The Perception of a Post-Racial Society and Its Real Effects on Law and Policy
Are we living in a post-racial society? Does color still matter? How does race affect the law? These questions and others were tackled by a panel of legal, legislative and public policy experts during the Friday ABA Annual Meeting program, “Debunking the Myth of a Post-Racial Society.”
The election of the nation’s first African American president is one reason many people believe that racial problems are a thing of the past. However, panelists argued that issues involving race and ethnicity are far from being resolved. According to panelists, the myth of a colorless society has had a negative impact, making it more difficult to prove cases of discrimination and even influencing a number of laws and national policies.
Panelist John L. Burris, who was Rodney King’s lawyer, now serves as counsel to the family of Oscar Grant. Grant, an African American man, was killed last year by a white Bay Area Rapid Transportation police officer, who was found guilty of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter by a jury that did not include African Americans. Burris noted the polarized reactions to the verdict: Those following the case either found the ruling too harsh or not harsh enough depending on their race.
Burris also examined race and ethnicity in terms of recent healthcare reform. “The primary beneficiaries would be African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities, while many opponents are white and upper class,” Burris noted. “If we are, in fact, in a post-racial society, then how can ethnic groups review the same facts but consistently draw opposing conclusions?”
In cases of discrimination, the belief in a post-racial society among jurors can be devastating. Panelist Maria Blanco, executive director for the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute, said that it’s quite difficult to prove intent when most jurors “try to minimize the very real effects and meanings of discrimination – discounting the reality is a very real influencer.”
Panelist Angela Oh, executive director of the Western Justice Center, advocated more open conversations among Americans about race, as perceptions on race are a significant influencer on law. She noted that lawyers, as leaders, are in a unique position to stimulate these discussions, which can help mitigate social and legal injustices.
“Debunking the Myth of a Post Racial Society” was sponsored by the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. The session was moderated by Leslie M. Proll of Washington, D.C.