Works-in-Progress Series: “Danger! Educated Black Man”: Musings on Racial Formation Theory and Performing Race as Political Praxis

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 (All day)

An invitation to Faculty & Invited Guests
sponsored by the WSRSL Faculty Professional Development Committee

TIME: Noon ‐1:30 pm
RSVP with Josie Danielson (, by Monday, March 19, 2012.
A light lunch will be provided. Limited Seating.

Charles Lawrence

This work in progress was inspired when a colleague in the art department who practices and teaches “performance art” invited me to speak to her class on that subject. “What does it mean to you to think about your work as performance?” she asked. This work offers my embryonic thoughts in response to that question. It builds on several themes that I have explored in earlier work. I employ personal narrative from my own experience as a black man, learning, teaching, writing, and living within predominantly white academic communities, to consider how theories of implicit bias, racial formation, racial performance (covering), and racial identity as political practice might inform our understanding of how best to engage in the project of racial justice and related humanizing anti‐subordination endeavors. Omi and Winanthave given the name “racial projects” to the discursive and cultural initiatives that contest, organize, and explain the distribution of political and material resources along racial lines. Elites, popular movements, the powerful and the subordinated engage in these projects of racial construction and signification. The racial project that advances the ideology of white supremacy dominates this contest and the dehumanizing story this project tells is the master narrative. I consider the ways in which I experience my work as racial performance that I enact before the background of images of blackness constructed by white supremacy’s master narrative. Chris Iijimaargued that racial identity for Asian Americans was not about genetics, culture or heritage. It was a “means to identify with others who shared the experience of subordination.” He saw Asian American Identity as the “byproduct of political organizing.” To identify, as Asian American was itself a political act. Like Chris, I see my racial performance as political praxis. Kenji Yoshino sees the performativemodel of race as a way to uncover and understand the dominance of what he calls the “pro‐assimilationist” sentiment in antidiscrimination law and theory. This work engages Yoshino’s theory of “covering” by exploring the ways that I experience this sentiment and the dominant narrative of colorblindness and a post‐racial world coercing me to “pass” or “cover” and silencing the politics of my performance.

This is a true work in progress. I have purposely chosen not to present a work that is almost or entirely complete or even in the final stages of writing. I have posted two short, soon to be published pieces upon which this piece builds. I encourage you to read them as background for my talk.

Professor Lawrence holds a joint appointment in the law school and in the Department of Political Science since joining the University from Georgetown in 2008. He is best known for his prolific work and teaching in antidiscrimination law, equal protection, and critical race theory. His most recent book, We Won't Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action (Houghton Mifflin, 1997), was co-authored by Professor Mari Matsuda. His prolific scholarship includes two other treatises and numerous book chapters and articles.

Professor Lawrence began his teaching career at the University of San Francisco in 1974, was a tenured professor at Stanford and Georgetown, and has visited several other schools, including Harvard, Berkeley, UCLA, and the University of Southern California. He received the University of San Francisco School of Law's Most Distinguished Professor Award; the John Bingham Hurlburt Award for Excellence in Teaching, presented by the 1990 graduating class of Stanford Law School; and the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) national teaching award. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Haverford College, served as Board member and President of SALT, and served as a member of the District of Columbia Board of Education and many other public interest boards.