This is what E. Christi Cunningham — or, rather, e. christi cunningham, as she affectedly “actualizes” herself — wrote about sexual-harassment law in her 1999 Chicago Legal Forum paper, “Preserving Normal Heterosexual Male Fantasy: The ‘Severe or Pervasive’ Missed-Interpretation of Sexual Harassment in the Absence of a Tangible Job Consequence”:
The courts’ failure to address many forms of sexual harassment is a result of a judicial proximity analysis which limits the reach of the statute to conduct that is outside of a fantasized zone of normal (white) heterosexual male conduct. Thus, the scope of current sex discrimination law is a function of the degree to which the sex discrimination is essential to the ordinary exercise of power underlying the male heterosexual fantasy.
Later on, she muses that:
fantasy means reverie, that which is imaginary, illusory, or, at the very least, subjective. The definition of sex as fantasy demystifies the centrality of illusions of maleness, masculinity, and hetero-patriarchy in sex equality equations. That which is male, masculine, or heterosexual is not only dethroned from the seat of normality by the definition of sex as fantasy, it is disrobed of the veil of objectivity.
And in Unmaddening: A Response to Angela Harris,she contends that
multiple consciousness or multiple voices within the individual (as opposed to within a movement) describes women of color because we have not been “the definers.” Multi-voicedness within the individual means that a person speaks partially with her Black voice, partially with her female voice, and partially with her lesbian voice. She does so because none of these voices defines her completely. None of her voices defines her completely because she is not the one who defined them, or their separation from one another. If she had defined Blackness, she would not have defined it in a way that did not describe herself.
Such thinking epitomizes Cunningham’s worldview. Like Derrick Bell and others of his persuasion, she holds that most of the problems America faces are the product of arbitrary, archaic social constructs that are codified in the nation’s highest laws, and that they cannot truly be fixed within the current system because it was deliberately contrived and has been maintained to prevent anyone from doing so. Cunningham, who is an associate assistant secretary for regulatory affairs at the Department of Labor, and a law professor at Howard University, used her presentation at the National Action Network’s conference in Washington, D.C., on April 11 to aver that:
We need to deal with the criminalization of people of color. . . . Somebody needs to come out and just say this comes from slavery. Nobody wants to talk about that any more. It was never repaired. We can’t forget about it. It’s not just black people, it’s Native Americans, it’s the immigrant population, some immigration population. . . . You have to repair the thing. . . . Here’s where I’m going to get in trouble. We have to step out of this cycle of abuse and stop wondering why we keep finding ourselves in the same situation. We are not in a post-racial world. But we have to imagine. We have to imagine what the world looks like if it’s not directed by the system, the paradigm that slavery created. Slavery created this racial paradigm. We have been living in this racial paradigm, this color paradigm. Is this all we have to work with? Is there nothing else that we can imagine?
If asked to date these words, one could be forgiven for presuming that they were spoken at the height of the Jim Crow era — or perhaps during the fight over segregation in the middle of the 20th century. It would most likely come as a shock to the unfamiliar that the year was 2012, the author a black, female, Yale-educated law professor and six-figure-salaried federal employee who had just been warmly introduced at a conference by Eric Holder — the black attorney general in the administration of America’s first black president. (Despite this blind spot, Cunningham sees race everywhere else: “A class of young, gay, Black men in working class positions,” she wrote, “should be able to allege that their employer engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminating against them because of their race, even if, for example, young, ‘straight,’ Black men in working class positions or older Black men in executive positions are not experiencing discrimination because of race.”)
Reading her work, it quickly becomes clear that Cunningham’s grievances cannot be assuaged whatever happens. To her, a post-racial America is impossible or undesirable because even post-racialism is set within the “paradigm” of white supremacy. The very “concept of color blindness is an indicia of privilege,” she argues. And “the power to mask color” is “the power of privilege.” In other words, whatever America needs to do, or has done, to atone for or mitigate its past injustices cannot be done effectively within our existing model.