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Commentary: Steeped in Stupid

By Bernestine Singley, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

In 1971 I was a black student at a white law school in the deep South, part of that first wave of integration determined to change America.

Many things did change including law, law students, and lawyers.

But recently reading about white University of Texas law students who threw what they called a "Ghetto Fabulous Party," reminded me again things have not changed enough.

Only two months into their first year, perhaps so stressed by the rigors of their studies, these aspiring UT lawyers went looking for a way to chill.

What they came up with was a party mocking black and brown urban poor - complete with Afro wigs, cans of malt liquor, fake guns, "ethnic" names, and metal-capped teeth.

UT's best and brightest young white adults used racist images and behavior to give themselves a break.

When photos of the event showed up on the Internet, and this private party for white folks suddenly became very public, some black and brown law students weren't so happy.

Predictably, the white students clammed up and law school administrators fell back on, "Oh, those kids! They didn't mean it."

Let's see. When defendants are on trial for causing harm, the legal standard is simple: Did they know, or should they have known, what they were doing would cause the harm in question?

By analogy, did these white, party-going lawyers-in-training know their cavorting was stunningly racist and profoundly offensive? Should they have?

I am a retired member of the Massachusetts and Texas bars. During my decade plus of law practice, I was an Assistant Attorney General in Boston and Dallas. I have a law degree from the University of Florida and a graduate law degree from Harvard Law School. I was also born and raised in an urban ghetto.

I know the law and I know how white supremacy works in the ghettoes of cities and of elite law schools.

Based on that, I believe the law students should have known - and they did.

Law Dean Larry Sager has repeatedly referred to his law students as "these kids."

Excuse me?

These grownup college graduates are not children. As the cream of Texas' intellectual crop, they are also not supposed to be stupid.

So, how do they get to be, as Sager described them, "innocent of racial motivation," merely "guilty of thoughtlessness"?

If these presumably sharp minds didn't know their motivations were questionable and their behavior offensive, what does that mean about how well they have been educated?

Who so abysmally failed to teach these future leaders of our state and nation how to live, work, and love in a world where most people do not look, think, talk, or act like them?

Who raised this next generation of lawyers already so steeped in racial oblivion that they still see no offense?

Parents? Grandparents? Other relatives? Teachers? Religious leaders? Friends and colleagues?

And what about law school administrators and fellow students who create and sustain the environment that invites this kind of behavior? Do they know what they're doing? Shouldn't they?

Those UT law students know exactly what they did. So do law school administrators. Their denials are contemptible and cowardly.

There is a saying in the law: Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.

I rest my case.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us