Law in Contemporary Society


In his book The Souls of Black Folk, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois writes about the concept of "double consciousness". He defined double-consciousness as,

...a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, -an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

In his book, Du Bois wanted the American society to understand what it meant to be black in America. He argued that the separation of African American's and Whites, what he calls the "colour line", did more than deny them of access to equal opportunity. He believed the oppressive structure of the laws that prevented Blacks from achieving equality would have dire and pernicious effects on African American identities. This paper seeks to explore the concept of double-consciousness as it relates to current day society and as it relates to law students.

The identity that Du Bois refers to is the identity of African Americas created by the "colour line"; This dual identity formed from the two groups in which they simultaneous belong in, that is of their racial group and their national group. Du Bois describes the desire to merge these two identities, both a "Negro and an American," without losing one's true identity as "this waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals". Du Bois then introduces the concept of the "vail" to refers to three things: first, the difference in their skin color, second, White Americans resistance in accepting Blacks as true Americans, and lastly, how this unequal treatment affects the identity of African Americans. Du Bois' concept is important because it captures the essence of what it means to be Black in America today.

While such denigrated views of African Americans are harmful, they are not limited to the Black race. For instance, for presidential candidates, while being a member of the Catholic religion is not considered a great barrier to presidential campaigns anymore, it is still gets reported and is deemed relevant. That is despite a large number of the American population belonging to that religious denomination. And, notably, Kennedy sits alone as the first and only Catholic president so far. Further, we still have not had a woman as a president, nor have we had a Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, and unsurprisingly, Muslim president. The presidency seat has been extremely exclusive.

As President Kennedy said, "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President, who happens also to be Catholic." The issue is not the categorization of people, but the reasons and implications for categorization. The reason Kennedy was labeled as a "Catholic president" was not to bolster his qualifications, but it was done to obscure his message of unity and equality. Division doesn't require talent, but like Kennedy, unity requires us to have the courage to believe what unites us is stronger than what divides us. This is not only true in just how presidential candidates are treated, it is true of how our justice system handles different groups of people. Instead of treating people individually and equally, our justice system has also mimicked societal prejudices.

Double-Consciousness and Law Student

Promisingly, the law has the ability to reflect what is best in us-it has the ability to be impartial, protective, and compassionate-and treat each person as an individual.

As a first-year law student, I have found it helpful when professors incorporate formal legal education with the social ramifications it has in the practical world. This is especially true when learning about laws that disproportionately affect poor or minority groups. While DuBois? 's concept has largely been true in creating long-lasting consequences for minorities, some leaders have also used the unfairness as a catalyst for change. And as a first-year law student, studying those who fight injustices has been an inspiration and motivation.

In Transcendental Nonsense and Functional Approach, Felix S. Cohen writes, pointing to the circular reasoning of judicial justifications, "It purports to base legal protection upon economic value, when, as a matter of actual fact, the economic value of the sale device depends upon the extent to which it will be legally protected." The circular reasoning of "value" is relevant because this type of reasoning also impacts minorities and women. For instance, it can be seen on how the courts have calculated the financial compensation for those injured and unable to work, or legally referred to as future economic loss damages. To give one example, the compensation fund for the victims' of 9/11 terrorist attack were initially based on race and gender. Calculations based on gender and race simply mean women and minorities (or their families) would recover less than men, regardless of their true potential earnings.

The reasoning that women and minorities earn less and therefore should be given less compensation simply mirrors societal injustices, or as Cohen put it, this argument "neither explains nor justifies court decisions." But the law can be reflective of our fairness values. This is demonstrated by leaders like Judge Jack Weinstein who refused to allow jury instructions that would give more weight to ethnicity than the individual characteristics of the person. In other words, he refused to reinforce societal injustices. This is one example of how our justice system can be used to move toward fairness. This is not to say the current compensation system is without flaw, or that our justice system is never fair, it is to note that our justice system has the power to send a strong message that when a person enters a courthouse, they will be treated individually and equally.

For these reasons, learning the law and recognizing the prejudices reciprocated by our justice system can be challenging. But recognizing those who were able to positively influence the legal system has demonstrated that our license can also be used to fight injustices. It is also an opportunity, as Kennedy and Judge Weinstein have demonstrated, to unite and demand just treatment.


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r3 - 01 May 2018 - 18:03:56 - SudiTasissa
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