Robert Westley, a professor of law at Tulane University in New Orleans and author of “Many Billions Gone: Is It Time to Reconsider the Case for Black Reparations?,” will speak Tuesday about reparations, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and critical race theory. Staff Writer Norah Shipman spoke to Westley about his part in the critical race theory movement.
Norah Shipman: What is critical race theory?
Robert Westley: Critical race theory is really a movement of scholars of color primarily situated in law schools who had developed a scholarship based on an analysis of the way race operates in U.S. society.
NS: How have you been involved in the critical race theory movement?
RW: I’ve been involved by my scholarship and my writing, and also by participating in conferences and workshops throughout the years.
NS: Why do you feel so strongly about this subject?
RW: The kinds of issues that critical race deals with are issues that are largely ignored in the mainstream but are critical to our ability to live together peacefully.
NS: Do you think the critical race movement is dying down or is it just as strong as before?
RW: It’s just as strong as before. I think that it’s evolving in different ways.
NS: How do you think the majority of black people view critical race theory?
RW: I’m not sure the majority of black people are aware of critical race theory because it is something which is associated with rather elite venues like law schools … . From my experience of teaching a seminar in critical race theory, students who are exposed to it react very positively to it as part of the curriculum.
NS: How is critical race theory related to the Hurricane Katrina situation?
RW: Hurricane Katrina helped to focus the nation’s attention on issues of economic inequality and social inequality.
NS: How do you think race affects the everyday activities of black people?
RW: For different black people, it affects them in different ways … . One thing that affects most black people is the racial wealth gap, which in this country is huge and cumulative and can’t be eliminated except by direct involvement in trying to promote interracial justice.
NS: Do you think race plays a different role in the lives of white people?
RW: I think that it does. I think that it’s an issue that most white people can ignore most of the time.
Robert Westley will be speaking at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Emerson Suites.