One-time Harvard Law School Professor Derrick Bell has taken a beating in the conservative media this week. Bell taught at Harvard at the time Barack Obama was enrolled there as a student. Breitbart.com showed a two-decades-old video of Bell hugging Obama during a protest in favor of faculty diversity.
That embrace and its backdrop, claim detractors in Breitbart World, signaled a lot of things about our current president. Like his agenda to sow “racial division and class warfare” — according to conservative media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart in a February address. (Breitbart died not long thereafter.)
On Wednesday night’s edition of “Hannity,” Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak said this about Bell’s views:
He writes a futuristic science fiction story about race, but it’s really telling the story of the civil rights struggle. He thinks that basically white people sold blacks out and then Jews, who pretended to be helpful to black people during the civil rights struggle, backed away when they saw it was no longer in their self-interest. That’s what he believes about the civil rights struggle. And he believed it when he was teaching at Harvard Law School and Obama embraced him. And he believed it several years afterwards. And he had fights, by the way, with other black faculty members at Harvard who said that some of Bell’s views were so extreme that they were very problematic. So, this is not about racial diversity, it’s not about gender diversity. Derrick Bell was the Jeremiah Wright of academia and Barack Obama embraced him and endorsed his views.
Too bad Bell himself cannot speak up on these matters. He died last fall of cancer at the age of 80.
So who can speak on his behalf? His widow, 65-year-old Janet D. Bell. Reached at her New York home this afternoon, Janet Bell was fully informed of the Breitbartian publicity. “I think there is no there there,” she said. “And I think that it’s pathetic and desperate on their part that they would think that this was such a bombshell. It’s typical in one sense: It’s the radical right wing making a mountain out of a molehill with distortion and misinformation.”
She watched the Breitbart editors promoting their “scoop” on Fox News’s “Hannity.” “I saw Sean Hannity — he had to twist himself up in so many pretzels to try to justify the dramatic nature of this footage.”
Yeah, but the late professor and Obama were buds, right? “They had very little contact” after Obama left Harvard Law School. “He never had contact with the president as president” — at least as far as Janet Bell can recall.
Janet Bell says that her husband watched the 2008 PBS documentary that features the campus embrace between two black men. He enjoyed seeing the moment, says Janet Bell. “He smiled and went about his business.”
She continued: ”Derrick thought he was qualified to be president. He didn’t reach out to him. . . . He didn’t want to become any distraction. ”
The debate has also touched on Derrick Bell’s role in developing a body of thought known as “critical race theory.” On Fox News, commentator Michelle Malkin said the theory “blamed white people for everyone’s guilt” and is “poisonously anti-Semitic [and] has never been scrutinized by reporters.” Janet Bell has a less confrontational interpretation of critical race theory: “Now I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding of critical race theory is that it was a way to put structural racism in context and try to think of how to dismantle it,” she says.
Enough of the academic stuff. What really matters is whether these two men executed another hug. Could there be footage of them engaging in another display of affection? Another embrace that showcases their mutual belief in radicalism? “I have not heard of another hug,” says Janet Bell.