The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Future Supreme Court Nominee Stehpanie Grace??

Well, maybe. But not until President Palin’s second term. Via Jill at Femeniste and Jezebel’s Anna North comes this bit of insight from Harvard Law School 3L Stephanie Grace, who felt the need to clarify her statements after a dinner conversation with fellow law students about race:

… I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

I also don’t think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to “explain” away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.

In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.

Please don’t pull a Larry Summers on me,


Well, I’m glad she cleared that up. Now, where to begin?

I could dive into the whole race & I.Q. debate, but that pool is rather crowded and too many people have already peed in it — many of them more well versed in the roots of the I.Q. debate, the controversy and media attention garnered by The Bell Curve, and the background of its authors. I don’t know that I have anything to contribute to that debate that hasn’t already been said by someone else, and better than I would say it.

However, I do find it interesting that there’s been some controversy over not just Grace’s comments, but also the disclosure of her identity, as Jill relates. Jill’s post is worth reading in its entirely, as she effectively lays out her concerns about:

"(a) the system that made Stephanie Grace feel that her email and her arguments were totally appropriate and within the realm of acceptable academic discourse, and that lead her to believe that her views would be accepted and welcomed; (b) the troubling reaction to the dissemination of her email, some of which has revolved around the ethics of naming her; and (c) why this matters. Because while Stephanie Grace is sending out racist emails, sites like Above the Law are falling all over themselves not only to obscure her identity, but also to say that maybe she was kind of right — and that her email wasn’t actually racist, and that the idea that black people are genetically inferior is one that we should entertain.

In particular, I was interested in Jill’s comments about how easy it is in law school (as in many other places) to end up associating and socializing exclusively with people just like you:

It’s also very easy to get through law school spending time with people who mostly look and think like you, and who have life experiences that are similar to yours. It’s easy to fall into a group of white people who all understand White Person Code — the little things you imply or say that have attached racial meaning, without ever having to talk about race or risk saying something actually racist. I’m white, and believe me, White Person Code gets dropped like nobody’s business, in law school and out. And because its messages are coded, there isn’t a great way to explain what it always looks or sounds like. But, for example, it’s the way that a white student’s mistake in class or inability to answer a question correctly will be read as “they made a mistake” or “they didn’t do the reading,” whereas a black student’s mistake in class or inability to answer a question correctly will be read as “they are not very smart and only got in here because of affirmative action.” It’s the little glance, the raised eyebrow. It’s the implication of understanding — the inference that I don’t have to say that person is only here because of affirmative action, but we all know.

And why it’s important, because people who go to places like Harvard Law School often go on to hold positions of power:

Above the Law refers to Stephanie Grace as “CRIMSON DNA” rather than naming her. I got her name from Jezebel, and from a variety of non-blogger contacts. Above the Law seems primarily concerned with the repercussions for Stephanie — that she could lose her prestigious clerkship in the Ninth Circuit, or that, I don’t know, it might make her sad that her racist remarks are coming back to bite her. They refer to the use of her real name as “troubling.” They say that what set this all off wasn’t a racist email but a “catfight.”

I do not share their concerns. I thought about whether to use her name, but after Gawker and Jezebel made it public it was less of an issue — they do have several times the traffic that we have, after all, and it just seems pointless to maintain her anonymity when her name is already on those sites and others, including, now, Above the Law.

But also, law clerks, and judges all have real power. As a clerk, Stephanie Grace is going to be interpreting the law and helping to craft decisions that impact not only the individuals involved in the case, but wide swaths of the population. She will, most likely, at some point have to write about civil rights and race issues. Her judge absolutely should know that she believes black people are genetically inferior before he relies on her to interpret and apply the law.

After her clerkship, she may practice as an attorney. As she moves up the ranks in her firm or place of practice, she will have the ability to choose who to work with, who to mentor, who to support and whose work to promote; she will have the ability to review the people she works with, and to potentially influence who keeps their jobs and who doesn’t (or who gets a job in the first place and who doesn’t). It is absolutely not out of line to say that a person with these kinds of views should be outed before they go forward and do serious damage.

Harvard Law School grads are partners at law firms. They hold political offices. They are judges. They are in positions of real power. At some point, Stephanie Grace is going to be in a position of real power. Before those positions are offered, the people who are elevating her deserve to know how she will wield that power — and the fact that she believes that segments of the population are simply not as intellectually adept based on their skin color.

My guess is that Stephanie Grace, if she’d never sent that email, wouldn’t be up for the same kind of drubbing as a certain "wise Latina" justice, nor would she be held to what I’ve called "The Vulcan Standard."

Vulcan Standard," so named because of the characteristics of the alien species of the "Star Trek" series.


Vulcans, as a matter of custom and policy, suppress or think past all emotional influence by living lives of rigid emotional self-control through meditative techniques and training of mental discipline. Vulcans are not depicted as having no emotions; although they themselves make this claim, Vulcans are a very emotional people. They developed techniques to suppress their emotions precisely because of the damage they can cause if unchecked.

Of course, there are no Vulcans on the court and none in the Senate, either. But you wouldn’t know it to hear the Republican Senators.

To hear them tell it, white males are supremely (pun intended) skilled at objectivity because they do not have to divorce themselves from their ethnic identity or cultural background, because one doesn’t need to divorce oneself from or divest oneself of what one doesn’t have (or have to have). Men like Jeff Sessions, Lindsey Graham, and Tom Coburn aren’t "ethnic" in the sense that they have an ethnic identity other than American, whereas someone like Sonia Sotomayor is ethnic. They don’t have a separate and distinct culture because theirs is the dominant culture. They are the baseline that she must not stray too far beyond, if she wants to join them at the center of power. It is the admission price she and others like her must pay in order to join their club.

This means several things. It means they are qualified to determine whether Sotomayor is ethnically biased against people like them — who don’t actually have an identity distinct from the dominant culture, ironically enough. It means that they are qualified to lecture Judge Sotomayor one not letting her background and experience as a Latina "distort" her judgment or decisions in the cases she would review, even as they are guilty of the same thing — or would be if only they had an ethnic identity or background distinct from the dominant culture. (But more on that later.)

Exhibit B would have to be their apparent-though-unarticulated assertion of this authority, in the face of quite contrary evidence that in their own party — in particular among the base for whom they continually played to the camera, repeating the same allegations and going over the same ground again and again — "race problem" runs deep, that their own party is no more "colorblind" than they like to pretend they are or justice is, and it goes back far beyond Obama’s election victory, farther back than Reagan, and even Nixon.

Would a black defendant or plaintiff standing before a "Judge Stephanie Grace" be able to count on the judge’s impartiality? Would Grace be grilled on whether her experience and beliefs would influence her reading and interpretation of the law, or her rulings as a judge? Well, with this email effectively sent to the entire world (why, or why don’t people understand that nothing one posts online or sends in a email is guaranteed to remain strictly between them and the intended recipients?), my guess is that it’s a least somewhat less likely Grace will be a judge, though it remains a possibility.

As Jezebel notes, that’s precisely the career path that lies before Stephanie Grace.

This was someone who knew — or least should’ve known — what she was getting herself into when she sent that email. And she had clearly done a lot of thinking about race, suggesting that her remarks were hardly off-the-cuff. Worse, she may have more potential influence on public policy than her email’s initial recipients feared. With Grace’s established interest in racial issues — and some pretty prejudiced views — it’s not such a stretch to imagine that she might seek to advance those views in her upcoming legal career. Which is slated to begin with a federal clerkship this summer.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that Grace’s email indiscretion (again, a Harvard 3L doesn’t get that there are some things that should only be communicated orally, and never put in writing — if only for the sake of plausible deniability?) may limit her career options as it has with other law students, though it’s Grace’s own words not those others posted about her that could cause problems. Will she be able to try cases in court if someone Googles her name and reads the email she wrote as a 3L. Would opposing counsel raise some sort of objection? Would it be introduced into trials she’s involved in?

But how many judges like Grace, with similar beliefs, are already on the bench? Could Grace, who has obviously spent a lot of time thinking through her views on race, be truly impartial as a judge dealing with diverse defendants, plaintiffs, and attorneys? Could she be counted on to be impartial as a boss or as a partner in a law firm? Would her views influence her decisions in any of these positions?

It’s hard for me to believe she could be impartial. Now, I suppose some with Grace’s views might fall back on splitting hairs over the difference between superiority and supremacy, as Andrew Sullivan did somewhat obliquely back in 2005, when he defended his promotion of The Bell Curve as editor of The New Republic.

One of my proudest moments in journalism was publishing an expanded extract of a chapter from "The Bell Curve" in the New Republic before anyone else dared touch it. I published it along with multiple critiques (hey, I believed magazines were supposed to open rather than close debates) – but the book held up, and still holds up as one of the most insightful and careful of the last decade. The fact of human inequality and the subtle and complex differences between various manifestations of being human — gay, straight, male, female, black, Asian — is a subject worth exploring, period. Liberalism’s commitment to political and moral equality for all citizens and human beings is not and should not be threatened by empirical research into human difference and varied inequality. And the fact that so many liberals are determined instead to prevent and stigmatize free research and debate on this subject is evidence … well, that they have ceased to be liberals in the classic sense. I’m still proud to claim that label — classical liberal. And I’m proud of those with the courage to speak truth to power, as Murray and Herrnstein so painstakingly did. Pity Summers hasn’t been able to match their courage. But recalling the tidal wave of intolerance, scorn and ignorance that hit me at the time, I understand why.

But after searching (unsuccessfully) for an article I read years ago that broached the subject, I found it explicitly laid out in an article written in 2004, and apparently published in various online publications about drug policy.

If you ask most people the difference between superiority and supremacy, their first instinct is to rely on the technical meaning of the words, or refer to the dictionary. In order to truly understand what we mean when we use a word it is far more useful to refer to a tool such as Google, which pulls up a sampling of English usage as opposed to a standardized definition. Take a moment to try that out with the words Superiority and Supremacy.

What we find is that superiority is the direct reflection of our genetic need for competition. We compete in every imaginable way in our society — work and play, physical, mental and emotional, creative and logical. To the winners of these competitions go the best jobs, food, mating partners — with nearly anything that possesses varying levels of quality, the highest quality will be distributed to those who are superior by some rating scale.

In order to facilitate this, we specifically divide the world into "US" and "THEY" and then spend a lot of time figuring out how U.S. are better than THEY, and thus more deserving of the finest things in life. This comprises the roots of an entire genre of -ism’s: racism, creedism, classism etc.

Supremacy takes this concept to its ultimate conclusion. Supremacy is when you believe that you are so far superior to THEY (Jews, blacks, infidels, whatever) that you have the god-given right–or perhaps duty–to persecute, imprison, or even kill all members of the THEY sect, without having to demonstrate harm, and without incurring repercussions. When you type Supremacist into Google, you primarily receive links to Nazi and white supremacist (pro and con) literature.

My guess is that Grace would stop far short of the supremacy end of the scale, but what lies between the two? And what are the real-life implications? What are the policy implications? Sullivan, as well as Murray in the article to which Sullivan refers, appear to rely on individualism and the principle that individuals should not be judged based on group characteristics to prevent us sliding from discussing "the fact of human inequality" to to basing policy on notions of supremacy. (It’s similar to the complementarian take on gender, equality and male dominance, and people who fall back on "We’re all equal in God’s sight" just before they object to equality before the law.)

It seems odd to me, because they talk about superiority and inferiority in terms of groups in the first place. How and when do they separate the individual from the group they’ve spent so much time and energy defining as "inferior." How exactly do you see someone as "inferior" to you and treat them as equal?

But here’s the thing. How many people with views similar to Grace’s do we deal with on a day to day basis? Not just as lawyers or judges, but as police officers, work supervisors, co-workers, teachers — people who are in positions to make decisions that impact our lives?

Chances are, more than we know. And most of us will probably never know, because we’ll probably never hear anyone voice views like Grace’s in our vicinity. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet that there were no students of color taking part in that dinner conversation that left Grace feeling the need to explain her view — lest anyone think that she did rule out "the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent."

It’s like that Eddie Murphy skit from SNL:

I’m pretty sure nobody breaks out champagne on the crosstown bus. But if nothing else, Grace’s email reminds me that while people may not express certain views except in mixed company, they still hold those views, and may be in a position for their views and the decisions they make based upon them, consciously or not, to seriously impact our lives.

And us? We may wonder if racism played a role, but we’ll never know for sure.

One Comment

  1. ***What are the policy implications? ***

    Perhaps government agencies should stop collecting and comparing data by race?

    After all, it is the focus on ‘achievement gaps’ and representation that leads to questions about why such gaps exist.

    As Peter Singer notes ‘A Darwinian Left’ would not

    “Assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning. Some will be, but this cannot be assumed in every case”

    This is also discussed here in Slate.

%d bloggers like this: