Last week, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien got into a heated debate with Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak over his story tying then-law student Barack Obama to radical professor Derrick Bell. O’Brien insisted that neither Bell nor his critical race theory was radical, and then hosted an Emory Law professor on Monday to debunk Pollak’s story.
“No, it’s nothing about white supremacy,” Professor Dorothy Brown asserted of CRT, refuting Pollak’s charges that critical race theory was “all about” it. However, as Rightsphere noted, she now must defend her previous explanation of critical race theory which clearly includes an interpretation of white supremacy in law.
Brown unloaded on Pollak’s story, calling it a “smear tactic” and adding that he “wasn’t going to be persuaded by the facts. He was going to make his own facts up.”
O’Brien told off her critics at the end of the segment. “See? That was our critical race theory 101. Stop tweeting me. We have moved on, people,” Soledad insisted condescendingly.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on March 12 on Starting Point at 8:32 a.m. EST, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Alright, so it started there and it kind of went downhill from there. Let’s bring in Dorothy Brown. She’s a professor of law at Emory University and she teaches critical race theory. She literally wrote the book by that same name. Derrick Bell wrote the preface to the second edition of that book. It’s nice to see you. I’m going to have you just walk us through the whole conversation. So first of all, give us a 101, in terms that we can understand. What exactly is critical race theory?
DOROTHY BROWN, Professor of Law, Emory University: Critical race theory seeks to explain judicial decisions by asking the question what does race have to do with it? It’s that simple, that straightforward. There’s no hidden conspiracy theory behind it. It looks at race in America. And we know through our history that race has had a lot to do with judicial decisions and statutes.
O’BRIEN: Okay, so then when we had that conversation, which you were just listening to – and it went on and on and on for like, at least 10 minutes – one of the things you heard Mr. Pollak say, he said it’s – critical race theory is all about white supremacy. That’s the chunk that we just played. So you’re a professor, you teach this theory. You’ve written a book about it. Is it all about white supremacy?
BROWN: No, it’s nothing about white supremacy. When I hear white supremacy I think of the Ku Klux Klan. Critical race theory is the opposite of that. So honestly, I have no idea what he was talking about.
O’BRIEN: So when you look at the Wikipedia entries – and did you know after – from the time we’ve done that back and forth to, to I guess today, the Wikipedia entry has been changed 82 times.
O’BRIEN: (Unintelligible) – which, by the way, I haven’t touched the Wikipedia entry. And I have other stuff to do. Are you surprised that there is this parsing of the Wikipedia? Is it a theory that is so nuanced that there are various interpretations of it?
BROWN: I would say there are various interpretations to this extent. There are lots of critical race theorists that are at different ends of the critical race theory spectrum. So if you got five of us in a room, we might get into a fight about what critical race theory was, but no one would say it’s about white supremacy. We agree on that.
O’BRIEN: Alright, so Mr. Pollak also said that the theory holds that, quote, “the civil rights movement was a sham,” and in one of the conversations we had we talked about how Derrick Bell was criticized by some black leaders and he also was critical of them. Would he also have said that the civil rights movement was a sham or that Brown vs. Board of Ed was a sham?
BROWN: He wouldn’t say it was a sham. But he has been very critical of civil rights cases like Brown vs. Board of Education. And his argument – Professor Bell’s argument – was the solution did not get the children what the children needed. So perhaps the lawyers in the cases didn’t spend enough time talking to the parents. So Professor Bell’s argument is, you know, maybe if we had gotten fully funded separate but equal, that might have been a better alternative to what we have today.
O’BRIEN: Okay, when you look at Breitbart.com, this is one other thing that’s written. “We can see the clear footprint of CRT” – critical race theory – “all over the Obama administration.” Because, of course, this theory was really a conversation that – they were trying to connect it to President Obama’s embrace of Derrick Bell, who, of course, was one of the founders of this theory. It goes on to say “President Obama obviously believes the system is unjust, upholding racism and requiring ‘community organizing’ to change it in earth-shaking ways.” Do you, in fact, see a footprint of CRT all over the Obama administration, which we’re several years in now?
BROWN: No. I see no footprints. I see no vapors. I see none of critical race theory in President Obama, either his writings or what he’s actually done in office. I’m dumbstruck by that statement.
O’BRIEN: So what do you think’s going on here? Because the conversation – and I know you’ve read the transcript of our back-and-forth. I think we have also have it online so anyone who’s missed it can go back on. What is going on, do you believe? Because it got very heated.
BROWN: Yes, I believe what’s going on is the person that was on your show wasn’t going to be persuaded by the facts. He was going to make his own facts up. So when he makes statements like that, there’s no evidence in support of it. He talks about, if I recall, the attorney general’s office doing something but it wasn’t anything specific. So I look at this as a smear tactic.
O’BRIEN: Derrick Bell died last year. I think he was in his 80s, early 80s, I believe. What do you think – I mean you know, I never knew the guy. I just read his book, I thought it was pretty – “Ethical Ambition.” I thought that was a pretty good book. What did you – what do you think he would think of all this? Do you think he would be turning over in his grave right now or do you think he’d not care?
BROWN: I think Derrick would be laughing right now for a number of reasons, one of which is this is just silly. The second of which is, wow, he’d say, critical race theory has gone mainstream. They’re talking about us. For all of his life people didn’t talk about critical race theory. God rest his soul. He’s passed on. We’re now talking about critical race theory and Derrick Bell being the founder of critical race theory.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, well he’s not on the receiving end of the crazy tweets that I’ve been getting about critical race theory as well.
BROWN: I’m sure not.
O’BRIEN: Thank you for joining us this morning. We certainly appreciate it.
BROWN: Thank you for having me.
O’BRIEN: See? That was our critical race theory 101. Stop tweeting me. We have moved on, people.