Showing posts with label race. Show all posts
Showing posts with label race. Show all posts

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Disputed allegations in malicious prosecution suits against Apple raise data protection issues

Apple Store Osaka (Sébastien Bertrand CC BY 2.0)
A case of identity theft, now the subject of lawsuits against Apple and a security contractor, SIS, in three jurisdictions, seems to have raised an alarm about data protection.  But the case might be more complicated, as the defendants have accused the plaintiff of false pleadings.

Plaintiff Ousmane Bah was a 17-year-old Bronx honors student and permanent resident alien applying for citizenship at times relevant to the complaints.  An acquaintance of Bah's acquired Bah's temporary New York driving learner's permit (ID); it is disputed what Bah knew about the acquisition.

The ID did not have a photo, and the biographical data did not match the acquaintance's in all particulars, such as height.  Nevertheless, when the acquaintance was, according to the complaints, apprehended trying to shoplift from Apple stores in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, he was misidentified as Bah.  Bah was criminally charged, subject to arrest warrants, and repeatedly compelled to defend himself.  The case does not directly implicate the known risk of race discrimination in facial recognition algorithms.  But in Bah’s version of events, Apple's use of facial recognition technology to identify the perpetrator in subsequent incidents gave police a false confidence that the suspect was Bah.

Apple and SIS have filed for Rule 11 sanctions in New Jersey and characterize the complaint in that jurisdiction as fiction.  They rely on discovered communication between Bah and the acquaintance to allege that Bah knew well that he was being impersonated, and that misidentification resulted from the acquaintance’s deliberate deception, not from error on the part of Apple or SIS. 

Media have been quick to seize on the allegations in the initial complaint, which does resonate with extant privacy issues in public policy.  If the plaintiff’s allegations are complete and accurate, then the case speaks to Americans’ lack of comprehensive data protection law.  A data protection regulation like Europe’s, generally speaking, would shift the burdens of fair and accurate identification to the defendants, rather than a victim of identity theft, time and again.

Moreover, if the plaintiff’s allegations are complete and accurate, the case has unpleasant overtones in race and socioeconomic equality.  A mismatch of data between the false ID and the acquaintance's appearance prompts concern that “black” was all the retailer needed to see, and one must worry whether persons of limited means can afford to defend themselves against false charges and wrongful arrest, not to mention the collateral effects of publication of misidentification to third parties, such as employers and creditors.

Bah claims defamation and malicious prosecution.  The complaints at least allege evidence in support of actual malice, which Apple and SIS deny.  Malicious prosecution is usually a claim made against public officials in tandem with civil rights violations, but the tort is viable against private parties who initiate criminal proceedings on false pretenses.  Whether the plaintiff’s allegations hold up, I do not know.  The counter-allegations of Apple and SIS in seeking sanctions in the New Jersey case are biting.

The cases are:

  • Bah v. Apple Inc., No. 1:19-cv-03539-PKC (S.D.N.Y. filed Apr. 22, 2019) (Court Listener);
  • Bah v. Apple Inc., No. 2:20-cv-15018-MCA-MAH (D.N.J. filed Oct. 27, 2020) (Court Listener); and
  • Bah v. Apple Inc., No. 1:21-cv-10897-RGS (D. Mass. filed May 28, 2021) (Court Listener).
Bah is represented in the New York case by UMass Law alumnus Subhan Tariq, '13.  My thanks to Steven Zoni, '13, for bringing this case to my attention.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Collateral to drug-testing race discrimination suit, Boston wins chance to demand indemnity by lab

National Archives
Is hair-follicle drug testing racially discriminatory?

That was not the question before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Friday, but the Court's decision ancillary to that disparate-impact civil rights question is instructive on indemnity.

The civil rights claim in this case was filed in 2005 and still is in litigation in federal court.  Plaintiffs in that suit are eight police officers, a police cadet, and an applicant for a 911-operator job who suffered adverse action after testing positive in hair-follicle drug tests administered by the City of Boston.  Seven of the officers were fired for cocaine-positive results.

The plaintiffs, all African American, deny drug use.  They assert that the test is inaccurate and "disproportionately yielded false positives for people of color, resulting in disparate impact by race," the SJC wrote Friday.  "During the eight years for which the plaintiffs present data, black officers and cadets tested positive for cocaine approximately 1.3% of the time, while white officers and cadets tested positive just under 0.3% of the time," the First Circuit wrote in 2014.

The city won summary judgment twice in the trial court, yet the First Circuit twice found error, in 2014 and in 2016, and remanded for further proceedings.  The case, Jones v. City of Boston, remains in the district court, though the docket shows no activity on the merits since the latter remand, suggesting a resolution might have been reached.

The instant case is a dispute in state court between the city and the test provider, Psychemedics Corp.  In the city's contract with Psychemedics, the company promised "to 'assume the defense of' the city, and to 'hold [it] harmless' from all suits and claims arising from 'wrongful or negligent' acts by Psychemedics."  After suit was filed against the city, it went to Psychemedics to talk defense.  It's not clear that the two ever got on the same page.  Psychemedics seemed to regard the suit as outside the scope of the indemnity and regarded its obligations fulfilled by offering the city technical assistance on the science.

Then, as the SJC recounted flatly, "Ten years passed."  In 2017, the city started looking around for help with its long mounting legal expenses and set its sights on Psychemedics.  "What?!" Psychemedics said.  I paraphrase.  Psychemedics sued for declaratory relief, and the city counterclaimed for breach of contract and related theories.

The case boils down to an indemnitee's duty to notify an indemnitor of the need to defend.  An indemnitee, the Court held, "must give the indemnitor 'notice and an opportunity to defend.'  The indemnitee then must allow the indemnitor to take over the defense (if it attempts to do so), and must not later block the indemnitor from doing so."  Parties are free to contract specifics, but in the absence of other specification, "'no particular form of words is necessary' to present notice and the opportunity to assume the defense."  (Citations omitted throughout.)

Justice Lenk
The SJC vacated the trial court summary judgment for Psychemedics and remanded.  The trial judge had improperly decided questions of fact, inadvertently burdening the city with having to refute the company's assertions of fact.  The SJC rejected as unproved, as yet, a number of Psychemedics theories, such as that the city had declined the company's defense or had not litigated Jones in good faith as to protect Psychemedics from liability.

To my novice reading—I am no expert on insurance or indemnity—the city fairly invoked the company's duty to defend many times, and Psychemedics tried to weasel out.  Anyway, the SJC concluded that that was how the trial court should have looked at the case on summary judgment motion, because that was the position of the city, which was the non-moving party.

The case is Psychemedics Corp. v. City of Boston, No. SJC-12903 (Mass. Jan. 29, 2021).  Justice Barbara A. Lenk, since retired, authored the opinion of the unanimous Court.

Monday, February 1, 2021

See America in black and white

13th Amendment
With the imprimatur of federal law, today is National Freedom Day, celebrating the day that President Abraham Lincoln signed the joint congressional resolution proposing the 13th Amendment in 1865.  Congress passed the proposal the preceding day, and it was ratified on December 6, 1865.  Today also is the first day of African-American History Month.

With my comparative law class recently, I had the occasion to visit a classic treatment of race in Star Trek's original series.  We were studying "the perspective problem" in comparative research, which refers to the way a legal system (any social system) can look one way when studied by someone within it, and a different way when studied by an outside observer.

There's a scene in the 1969 episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (s3e15) that's been talked about for half a century even by social commentators outside science fiction and entertainment communities.  The theme of the episode is almost cliché insofar as it typifies the tendency of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and 1960s showrunner Gene L. Coon to employ heavy-handed metaphor to effect social comment.  Still, the story is effective.

Gorshin with Lou Rawls in 1977
(Orange County Archives CC BY 2.0)
What cliché might have diminished was restored and then some by ferocious performances in Frank Gorshin (Bele) and Lou Antonio (Lokai).  Gorshin, who continued acting right up until his death in 2005, was already a well known villain to TV audiences in the 1960s, as Adam West Batman's Riddler.  Antonio had recently played chain-gang prisoner Koko in Cool Hand Luke (1967).  He followed up Star Trek with a four-decades-long career in TV directing that ranged from The Partridge Family and Rockford Files to legal classics Picket Fences, Boston Legal, and The Guardian, not to mention one West Wing.

The first scene below sets the stage; you only need about the first two minutes.  I'm sorry that CBS has labeled it inappropriate for children, so you have to open a new window to watch it.  I rather disagree; I recommend the clip especially for children, especially now, part of an essential diet of dialog about race and America.

The second scene below delivers the pièce de résistance.  I won't spoil it, in case it's new to you.

For social context, this Star Trek episode aired in January 1969.  Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated only nine months earlier.  While this episode aired, student protestors were occupying buildings at Brandeis University; they renamed them "Malcolm X University" and demanded the creation of an African-American studies departmentStonewall, the moon landing, and Woodstock followed in the celebrated summer of '69.


Happy National Freedom Day.

Monday, January 25, 2021

'For the first time, we're seen as we should be seen,' Martin Luther King Jr. told Star Trek's 'Uhura'

Prepping the spring semester when classes start the day after an involuntary furlough is prone to put a particular professor perpetually a week behind.  So forgive me for belatedly marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which fell this year on Monday, January 18. Or we can say this is a more timely commemoration of yesterday's World Day for African and Afrodescendant Culture.

Of all the things one could relate about the legendary Dr. King, Nichelle Nichols (IMDb, PBS), Star Trek's original Lt. Uhura, has the very best story.

That's from the 2011 documentary, Trek Nation (IMDb, Amazon).  She told the story also to the Television Academy Foundation in 2019.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

First Amendment jedi 'Luke Skyywalker' turns 60, recounts storied battles for equality, liberty

My daughter co-directed this promotional video, published yesterday, for the multi-talented Jerrika Karlae.

I like hip-hop and rap, but not as much as I used to.  My taste in music, I admit, has been softened in middle age by nostalgia and an inexplicable draw to indie pop, AJR being my current fave (see "Bang!" on Today in August, on Ellen in October, and at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in November).  But I like to think that I still can appreciate a broad range of music, and for various reasons.  I like Karlae because she's a woman innovating in a genre that has been dominated by male artists (she's not just Young Thug's fiancée), and she represents the multiracial Atlanta arts scene on the contemporary cutting edge. (HT@themorgansteele, without whose aid I would not know Karlae.)

I was a 2 Live Crew fan in secondary school and university, and it wasn't all about the music then, either.  The group's breakthrough album As Nasty as They Wanna Be and its curious companion album, As Clean As They Wanna Be, both came out in 1989, in my last semester of high school.  There was a lot to like about 2 Live Crew.  I liked the music, which had the imprimatur of my best friend, a musician with discernment decidedly superior to mine.  But 2 Live Crew's dispositive selling point for me was a tendency to precipitate First Amendment litigation.

A student journalist in the wake of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (U.S. 1988), I was learning a lot about the First Amendment, sometimes in the classroom and sometimes in the vice principal's office.  Meanwhile, in 1989, 2 Live Crew, through its Skyywalker Records, sued the sheriff of Broward County, Florida, for declaratory relief from obscenity prosecutions over As Nasty As They Wanna Be.  And in 1990, Roy Orbison's record company sued 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell, a.k.a. "Luke Skyywalker," for copyright infringement in As Clean As They Wanna Be's "Pretty Woman," a parody of Orbison's 1964 classic.  2 Live Crew prevailed on appeal in both cases, the former in the Eleventh Circuit and the latter in the U.S. Supreme Court. Reluctantly, Campbell did back down on the use of "Skyywalker" when the DJ stage name ruffled Lucasfilm feathers in trademark.

Lately, I've eagerly read more about 2 Live Crew and Luther Campbell in the latter's 2015 memoir, The Book of Luke.  The book is full of intriguing revelations from behind the scenes about the band and the author.

Campbell's recounting of his Miami youth is thought provoking on the subjects of desegregation and diversity.  Characterizing busing's mixed legacy, Campbell describes a black neighborhood, Liberty City, devastated by the dispersal of its youth, and, at the same time, a broadened cultural competence derived from school and sports with some of the first non-black people Campbell knew.  He writes:

Being on Miami Beach, even though the school was using us and just passing us along, I still got an education in how the world works outside the ghetto.  Most of the guys from my experience, the guys who never left Liberty City, they didn't learn the same things I did. ... They didn't see how to transform themselves into something more than that. ... 

Going to Beach High also made me realize that all white people aren't bad.  The system is bad, the game is rigged, but not all people are bad.  By going there and playing with white friends, Jewish friends, Cuban friends, it just broadened my horizons.  There are good people and bad people in every walk of life.  There are racist white people and prejudiced black people, and every individual is his own person.

He drills down further into the rigged game to describe the socioeconomic conditions that undermined the civil rights movement in the long term.  In plain language, Campbell explains:

Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers, their whole message was about economic self-sufficiency, about how blacks needed to own and patronize our own businesses, to lift up and take care of ourselves.  And I believe that.  The problem was that the government had denied us our property rights for so long that we didn't have much to work with.  The small value of what we did own, our business district, they destroyed when they put that expressway through.  Most blacks didn't own any assets or property to borrow against.  Banks discriminated, so we didn't have access to business loans or financial capital that you need to run a business.

Campbell capably carries through with this theme of systemic racism to illustrate its impact on the music industry.  Nicknamed "Luke Skyywalker" for his Jedi-like mastery of the DJ table, Campbell and 2 Live Crew, each, were already successful acts when Campbell joined the band and brought it within the sphere of Miami's unique cultural mélange.  Rather than navigating the infamously insular and monopolistic world of white-owned record labels, Campbell created Skyywalker Records to be the band's own publisher.  He recounts a climate in the media business even more hostile than one might expect to the evolution of music by black artists:

The white executives didn't get us, or just didn't want us. But it was really the black executives, the ones who'd been brought up to run the R&B imprints, who tried to kill hip-hop at the start.  To them, rap was too black, too ghetto.  It reminded them of life in the streets, the world they'd spent their whole lives running away from.  They were caught up playing that respectability politics game for those white-owned companies.  They wanted to make R&B into upscale, sophisticated music, show how far blacks had come, show how we were becoming high class.  It was the same in the black media.  Black radio stations didn't call themselves black anymore.  They were "Urban Contemporary."  They barely gave rap any airplay at all, or if they did it was only in special shows on the weekends.  Ebony didn't put a hip-hop artist on its cover until 1991, twelve years after "Rapper's Delight" sold eight million copies.  The white folks over at Rolling Stone had Run-D.M.C. on their cover in 1986, five years ahead of Ebony.

Luther Campbell, 2017
(photo by David Cabrera CC BY-SA 4.0)
Contrary to rap's stereotype, new music was not about new lows in "nasty" for Campbell.  The dichotomous debut of As Nasty and As Clean in 1989 was in fact a label equivalent of how Campbell always had run his DJ business.  At least according to his own retelling in the book, Campbell worked hard to put on all-ages shows with security employed to keep out alcohol, drugs, and violence, and then to put on adult-restricted shows later at night.  The band proactively labeled its music for indecent lyrics, and Campbell personally communicated to distributors and retailers the admonition that under-age consumers should be permitted to buy only clean content.

Predictably, the dirty content received more media attention and generated more commercial success than the clean; certainly eighteen-year-old me was more interested in the former.  Yet in the harsh reaction of public officials to indecency, and in media ignorance of the band's efforts at social responsibility, Campbell saw more than mere market forces at work.  In 1988, Alabama record store owner Tommy Hammond was arrested on obscenity charges for selling the 2 Live Crew album Move Somethin' from behind the counter to an undercover police officer.  Campbell dates "[t]he legal war against hip-hop" to that arrest and explains further:

The cops, apparently, had been getting complaints from Christian fundamentalist groups about the sale of offensive and vulgar material, and the Alexander City sheriff Ben Royal was, I suppose, a real God-fearing, Bible-thumping, easily offended type of guy.

At first I wasn't even mad.  I was genuinely confused.  Dolemite and Skillet & Leroy and all these comedy records we were sampling, those had been around for years.  They were filthy as hell, real nasty, and nobody had ever tried to censor them.  Andrew Dice Clay was doing his stand-up act and putting out his albums at the same time we were, and his routines were just as raunchy as what we were doing.  Nobody was getting arrested for selling his albums.  What was going on?  My father and my uncle Ricky taught me a lot about racism and how it works, but I was about to learn a lot more. ...

Dice is white, you see, so he could say whatever he wanted.  Parents might protest him, and they did, but he was a white man making a lot of money for a white-owned corporation; nobody was going to take away his right to free speech.  All those old chitlin circuit albums we sampled, they were dirty, but white people never listened to them.  They didn't cross the color line, so nobody really cared. ... Nobody cared if we were corrupting young black minds with our evil jungle music. ... But Tommy Hammond's record store was the record store serving the white side of town.  2 Live Crew had done the one thing you're never supposed to do.  We were black men coming across the color line talking about sex.  We were black men in the company of whites, and we'd forgotten to lower our heads and shuffle away.

Campbell in the book goes on to trace his 2 Live Crew and Luke Records career through gang violence bleeding into the concert arena, stand-offs with law enforcement and protestors, and famous and less famous lawsuits.  He reflects ultimately on contented family life and the privilege of giving back to Liberty City.  I won't spoil all the fun; the ride is worth the cover price.

For my part, it's gratifying to better know the real Luke Skyywalker, both the Jedi knight who inspired me when I was a kid, and the Luther Campbell he became.  His tastes have changed, too: as he puts it in the book, a little less groupies and Hennessy, a little more football practice, fretting over SATs, and "raising hell about housing and education."  Every individual might be his own person, but there sure seem to be some universal truths to getting older.

Luther Campbell turns 60 today, December 22, 2020.  The book is Luther Campbell, The Book of Luke: My Fight for Truth, Justice, and Liberty City (Amistad 2015).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

'Miss Juneteenth' speaks both to problems of our times and to timeless problems

Thanks to the Duke (University) Screen/Society, yesterday, I virtually attended a screening and discussion of the 2020 film from Vertical Entertainment, Miss Juneteenth.  It is an insightful and gratifying film, so I want to make this note of it.  In our covid era, it's easy to miss new releases.

Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, Miss Juneteenth is the story of Fort Worth, Texas, teen Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) and her mom, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), as Kai prepares to participate in the Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant, a pageant that her mother happens to have won, back in the day.

Yet that description unfairly oversimplifies the film, as would any description that confined the story by race or class.  The film richly portrays Turquoise and Kai's lives.  It explores mother-daughter conflict, romantic entanglements, and socioeconomic struggles. Simultaneously, the film comments softly, not heavy-handedly, on pageant culture, civil rights, the American dream, and, of course, never trumpeted yet omnipresent, the glorious but unfulfilled promise of freedom marked by Juneteenth.

In a striking scene set in a Juneteenth museum, the young contestants are being oriented on Juneteenth history by a passionate docent when the schoolmarmish pageant wrangler directs the kids' attention to framed pictures of past Juneteenth queens.  The docent was speaking to the legacy of slavery, driven out of the American South, while the pageant director educates the girls on such etiquette nuances as table manners imported with the Pilgrims.  The girls' gazes drift to the latter display, which, I contend, speaks subtly but powerfully to how African-American communities have long wrestled with the fine line between cultural subjugation and assimilation that courses through American history from Reconstruction to Civil Rights to present day.  I'm reminded at once of Mike Pence's oddly third-person reference from Fort McHenry in August to "American people ... standing with ... our African-American neighbors" and Dulce Sloan's missive this week on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, "The Messed Up History of Black Hair in America."

A character in the film once comments, "Ain’t no American dream for black folks.”  As we wondered at the latest news of government ineptitude yesterday morning, contemplating how our salaries are going down while our workloads are going up, my wife speculated that the anger and resentment that people both black and white feel toward the lack of opportunity for upward mobility in this country is really much the same.  The difference, she suggested, is that black people have always known that meritocracy is an American myth, while white people are just figuring it out.  (She cited Michael Sandel on WBUR talking about his Tyranny of Merit.)

Miss Juneteenth has given me a lot to chew over.  I haven't even mentioned my own daughter's foray into the pageant world when she was a teen: Miss Rhode Island High School 2016!  In Miss Juneteenth, as Turquoise is working herself to death to scrape together the money to support Kai's pageant bid, Kai's father, Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), shakes his head: "An $800 dress just don’t make no sense to me."

Word for word, I swear, Peoples stole that line from me.

Here is the trailer from Vertical Entertainment.


Happy Constitution Day.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Oberlin case leaves no doubt, 'racist' accusation is capable of defamatory meaning; Koppel reports

An Ohio jury in June awarded $44m to a family-owned bakery that proved defamation by Oberlin College in a case of false accusations of racism by Oberlin students, supported by the college.  Now CBS Sunday Morning has excellent coverage from Ted Koppel.  How ever did Oberlin, a respected four-year institution of higher education committed to the liberal arts, jump on board with racism accusations without first checking the facts?  Unthinkable.


False accusations of racism or misogyny today are no less capable of defamatory meaning than accusations of child molestation or other crimes that shock the conscience.  There can no longer be any serious contention that such charges are immune from defamation liability because they are fair comment or because they do not necessarily expose a victim to hate, contempt, or ridicule in the community.

Forbes reported: "The jury initially assessed $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages against Oberlin, for a total of $44 million, but the judge cut back the amount to $25 million because Ohio law has caps on damages. The judge then tacked on $6.5 million in attorney’s fees bringing the verdict back up to $31 million."

The case is Gibson Bros., Inc. v. Oberlin College, No. 17CV193761 (Ct. Common Pleas Lorain County, Ohio, Sept. 18. 2019).  The Ohio trial court publishes only the docket online.  Oberlin appealed (filed Oct. 8, 2019), and the Gibsons cross-appealed (filed Oct. 18, 2019).  CNN has the initial complaint (filed Nov. 17, 2017).

Monday, April 29, 2019

Poli sci panels span U.S. con law, Tunisian Arab Spring, Japanese ag reg, Chinese investment in Africa

On the final day of the annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association, Saturday, April 27, I was treated to more intriguing papers and especially enriching discussion on constitutional law with co-panelists and discussants in the Public Law Section.  For the time being, I'm skipping presentation of my own work with Polish attorney Gaspar Kot—and my thanks to Kevin McGravey, Merrimack College, for his thought-provoking feedback—and sharing highlights of colleagues' work.

Right to education.  A common theme on our late-morning panel was probing the line between civil rights as passive protections and civil rights as affirmative entitlement.  Michael Paris, College of Staten Island CUNY, is working on a book that will consider the problem of race consciousness/race blindness relative to the right to education.  That's the same lately embattled right that rests at the heart of the federal court claim to civics education pending against the State of Rhode Island; the Government filed its motion to dismiss a scant few weeks ago.  Compare A.C. v. Raimondo, No. 1:18-cv-00645 (D.R.I. complaint filed Nov. 28, 2018) with Sheff v. O'Neill, 678 A.2d 1267 (Conn. 1996) (holding, 4-3, state bound by affirmative duty to provide equal opportunity of access to education for Connecticut schoolchildren).

U.S. Supreme Court in politics.  Kyle Morgan, Rutgers University, has coded, on various bases, no fewer than 11,000 U.S. congressional press releases about U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  He reports that this feat has caused more than one laptop crash.  Morgan is prepared to demonstrate that the way Republicans and Democrats frame disapproval of Supreme Court rulings differs fundamentally.  In short, Republicans bemoan the Court as anti-majoritarian, while Democrats frown on perceived abuses of democratic process.  As a result, the two sides talk about Court rulings without actually talking to each other in comparable language.  Morgan promises that his subsequent work will look at how the two sides might be brought together, that is, whether they can be made to care about the other's perspective.

This 1917 Louisiana poll tax receipt (public domain) well post-dates the 1870
15th Amendment.
'Resistant compliance' under the 14th and 15th Amendments.  My runaway favorite paper of the morning came from Lauren Foley, Western Michigan University, who is studying what she has termed "resistant compliance" with constitutional law.   That's when an actor complies with the law but takes a course of action that undermines its implementation—maybe openly, maybe quietly; maybe intentionally, maybe carelessly.  In this piece of her work, Foley compares white supremacist resistant compliance with the 15th Amendment, specifically the use of devices such as poll taxes and literacy tests to undermine black access to the polls while technically complying with the law, with University of Michigan resistant compliance with the state affirmative-action ban in an effort to prioritize diversity while without focusing on race.

Take a second to think that over.  "There are many reasons not to equate literacy tests with affirmative action," Foley conceded in her paper.  Motive matters, I thought.  But I admit, by the end of it, she had me.  Foley's interest is not in the policy priorities, no matter whether "revered or reviled," she wrote, but in the tools of resistant compliance.  Her comparison in that vein is not only apt, but illuminating.  Foley's work is informed by anonymous sources within Michigan higher ed and casts an unfamiliar light on how admissions officials have used technology to approach the diversity problem.  Those evidentiary revelations alone have the makings of an intriguing book.

Protesters march on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in downtown Tunis, angry
over unemployment, rising prices and corruption, January 14, 2011
(VOA photo by L. Bryant).
Tunisia's Arab Spring.  In the early morning hour, I hit a comparative session on Asia and Africa and learned a great deal from and Ann Waldemar, University of Bridgeport, and Nicole L. Freiner, Bryant University.  Waldemar is investigating the unusual success of the Arab Apring in Tunisia (home of RightsCon 2019), in contrast with its MENA neighbors (at least to date).  (See James M. Dorsey writing on Libya and Egypt just Saturday.)  Especially interesting from a comparative-law perspective, incorporation of Islamic law into the new Tunisian regime has been a piece of the puzzle in public acceptance, Waldemar reports.

Rice law and policy.  Freiner is investigating the surprisingly compelling story of rice in Japan, or, more broadly, the development and regulation of agriculture relative to priorities as far-ranging as GMOs, public health, and foreign development.  She had some fantastically illustrative visual from the rice fields, and her research has been on the ground, talking with farmers.  Her new book from Palgrave is Rice and Agricultural Policies in Japan: The Loss of a Traditional Lifestyle (2019).  (Law school programs on food law and regulation, take note: Freiner would be a great guest to bring in from Ph.D. world, and U.S. food law and policy studies could benefit from an infusion of eastern comparativism.  Freiner is a neighbor of mine from Barrington, R.I., so invite me, too, and I'll drive.)

Chinese legitimacy in Africa.  In the afternoon, Drake Long, Georgetown University, talked about China in Africa.  For his master's work, he's taking a deep dive into China's vigorous strategy for international legitimacy, countering a historic deficit in international communications.

China's Belt and Road Initiative (CC BY-SA 3.0 by Tart)
Perhaps needless to say, this move coincides with a trend of waning U.S. influence, or "crisis of U.S. legitimacy."  East Asia has been circumspect of Chinese influence, Long explains, but Africa has been receptive.  Long has traced the history of Sino-African relations from the 1940s to China's post-Mao economic reconstruction, to Angola oil investment, to Xi Jinping's pledge of tens of billions of dollars to African development amid the Belt and Road Initiative.  Belt and Road will cost $900bn according to China, Long says, or from $1tn to $8tn according to observers.  The ties to Africa meanwhile multiply.  For example, more Anglophone African students now go to China than to the United States or United Kingdom.

Does this mean an inevitable careening arrival at Chinese hegemony?  Well, there is an enduring debate within in China, Long explains, in trying to sell African development as worthwhile relative to unmet social and economic needs at home.  Whereas Americans will sign up for the foreign inculcation of democracy, no exceptionalist ethos so clearly dominates Chinese popular opinion.  Recent maneuvering within Chinese party leadership and propaganda machinery suggest awareness of this domestic ideological deficit and emerging strategies to address it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

W. Kamau Bell solves racism.
Or at least makes some progress....


My wife and I were privileged last night to see W. Kamau Bell speak at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford, the show part of the New Bedford Lyceum.  (Also in the audience: our friends, colleague Professor Justine Dunlap and UMass Law alumni City Councilman Hugh Dunn and attorney and radio host Marcus Ferro.)  Bell is a comedian, but at the same time, most definitely a social activist, performing through multiple media, including television, podcasts, and books.  He is most familiar to me from his Emmy-winning show on CNN, United Shades of America, which returns to the small screen with its season 4 premiere, about megachurches, on April 28 (cordcutters pay per episode).

Tongue in cheek, Bell titled his show at the Zeiterion, "The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour," a play on the title of the controversial 1994 book, The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray.  Bell's essential thesis is that race is a construct, but, nevertheless, one we have to pay attention to.  Bell aims "to dismantle racism," but not race, which he believes can be turned into a constructive concept for the good of society as a whole.  Any effort on my part to summarize Bell's approach beyond that point would be inevitably inadequate.  Suffice to say, he works toward his mission with a brilliant combination of observational hilarity, multimedia presentation, and sharing
Outside 'the Z'
about his own life and family.  He does not ask that everyone agree with him on every point, he admonishes.  Rather, he has accomplished enough if people are moved to engage in meaningful dialog about race and social justice, which surely they must be.

The Zeiterion Theatre, or "the Z," is a classic building in old, cobblestoned New Bedford, Massachusetts, opened in 1923 to host vaudeville acts.  Its fortunes have waxed and waned with the history of working-class New Bedford.  The New Bedford Lyceum is a community cultural organization that dates to the city's whaling heyday.  Founded in 1828, Lyceum lectures and events aimed for “the improvement of its members in useful knowledge and the advancement of popular education.”  The Lyceum was disbanded in 1905, but revitalized by New Bedford leaders in 2016.

Bell was a smart choice to fulfill the Lyceum's public-educational mission.  New Bedford has an unusually (for not-Boston, Massachusetts) diverse population in terms of race and economic class, leading inevitably in our trying times to social tension and painfully obvious stratification.  City leaders—such as Councilman Dunn and UMass Law alumna Mali Lim, city coordinator for community education—work mightily to keep the peace, and, moreover, turn tension and diversity into productive community identity.  Bell's lecture at the Z was preceded by four public screenings and discussions in New Bedford and the surrounding area, one at UMass Dartmouth, each reflecting on a theme from Bell's CNN work.