At a March 5 event in the Ames Courtroom, sponsored by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School Professor Randall Kennedy discussed his new book, “Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal.”
“Every group has an anxiety about group abandonment, or group betrayal,” Kennedy said. “Anxiety about abandonment…is central to black American life.”
Kennedy offered several historical examples of African Americans who were deemed racial traitors to make his point. Frederick Douglass was attacked when he married a white woman, W.E.B. DuBois was called a “black Benedict Arnold” by leaders in the black community for taking a patriotic stance during WWII, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s name is synonymous with racial betrayal, Kennedy said.
The fear of being labeled a sellout is “very destructive” to the black community, Kennedy said. “One way of disciplining [the accusers] is to say anybody who calls another person a sellout should…be put to the test with respect to the allegation,” he said.
Kennedy’s provocative argument sparked a debate during the question and answer period. One attendee even called Kennedy a sellout for being “too far removed from the reality of the street.”
No stranger to dealing with controversy, Kennedy is known for taking provocative stances in his work exploring race relations. He is also the author of “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” and “Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption.” He was recently a guest commentator on the NPR show “Tell Me More.”
To view a webcast of the event, click here.