Monday, December 26, 2005

kiwi camara and racist speech

volokh reports a strange tale involving the yale law journal's decision to publish an author who used racist speech in his online notes. kiwi camara posted notes from his property class in a harvard law outline bank, complete with a "disclaimer" noting that they "may contain racially offensive shorthand."

on shelley v. kraemer, a case involving racially restrictive covenants, camara wrote: "Nigs buy land with no nig covenant; Q: Enforceable?"

yep! that counts as "racially offensive shorthand" in my book. when the notes came to light, yale law students circulated a petition that began as follows:

We, the undersigned students of Yale Law School, request that the leadership of the Yale Law Journal reconsider its decision to publish the work of Kiwi Camara and to have him speak at its Symposium this Spring...

yale law journal nevertheless decided to publish, writing a lengthy response in defense of its decision. as social scientists who've written for such outlets know, law reviews operate way, way, way differently than american sociological review or criminology. law faculty submit the same article to dozens of journals simultaneously. then, student-run editorial boards read them all and make offers to those deemed worthy. after the faculty ruthlessly exploit the free labor of the law students, however, the students exact vengeance by obsessively critiquing every footnote. here's the sort of email exchange that plays out over a few weeks:

journal: please provide a citation to your assertion on page 1 that "criminologists study the life course."
author: no problem. please cite as "sampson and laub 1993."
journal: i will need a page number for this citation.
author: ok, let's go with page 8.
journal: sampson and laub make a related point on page 8, noting that the life course "is studied" and that criminologists study "crime" but they do not indicate that "criminologists study the life course." please provide a proper citation. with page numbers.
author: i tell you what -- let's just strike the sentence and any other references to criminologists studying the life course.
journal: we will strike the sentence if you really think that is best.

but i digress. there are all sorts of distracting digressions to this case. for example, the precocious mr. camara was age 17 when he wrote the notes, which led some lawprofs to the "adolescent racist boys will be adolescent racist boys" defense. the very clever but slightly-less-precocious students, in contrast, think that the doogie howsers of the world should be held to the same standards as any other students. finally, mr. camara has issued something sort of like an apology. still, this doesn't address the larger issue of whether to publish work by known or suspected racists (or sexists, or homophobes...).

i'm guessing that most sociology journals "pre-ject" papers by known or suspected racists, sending them out for external review but reading them and their reviews with a jaundiced eye. if such sentiments came to light following formal acceptance, however, they would likely abide by their publication decision unless (and this is an important 'unless') such sentiments had some plausible bearing on the article's findings or conclusions. what about your favorite sociology and criminology journals? would they, could they, withdraw their acceptance on the basis of offensive speech that came to light? is racist speech different than other forms of offensive speech in this regard?

now that i think about it, i remember writing racist speech in my first year sociology notes --quotes taken verbatim from durkheim and weber.

No comments: