Five years ago, Bill Cosby elicited deep hostility (along with a modicum of support) from the African-American and social science communities) when he used the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education to declare that racial disparity "is no longer the white man's problem." Cosby's critics attacked. "Who is he to charge the black community - the very victim of racial oppression - with undoing the harm caused by that oppression?" they asked.
So imagine the reaction when a white, conservative law professor enters the debate - and takes Cosby's side. That is exactly what University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Amy Wax does with her just-published book, Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century.
"The taboo against blaming the victim has profoundly distorted thinking about race," writes Wax, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at Penn.
Wax is sure to elicit controversy with her claim that the history of racial oppression is now of little use in resolving the problem of persistent racial inequality.
"I didn't start out thinking or writing about race." Wax explains. "I teach about poverty and inequality, and the laws and social programs designed to address them. In this area, race looms large. And I just got tired of the stale, ritualistic, mindless debates about race, which usually reflected what people felt they had to say instead of what they really thought - and what the evidence showed."
Drawing on social science evidence and policy experience, Wax challenges the dominant view that only far-ranging efforts by government, private organizations and society as a whole can eliminate black disadvantage. Discrimination against blacks has dramatically abated; the most important factors impeding black progress now are behavioral: low educational attainment, poor socialization and work habits, drug use, criminality, paternal abandonment, and non-marital childbearing.
“I'm not denying racism - just saying that it's a small and ever-diminishing part of the problem and dwelling on it doesn't get us anywhere," Wax says.
What the black community needs is a "conversion experience," an internal cultural reform whereby members discard old illusions, find a new path, and redirect their lives.
Two New Faculty Members
Shyamkrishna Balganesh comes to Penn from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a Bigelow Teaching Fellow and Lecturer in Law. His scholarship focuses on understanding how intellectual property and innovation policy can benefit from the use of ideas, concepts and structures from different areas of the common law. His most recent work analyzes how the common law idea of "foreseeability" might be employed to shape the scope of copyright law, and the benefits of understanding copyright as a conditional common law entitlement rather than as a property right. Balganesh received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was an articles and essays editor of the Yale Law Journal and a student fellow at the Information Society Project. Prior to that he spent two years as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, and received a B.C.L. and an M.Phil in Law from Oxford University.
Sophia Lee is a legal historian whose scholarship synthesizes labor, constitutional, and administrative law. She has written about administrative agencies' role in shaping constitutional law; civil rights and labor advocates' challenges to workplace discrimination during the early Cold War; and conservative legal movements in the post-New Deal era. She is currently working on a book about civil rights advocates' struggle for a constitutional right against workplace discrimination from the 1940s to the 1970s. Lee received her J.D. from Yale Law School, an M.A., M. Phil in history from Yale, an an M.S.W. from the University of California at Berkeley.