NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Issues

Author

Eleanor Marie Lawrence Brown

Results

Black Like Me? “Gangsta” Culture, Clarence Thomas, and Afrocentric Academies

Eleanor Marie Lawrence Brown

In this Article, Eleanor Brown seeks to shift the framework through which we view Afrocentric academies. In the spirit of Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in Missouri v. Jenkins, Brown proposes that Afrocentrism represents an innovative educational response to the crisis in urban black communities. Applying social psychological literature, she argues that poor urban environments are ill equipped to provide the intersubjective reinforcement that is essential to healthy identity formation. A significant proportion of black youth have developed an alternative means of validating themselves, adopting a core of “oppositional” or “gangsta” norms that they associate with being authentically “black.” A primary feature of these norms is the rejection of mainstream opportunity-enhancing behaviors, such as educational achievement and law abidance. Drawing on the philosophical insight that black youth who privilege a detrimental picture of themselves are essentially being misrecognized, Brown suggests that Afrocentrism may be viewed as an attempt to recognize properly black youth. She outlines an Afrocentric curriculum that articulates a vision of black culture as constituted by a history of political struggle and promises to meet the intersubjective needs of black youth. Addressing several liberal criticisms, including the concerns that Afrocentrism undermines healthy participation in the body politic and constrains individual autonomy, Brown concludes by offering a compromise: Liberal educational goals should predominate during primary education and an Afrocentric curriculum should guide secondary education.

The Blacks Who “Got Their Forty Acres”: A Theory of Black West Indian Migrant Asset Acquisition

Eleanor Marie Lawrence Brown

The impediments to property acquisition and market success among African Americans are a significant area of inquiry in legal scholarship. The prevailing narrative on the historical relationship between Blacks and property is overwhelmingly focused on loss. However, in the political science, economics, and sociology literatures there is a countervailing narrative of successful property acquisition and retention among what might be termed a “market dominant” subset of migrant Blacks. The most successful subset of Black property owners in the United States today are descendants of Black migrants who were enslaved outside the United States. These free Black migrants, overwhelmingly British subjects originating from the West Indies, are largely invisible in the legal scholarship. Questions have arisen in other disciplines about what differentiated this subset of Black people. Why was their experience of property ownership so different?

Debates in the sociology, political economy, and political science literature have often focused on what Francis Fukuyama has controversially termed “cultural questions,” namely, the view that early West Indian migrants—like Korean or Japanese migrants—possessed a particular set of cultural traits that were distinctly well suited to asset acquisition. This Article focuses on a far more prosaic rationale, contending that the success of West Indian migrants may be rooted in the early grant of what I term “de facto property and contract rights” to West Indian slaves, which allowed their freedmen descendants to become the largest independent Black peasantry in the Americas. Between 1880 and 1924, U.S. immigration officials may have inadvertently selected for propertied migrant “types” when admitting immigrants. Through their own historical exposure to property and contract rights frameworks in the West Indies, as well as internal communal networks which supported informal banking schemes, these Blacks were particularly well placed to take advantage of opportunities for home and business ownership upon arrival in the United States.

The broader point is that there is a glaring omission amidst the “cultural” controversy: What about law? I use the term “law” in this context as it is used by many proponents of new institutional economics, as a proxy for an institutional frame- work that supports property acquisition, regardless of whether this framework is formal (state-supported) or customary. Moreover, the law and economics scholar- ship has focused extensively on institutional frameworks that allow certain religious and ethnic groups to dominate particular sectors, such as Orthodox Jews in the diamond industry or Koreans in the grocery sector. The insights of this literature allow us to interrogate whether Black West Indians had early access to institutions that facilitated contracting and property ownership and if so, whether this institutional history might contribute to their long-term asset acquisition patterns. The question necessarily arises: Why would we think of Black migrants any differently from the way we think of other ethnic and religious minorities who have been successful asset acquirers?