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As Black Harvard Law School students, we’ve encountered racism at Harvard and elsewhere. But anti-Blackness goes far beyond our privileged Ivy League experiences — it’s deeply rooted in American law and policy.

Millions of people came across a picture of our Black Harvard Law School (“HLS”) classmates dressed in all black on the steps of Harvard Law’s library. 
The picture was captioned, “Harvard University Law School Class of 2021” although only a portion of our class was present in that picture.
A white man, Gene Smith, reposted our picture on his LinkedIn page and wrote that our classmates look like “gang members” to him. Many people were appalled that someone could look at a group of Harvard Law students — with a caption that clearly stated what we were — and see us as “gang members.”
A screenshot of Gene Smith’s now-deleted LinkedIn post.
Screenshot courtesy of authors
Folks online quickly condemned the comment and proverbially stood in solidarity with our class. Our posts denouncing the act went viral and Gene’s LinkedIn account has since been deleted.
Gene’s LinkedIn post was not the first time we’ve experienced explicit anti-Blackness as Black Harvard Law School students.
In class, we often feel like we need to explain and defend various aspects of the Black experience. This feels especially anti-Black at Harvard Law because professors and students have access to more knowledge and information than nearly anyone else in the world.
By, in effect, putting the burden on Black students to educate non-Black classmates and professors, the school shows how little it seems to care about Black history and Black students’ education.
The pervasive anti-Blackness in the classroom can make us feel so outraged that we have to speak up.
For example, some professors have routinely praised Supreme Court cases that legalized anti-Black racism. When Black students inevitably push back, these professors double down and prioritize the Supreme Court justices’ ideologies and writing styles over the violent effects that these justices’ rulings have had on Black lives.
Some professors and non-Black students will regularly espouse negative stereotypes about Black people and crime. When Black students speak up to challenge these stereotypes, we’re typically ignored at best and actively silenced at worst. 
We have constantly dealt with microaggressions and assumptions that we do not belong. 
We have endured anti-Black messages sent by an anonymous attacker to Black students, saying we only got accepted to Harvard because of affirmative action and that our classmates are lucky to have us as a grade curve boost.
Through all of these interactions, Harvard Law becomes a place where it feels like Black people’s perspectives, voices and experiences are tangential and unimportant.
On top of all this, we are often hesitant to speak up about the injustices we face because we fear that HLS may respond with disciplinary action or threats. HLS recently launched an investigation into students of color who engaged in an on-campus silent protest.
Anti-Blackness is baked into many aspects of American law.
These discrete instances of anti-Blackness, though exhausting, are symptoms of the more insidious problem that our country is currently reckoning with.
It’s difficult for Americans to believe that many of the laws in this country are fundamentally anti-Black, especially when that truth comes from Black students who enjoy the immense privilege of studying law at Harvard.
Americans are socialized to believe that Black people can escape our dark pasts through hard work and education. But racist social media posts like Gene’s and outrageous encounters like the one Christian Cooper — a Harvard graduate — had with a white woman in Central Park show that anti-Blackness has deep roots and stretches further than respectability or meritocracy.
In other words, Black folks can reach the most prestigious levels of education and still be called thugs because so much of our society is structured around anti-Blackness.
Much of property and contract law is based on America’s 200+ year dependence on the then-legal institution of chattel slavery, which allowed white people to characterize and own Black people as property.
Much of criminal law is rooted in the anti-Black policing that emerged during the Reconstruction era as a response to the loss of profits that white people experienced immediately after chattel slavery was legally abolished.
The damages awarded in tort law are often based on calculations that put low income people of color at a disadvantage because of centuries of economic disenfranchisement.
Harvard Law School itself came into existence as the result of wealth created by slave labor when a wealthy slave owner bequeathed some of his fortune to create Harvard Law’s endowment.
But at a top law school like Harvard Law, Black students — many of whom are the children of parents born during Jim Crow and the grandchildren of sharecroppers and the descendants of slaves — hear some non-Black classmates and white professors debate whether racism still exists.
This collective denial of America’s pervasive anti-Blackness is not only disorienting for Black HLS students, but deadly for Black people in America.
As privileged Harvard Law students who have access to information about America’s anti-Black roots, the very least that we can do for our community is tell the truth.
We have to destroy narratives around respectability and meritocracy and promote solutions that uproot anti-Black systems, like defunding the police. Instead of being selectively outraged when Black Harvard students face anti-Black violence at the hands of the Harvard University Police Department, we must be outraged and mobilized when any Black person faces anti-Black violence. 
This racial wealth gap is a clear indicator of inequality and discrimination that has lasted for centuries.
The violence that Black folks face isn’t just physical. It is deeply structural and systemic and is weaved throughout all facets of society.
For example, in 2016 the net worth of an average white family ($171,000) was nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150).
The opportunity gap that Black people face is the outcome of more than 240 years of enslavement, compounded by more than sixty years of Jim Crow Laws and a government that failed to protect its most vulnerable citizens.
And this caused Black Americans to suffer. Poor congressional oversight and management of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, a private corporation established by the US government to help newly freed Black Americans navigate their financial lives, left more than 61,000 Black depositors with losses nearly totaling $3 million in 1874.
Then in 1921, the Tulsa “Black Wall Street” Massacre decimated a thriving Black American business and social community, while Jim Crow “Black Codes” severely limited economic and educational opportunities for Blacks in many southern states.
Brown v. Board of Education called for the desegregation of public schools with “all deliberate speed” but was met with all deliberate delay.
The GI bill left Black veterans without the same benefits as their white counterparts. Even, government-enforced residential segregation still exists and is largely unchanged to this day.
But what do these statistics mean today?
It means that the average Black American is less likely than a white American to quit their job and take time to travel or turn a passion (like painting or sculpting) into an actual business.
It means that Black Americans will turn down unpaid internships even though it might be vital to advancing their careers.
It means growing up without expensive hobbies like skiing, sailing, and golfing — and not being able to relate to coworkers or join in on company outings.
It means fewer thriving Black entrepreneurs because risking it all doesn’t affect just them; it affects their entire families who depend on their support.
It means that it doesn’t matter if a Black American graduates from Harvard, they will still have the same job call-back rate as that of a white state school graduate.
It means that even if Black Americans earn $100,000 or more per year, they will probably end up living in neighborhoods with the same disadvantages as an average white household earning less than $30,000 per year.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Laws don’t magically write themselves. People write laws, enforce laws, and interpret laws. 
What if healthcare laws acknowledged and sought to change the fact that Black women, regardless of educational level, receive care from doctors inferior to that of their white counterparts?
What if the laws that mandate young people attend school didn’t ignore the fact that many Black students receive an educational experience inferior to that of white students in the US?
What if the lawmakers that have allowed white people to earn billions from the marijuana industry admitted to arbitrarily enforcing drug laws that targeted Black communities — for decades — and included real provisions to achieve actual economic and criminal justice? 
The way that the law is taught must change.
Many law school professors use the ideas of neutrality and objectivity to neutralize the plain fact that so many laws disproportionately harm Black people in this country. Laws may appear to be neutral, but in their implementation and application, we know they’re not. By refusing to acknowledge and dismantle anti-Blackness, our law schools and our country continue to perpetuate it. 
Our belief that this country’s laws can be better and do more for Black citizens motivated us to attend law school and engage critically with our legal education. Harvard Law School can do better. Our country’s lawmakers can do better. Our society can do better. The protests on the streets of cities across the United States are an ever present reminder that we must do better.
Editor’s note: Jeff Neal, senior director of communications and media relations at Harvard Law School, provided this statement. “We are saddened by the difficult experiences our students have encountered and welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues. Racism, prejudice and discrimination have no place at Harvard Law School. We are committed to fostering a supportive, inclusive community in which every member is accorded dignity and respect, and in which all feel that this is their Harvard. We will always work vigilantly to foster such a community, including in our ongoing work to advance the vital goal of diversity in every aspect of what we do. In addition, the Law School recently announced a series of new initiatives to build on longstanding efforts to support equal justice. These include the creation of a new program focused on mass incarceration, the establishment of a new legal journal focused on law and equality, and a number of new lecture series for students, faculty and staff that will address foundational questions of racial justice.”
Daniel Oyolu is an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Kiah Duggins is the president of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and Mo Light is the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Daniel, Kiah, and Mo are third-year students set to graduate in more

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