When Black people refuse to quietly endure intolerance, amazing things can happen – San Francisco Chronicle

Posted: March 27, 2022 at 9:34 pm

A few times during his hourlong speaking engagement at UC Hastings School of Law on March 1, students briefly stopped shouting down Ilya Shapiro and goaded him to speak. Each time, the prominent constitutional law scholar and mouthpiece for the libertarian think tank Cato Institute managed only a few words before students banged on tables and chanted Black lawyers matter to drown him out again, according to a video recording shared by the law schools Black Law Students Association.

Shapiro was on the San Francisco campus that day to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy as part of an event organized by the schools Federalist Society, a conservative libertarian group. But Shapiro had shared his thoughts on the matter more than a month earlier. In a since-deleted series of tweets, he said President Bidens pledge to nominate a Black woman would result in a lesser black woman serving on the nations highest court.

Shapiros casually racist tweet quickly got him suspended from a new administrator job at Georgetown University Law Center, but didnt scotch his appearance at UC Hastings, which triggered the student protest.

On March 2, UC Hastings Chancellor David Faigman and his fellow deans sent a letter to students scolding them silencing a speaker is fundamentally contrary to the values of this school, the letter reads and hinting at possible disciplinary action. The letter also argues that legal professionals must be able to engage with the full range of ideas, legal arguments, or policies that exist in the world as they find it.

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UC Hastings spokesperson Elizabeth Moore told me the school would not provide further comment.

The way the schools leadership chided students made me think about how Black people are expected to be docile in the face of insensitivity. In this vein, Shapiro is a lot like the Republican mob attacking federal appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearings. Both use the topics du jour of white nationalism Shapiro implying that Black folks are intellectually inferior; Republicans grasping at culture war talking points that have nothing to do with Jacksons record.

Not challenging rhetoric that is ignorant or actively intolerant only serves to legitimize inequality. The responses from UC Hastings students and Judge Jackson reveal the necessity of speaking up.

A few weeks after the Shapiro event, the Black Law Students Association, with support from allies and some of the schools faculty, sent UC Hastings leadership a letter and list of demands regarding how the school can address its racial equity issues.

Included in it was data from a 2021 UC Hastings Campus Climate Advisory Committee assessment, which was shared with The Chronicle and found that 40% of respondents of color, including multiracial people, experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct at the school within the previous two years. Only 8% of white respondents reported the same experiences.

Among the students demands was for the school to ensure that no disciplinary actions will be taken against students who exercised their free speech rights during the Shapiro protest.

Dominique Armstrong, a co-president of the Black Law Students Association, told me that as much as the protest was about Shapiro, it was also about Black students not feeling welcome on campus.

One of the schools big things is telling us to be advocates, Armstrong said. But if you cant advocate for yourself, how can you advocate for your clients?

Shapiro described the protesters as an unruly woke mob taking part in a national cancellation campaign. But what I saw were passionate students taking a stand for change they felt is long overdue. I saw the faces of individuals who could one day follow Judge Jacksons path, on which theyre forced to both confront Americas shortcomings and help the country overcome them.

Thats grueling, thankless work, as Armstrong already knows. Its exhausting for Black students like myself to constantly have to explain how something is racist.

Which is why, for me, it has been equally spectacular to watch Jackson push back against often-hysterical Republicans during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Republican senators have floated absurd QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories in their desperate attempts to make Jackson seem like a judge who is sympathetic to people convicted of possessing images of child sexual abuse and who uses critical race theory to shape her decision-making.

Jackson has been calm and measured in her responses, often pointing out that her record is a balanced one that cant be seen as supporting one viewpoint or another.

Underneath the GOP theatrics is their palpable fear of Black people like Jackson attaining positions of power.

Jacksons loudest moment, in my mind, came toward the end of Wednesdays marathon session when Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., asked her to address young people who may want to follow her path. Jackson capped off an emotional reply with this line: I would tell them to persevere.

In other words, silence simply isnt an option.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Justin Phillips appears Sundays. Email: jphillips@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JustMrPhillips

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When Black people refuse to quietly endure intolerance, amazing things can happen - San Francisco Chronicle

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