One concept that Kendi brings into frustrating light in Stamped from the Beginning is the “ingenious cruelty” with which our systems of oppression continue to thrive: the back door by which, so long as one articulates a reason other than racism for racist policies, the policies will be upheld. This is a theme throughout the book (looking at you, Nixon and Reagan), but in Part V, Kendi mentions a case that illustrates how this policy often flies under the radar in ways that are perhaps more dangerous than flagrantly racist flag-waving. In the 1971 case Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (mentioned in Kendi’s book on page 416), the Supreme Court ruled that Duke Power’s discriminatory policy requiring IQ tests and high school diplomas for the best paying jobs was unlawful. However, the policy was not unlawful principally because it was racist; it was unlawful because high school diplomas and IQ tests “had no bearing on job performance.” The Civil Rights Act, as we know, is supposed to combat not only overtly racist policies, but also the more sneakily racist policies that appear to be neutral but still result in discrimination. However, the downfall of Duke Power, despite the fact that they enacted their policy on the day the Civil Rights Act took effect, was not that the policy was racist, but that Duke Power had failed to articulate a “business necessity” for the policy. This ruling came down in the early 1970s; it appears in Kendi’s book in the context of the Black Power movement, and Kendi points out that Griggs mostly flew under the radar of Black Power activists. And the punchline of Griggs is, in some ways, the “right” outcome. But it also also serves as just one example of cases that we read in law school that are considered “good law,” that we are not really encouraged to question. We read these cases, we take notes on them, we get tested on them, and we move on. But cases like this, in the context of classes like Constitutional Law or Employment Discrimination, necessitate further discussion if we, as an institution, are going to call ourselves antiracist.
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