The Antisubordinationist and the Law Professor

Written by Tucker Culbertson

I just returned from what I found to be a remarkable and remarkably productive conference on arrangements of race, privilege, and power.  The conference was especially useful for me when we talked about how we talk about obvious disparities in present distributions of opportunity and suffering which continue to correlate with racial difference.

One of the lessons I took from the conference was a much-needed reminder that I need to do more as an antisubornationist advocate in activities unrelated to my vocation.

I regularly fell into conversation with folks who, like me, understand themselves as antisubordinationists and as law professors.

By that I mean that we’re:

(1) law professors whose scholarship involves empirical, theoretical, doctrinal, economic, and other arguments about the forms and harms of identity-based subordination;

and that we’re also:

(2) antisubordinationist advocates who happen to teach law.

I think it’s necessary to recognize and cultivate myself as an antisubordinationist advocate generally in order to better my work as a legal academic.  As I practice, research, and write about  legal subordination, my work will benefit substantially from regular engagement with other antisubordinationist advocates who do not work within legal discourse or practice.

We’ve recognized that antisubordinationist legal scholarship benefits from being multidimensional — addressing the intersection of multiple identities within any identity group and considering the difference such intersections make.

We’ve recognized the value of multidisciplinary legal scholarship on subordination — engaging methods and sources from philosophy, geography, ethnic studies, economics, sociology, psychology, literature, and other academic disciplines.

We must recognize also that our legal scholarship benefits when our antisubordinationist efforts are multidiscursive — including projects that don’t at all involve, or at least don’t focus on, law.

There’s much to learn from nonlegal antisubordination projects, such as civic participation, community organization, direct action, consciousness raising, and art making.   I risk having my analytical and imaginative skills limited by overly exclusive exposure to the cultures, logics, and institutions of courts, legislatures, and universities.  My capacity to imagine and argue law is diminished if it’s tied too tightly to the strategies, rhetorics, and analyses which attend law’s triumphs and failures in pursuit of social justice.

During the conference, I went outside to make a phone call.  I was at a payphone.  (Yes, payphones still exist.)   Scratched into the metal were the words “F@#! SPANISH”.  As I was reading, two young men in suits walked by.  (It was lunchtime in midtown Manhattan.)  One said to the other, “I mean, he didn’t have the data or the B*&&$ to pitch that.  He was such a little B!^%#.”  I turned to look at them, and noticed the record store across the street.  It used to be Virgin.  Now it’s Colony.  I left a voicemail and headed back to the conference.  Crossing the lobby, I remembered the strip club episode.  On my walk from the subway earlier that morning, I saw this giant yellow sign with a busty female silhouette and text that read Mixed Emotions.  I was confused.  Why would a strip club choose a name that broadcasts the sometimes conflicted feelings of workers and consumers at strip clubs?  Then I realized what Mixed meant.  I went over to check.  I asked the bouncer why they called their club that. He said, “We have performers of all colors and backgrounds.  We value diversity here.”

My point is one that many know but which I found it important to reremember: as we discuss race, identity, and subordination in the context of government institutions, we must remember the value of engaging in the cultures of our communities — those we’ve chosen as well as those in which we find ourselves.  My point is I need to do more.

Today’s Saturday.  Where I live, on Saturdays, there’s a group organized around just distributions of wealth that cooks food and delivers it to people who need and want to eat.  I can cook.  I can carry.