77 North Washington Street-May 97

Randall Kennedy

IN this month's cover story Randall Kennedy manages the difficult feat of saying something new about race. "My Race Problem -- and Ours" gives voice to seldom-asked questions: Should African-Americans feel "racial pride"? Should "blood ties" to their race be accorded a special status? Should "racial loyalty"? Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School, sorts through these questions with measured candor -- and, in the end, with considerable dismay at the standard answers.

A native of Washington, D.C. (see his review of Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. in the October, 1994, Atlantic Monthly), Kennedy attended St. Albans School, Princeton University, Balliol College of Oxford University (where he was a Rhodes Scholar), and Yale Law School. As a young lawyer Kennedy clerked for the Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. A trustee of Princeton, he is also a member of the editorial boards of Dissent, The Nation, and The American Prospect.

Kennedy, the author of many articles in legal journals and general-interest magazines, has just published his first book, . "It is a book," he explained during a recent conversation, "that deals with the major issues at the intersection of race relations and the law. It relates the history of racial conflict in the administration of criminal justice and explores a variety of volatile questions: Should police officers be allowed to take race into account in calculating the suspiciousness of people? Should judges take race into account in changing the venue of trials? Should defendants be entitled to a jury with at least some people who share their racial background? Is it true, as many allege, that racial bias is pervasive in the prosecution of crimes, especially drug offenses, and the infliction of punishments, especially the death penalty? To the extent that these claims are true, what remedies are proper? How can one tell whether an attorney is making a racial appeal to jurors, and if such an appeal is being made, how should the legal system respond? One purpose of the book is to demystify the jargon of judges and lawyers. After all, the law is something that concerns and affects everyone."

Randall Kennedy lives near Boston, with his wife, Yvedt Matory, a cancer surgeon at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, and his son, Henry William Kennedy.


Photograph: Harvard Law Art Collection