‘Common Law’ Kicks Off With Exploration of ‘Promised Land’ on Race

Season 3 Premiere Features Harvard Law’s Randall Kennedy
Randall Kennedy

Randall Kennedy teaches courses on contracts, criminal law and the regulation of race relations at Harvard Law School. Courtesy photo

January 26, 2021

Common Law” launched its third season Tuesday with a look at visions of a “promised land” on race with Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy. Sponsored by the University of Virginia School of Law and hosted by Dean Risa Goluboff and Vice Dean Leslie Kendrick ’06, the podcast is exploring “Law and Equity” this spring.

“Promised land” refers to the speech popularly known as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” given by Martin Luther King Jr. on the last night of his life. It also refers to one of Kennedy’s essays, “Racial Promised Lands?,” which he presented during the National Faculty Workshop series hosted by UVA Law last summer. The essay is part of Kennedy’s book “Say It Loud ... And Other Essays on Race, Law, History and Culture,” forthcoming in the fall.

In the essay, Kennedy discusses the views not only of Black activists fighting for equality, but the white supremacists who sought to deny it.

“I mean, the United States of America has been, and to a large degree still is, a pigmentocracy,” Kennedy says in the episode. “So if you’re trying to get a grasp of race relations and race relations law, it seems to me that you have to take on board people who were outwardly, openly, unapologetically, proudly white supremacist.”

Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School and an expert on racial justice. He is the author of the books “Race, Crime, and the Law,” “Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal” and “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.”

During the course of the show, Kennedy, Goluboff and Kendrick look at different historical figures’ takes on the “promised land,” how law has shaped equity, and how current issues such as the protests last summer following the deaths of George Floyd and others are influencing the debate.

“The law has been on the side of oppression — that's true,” Kennedy says. “On the other hand, the law has also been on the side of liberation. And that's why I tell law students they have a strategic role and an important role to play in all of this.”

While the themes of the first two seasons were temporal — the first focused on “The Future of Law” and the second looked back at “When Law Changed the World” — this season looks across time and a variety of legal issues, asking what equity means and examining how it interacts with law.

“Common Law” is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Spotify and other popular places you can listen to podcasts. The show is produced by Emily Richardson-Lorente.

You can follow the show on the website CommonLawPodcast.com or Twitter at @CommonLawUVA.

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