Obama and ‘The Invisible Man’

I spent a good part of last week going through old copies of The Harvard Law Review, of which Barack Obama was the president. Given that he’s the first ever African American to be his party’s presumptive nominee, I found a Note titled “Invisible Man: Black and Male Under Title VII” interesting. Here’s a snippet of my column.

In Harvard Law Review’s January 1991 issue, it published an authorless piece titled ‘Invisible Man: Black and Male Under Title VII.’ The Harvard Law Review’s Web site explains its policy to not identify the authors of Notes on the grounds ‘that many members of the Review, besides the author, make a contribution to each published piece.’

The piece argued in favor of allowing black men to sue under federal civil rights legislation for discrimination based on both their race and gender. ‘Recent scholarship and jurisprudence have given welcome attention to the particular experience of black women in the workplace and have proposed remedies to address their specific concerns,’ the Note read. ‘The legal system has failed to provide parallel protection against the special features of discrimination against black men.’

Unlike the prevailing thought on sex discrimination, where men, regardless of race, have a favored position as compared to women, the author contended that for the purpose of employment discrimination lawsuits, the gender of black men should give them more protection under the law: ‘Black men do not benefit in employment from privilege by gender; rather, they are totally separated from white men when blackness, a traditionally disenfranchised category, is combined with maleness, normally considered a privileged one.’

The discussion of both race and gender holds significance after a primary campaign where it is widely believed that Mr. Obama’s black male status trumped Hillary Clinton’s position as a white woman.

Comments specific to the plight of the black male have been part of Mr. Obama’s campaign. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama has brought a message of responsibility to black men. Speaking to a black church group in Chicago in June, Mr. Obama said, ‘too many fathers are MIA, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes.’

Seventeen years earlier, when Mr. Obama was the president of Harvard Law Review, the January 1991 Note included statements such as ‘black men are disproportionately unemployed in most fields’ and ‘educational disadvantage is an inadequate explanation for those occupational distributions and the corresponding unemployment rates.’ ”

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