Skip to content

A Thanksgiving Message

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, Nov 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Image

Dear King Hall Community,

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope that you all have a restful holiday with family and friends – and lots of delicious food.

Kevin R. Johnson

What's Love Got to Do with It?

Posted By Madhavi Sunder, Nov 20, 2015

I’m honored to be a participant at this historic conference on civil rights at Duke Law School this weekend, "The Present and Future of Civil Rights Movements: Race and Reform in 21st Century America,” organized by the school's Center on Law, Race and Politics.

I offered some provocative thoughts on the opening plenary here this morning, challenging the panel and audience to grapple with a subject that is crucial to the success and sustainability of any civil rights movement: LOVE.

King and Gandhi led the two greatest civil rights movements in modern history in the name of love. Both knew that to bring about change – and most importantly, to sustain it, they needed to cultivate sympathy and love for one’s fellow citizens.

In her new book, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice, the political philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that a society based on the premise of the equal rights and dignity of each person must not neglect the important work of cultivating what she calls “political emotions.” Without education and arts that help people dive into the intimate life and problems of the other, through literature like To Kill a Mockingbird and Between the World and Me, we cannot develop mutual understanding and feelings of empathy and affection for others different from ourselves.

Nussbaum’s book centers on the question of this conference – how is cultural change introduced? What are the tools and prerequisites for social revolution?

Social revolution is to be distinguished from political revolution. While the latter refers to changes in government, social revolutions – or what Kwame Anthony Appiah calls “moral revolutions” – incite change in social attitudes, real world behaviors and people’s way of thinking. Revolutionary thinking requires, literally, a change of heart towards others—towards persons formerly viewed as slaves, as inferior, and as subhuman. From the mantra that “women’s rights are human rights” to  #blacklivesmatter, the challenge is to promote an emotional transformation that would bring strangers, even enemies, within one’s own “circle of concern,” as philosopher Nussbaum calls it. We need to see the other is one of us and part of our own nation, community, and story.

As a scholar of law and culture, I study the role of popular culture and the arts in social production and social revolution. As John Dewey reminds us, there is nothing quite like art as a vehicle for offering an intimacy with the lives of people different from ourselves. In short: art matters for justice. It is a critical tool in the process or emotional transformation. Nussbaum writes: “If the other has been dehumanized in the imagination, only the imagination can accomplish the requisite shift.”

So Bono and Will i. Am. are as important to this conference as the great scholars and lawyers assembled here. Music, book clubs and conversations in the public culture about television, film, and social media can help foster empathy for distant others, and also the critical commentary that is central to a democratic government. Unlike legislation or works of political philosophy, they “promote readers’ emotional involvement in the events” and encourage dialogue.

On that score, however, a report of Hollywood diversity in 2015 reveals that in fact, the world’s most powerful cultural producers are failing our democracy.  The report finds that though minorities are 40 percent of the U.S. population, they are only 1 in 6 among broadcast scripted leads and white actors dominate top credits. In short, according to Hollywood, black lives do not matter, and neither do Latino or Asian lives, or women, for that matter. These numbers reflect the failure of our collective imagination; our failure to use art to imagine a better world.

We cannot shun art, culture, and emotions in our movement. As Nussbaum says, “ceding the terrain of emotion-shaping to antiliberal forces gives them a huge advantage in the people’s hearts and risks making people think of liberal values as boring and tepid.” Love is the very life of our movement.

To Paris, With Love

Posted By Madhavi Sunder, Nov 16, 2015

The tragic massacre in Paris is gripping the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Earlier in the day on November 13, the same day as the terror attacks, I happened to be in the famed city and met up with King Hall alum Elizabeth Milovidov ’91 for lunch near ISCOM, where she teaches American law.

Elizabeth and me
Elizabeth and me in Paris

Elizabeth was eager to reminisce about King Hall, and loved sharing stories with me about her favorite first-year professors, including Professors Brownstein, Dobris, Feeney, and Imwinkelried.  After growing up in San Diego and graduating from UCLA, a very young Elizabeth found herself at King Hall. She recalled what it was like being one of only four black students in her class. She said professors, staff, and classmates were incredibly supportive and friendly. Between her first and second years in law school, Elizabeth did a summer program in Paris and from that point was determined to make her career in Europe. She eventually earned both a PhD and her JD, and began making her way up the legal ladder in firms in France. Since having children, she found the right balance, intellectually and personally, in teaching American law. Her emphasis is on children’s rights and communications law; she has her own consulting esafety and digital parental coaching business advising parents how to navigate their children through life online. Elizabeth would like to come back to King Hall to talk to students, especially those not in the top one-third in the class, to let them know that an exciting life and career is at their fingertips, but just requires hard work and determination. I recognized in Elizabeth’s career, part teacher and part public intellectual, that entrepreneurial and public spiritedness that is still characteristic of King Hall today. 

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower at night

When tragedy struck the city several hours later, my thoughts immediately went to Elizabeth and her family, especially because I remembered she lived in the same neighborhood as where more than 100 people were killed at the Bataclan concert hall. I was relieved to hear she and her family were safe. I was happy when it was time to board the plane to travel back home. But King Hall sends Elizabeth and her fellow Parisians our love.