Phi Beta Cons

O. and the ‘Invisible Man’

While Obama headed the Harvard Law Review, an authorless paper (authorless because it is said to have been composed by many Review members) titled “Invisible Man: Black and Male Under Title VII” was published. As Seth Gitell writes, the piece argued for permitting black men to sue for discrimination based on both their race and gender, stressed incarceration and early death as factors that remove black men from the employment field, and suggested that, because black men had their employment discrimination suits blocked because employers could demonstrate the hiring of African-American women, the black community could be divided into two “‘distrustful’” groups.

More contentious for Obama — and perhaps now during his putatively post-racial presidential campaign — is the paper’s treatment of cultural differences between the races:

Differences in cultural styles often lead employers to conclude that black men have attitudes and personal characteristics that conflict with a predominately white social atmosphere … Many black men — although certainly not all — are more verbally direct, expressive, and assertive than white men.

Although the extent of Obama’s work on this paper is not clear, Gitell is right that it provides insight into the Review’s work under his leadership and merits our attention as “we watch [him] navigate his relationship with the African-American community and vie for the nation’s top job.”

Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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