr. King spearheaded, the political is also personal. I do not explore Dr. King's movement in a solely depersonalized way. I explore it for the subjective effect it had on a girl from Mississippi who is now a black woman law professor seeking to have both personal growth in her understanding of class and to make real change in her legal institution in urging a confrontation against racism and classism, with this confrontation beginning in the personal and in the pedagogical.

As stated above, as I believe this impact must be generated by personal inspection by those who lead academia and shape future generations of lawyers, it is only right that I engage in further personal and pedagogical inspection myself. Part two will further examine my own personal quandary regarding race and class and what I have learned from my students about race and class in America. My own learning has been spearheaded through examination of my upbringing, exchanges with my students in courses, oddly for me a film, and a case. Each of these and their impact will be examined in turn.

Finally, part three will bring the essay back full circle to the role of legal academia and Dr. King's unfinished movement as to race and class. Here, in this essay and as a legal educator, I endeavor to participate in finishing the movement of uniting race and class inequalities in the pursuit of justice.

My hope is that my own personal and pedagogical examination will incite other legal academics and administrators to do the same. We can, as legal academics and administrators, further the completion of Dr. King's movement for racial and class justice. But we must make the finessing of racial and class justice personal and honestly examine how our personal experiences affect our own pedagogy and the future of our law schools and America.

 

Professor of Law, Mississippi College School of Law

 


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