What The Trending Hashtag #SorryWrongAsian Means To Me

Today I am hosting a guest post from my friend and classmate, Yeram Choi. -Ian Ramsey-North


A vast majority of us have been called by an incorrect name, other than the one assigned to us at birth, for a myriad of reasons. As a Korean American, however, it is a common occurrence for me as I bear “The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian.” The weight of this burden ranges from a quick laugh at Starbucks when I see the wrong name on my order, to a deep sense of shame when others call me by an incorrect name in the classroom or at the workplace. In every instance, I am called by the name of another Asian individual in the room.

Growing up, I heard every phonetic variation of “Yeram” you could possibly imagine, but I did not really mind. I unabashedly corrected others when they mispronounced it because I was proud of my unique name. Every day promised a new adventure as I heard yet another version of my name. But, I eventually hit a wall in high school. Fueled by teenage angst on top of years of exacerbation, I assigned myself an “English name” and vowed to live the rest of my life as “Leah.” 

Admittedly, this abrupt decision spawned a disjointed approach to my identity. On the one hand, “Yeram” desired to stay loyal to her Korean heritage. This would be the natural thing to do, since she was born and raised in South Korea. On the other hand, “Leah” simply wanted others to get her name right, without unnecessary, emotional exertion. In that moment when I decided to go by an “easier” name, however, my sense of urgency to assimilate as “Leah” trumped my desire to stay true to my cultural roots as “Yeram.” 

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Dean Rougeau and the Ideal of Truth

Dean Rougeau was among the first people to speak to my class during orientation. He welcomed us to BC and to the legal profession. Then he talked about truth. This was the summer of 2019 and then, as now, there were concerns that the very notion of truth was being degraded beyond redemption. At the time, an iconoclastic media personality-turned-politician had unsettled what many thought were enduring, if only partial, methods of verifying truth.

We don’t need to dwell on the politics of it. Dean Rougeau didn’t. He just took the opportunity to center truth in legal education and practice. He talked about how our profession’s procedures, norms, and expertise offered one important solution to the challenge our society faced. I was skeptical. But less than two years later, completely unsubstantiated claims of election fraud ran rampant through the public square until they crashed into the brick wall of the courts’ evidentiary standards. He may have been onto something.

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Faith and Democracy

What is the role of faith in our democracy? For starters, freedom of religion is the first right enshrined in the First Amendment. While amendments are not listed in order of importance, it’s hard not to read something into that drafting choice. Yet constitutional meanings frequently play hide-and-go-seek with text. This is especially the case for religion, which is never defined in the Constitution.[1]

Maybe the Founders’ generation assumed the meaning was self-evident. I would hope, however, that they knew there is little that is obvious or uncontested in religion. The etymology of the word itself suggests how difficult it is to define.[2] Religion comes from the Latin term religio.[3] The Latin phrase itself likely came from the root ligare, to bind. Joined with the prefix re-, religion is the process of “binding together again.”

The question is: what does religion bind together? Some believe it bound an individual to the discipline of moral discernment. It referred to epistemic responsibility, the responsibility to properly know what you know. A related but distinct interpretation was that it referred to the oaths taken by members of cults or religious orders. It emphasized the practical, ritual, and ecclesial dimensions of religious life. Over time, as religion started to assume more individualistic and mystical associations, the root was understood as referring to the re-connection between the human and the divine.

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On Being a Parent in Law School, Part III: Exercising Imagination

I first wrote about being a parent in law school shortly before my daughter’s second birthday. I was planning her second annual feat of strength. When she was one, she shuffled the last 100 meters up a paved path to the summit of Peter’s Hill. At two, she did a longer stretch of the road that winds around the hill. A few weeks ago, for her third birthday, she climbed straight up the hill, bottom to top, in the snow.

I started explaining the challenge to her the day before and then continued to prep her the morning of. When we started, she was ready, quiet, and about as focused as she gets. We started working our way up. In the middle, she struggled. She asked me to carry her. I told her she had to do this herself. She paused, rallied, and made it to the top. Breathing hard, but with a smile.

I took her for her three-year check-up at the pediatrician a couple of weeks later. The doctor told me, “Imagination is big at three.” She asked, “She imagine a lot?” That would be an understatement. She is constantly narrating her adventure: a highly consequential choice between the blue path and the red path, a search for a purple cow in a yellow valley, an escape from a thieving fox.

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From “A City on a Hill” to “The Hill We Climb”

the hill we climb.
If only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it.

–Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

 

“We are where we are, with the huge bloody problem delicately referred to as ‘race relations,’ because of a history.”

–Charles R Lawrence III and Mari J. Matsuda, “We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action”

If you need some light in these dark and unsheltered times, go watch or re-watch Amanda Gorman’s performance of “The Hill We Climb” at the recent Presidential Inauguration. If the poem itself does not inspire, maybe the poet will. Watching that virtuosity and vision in a 22-year old gives me hope that we may be able to find a path forward.

But as we begin Black History Month, I am reflecting on how we understand the path forward in light of the past. That was a central theme of Gorman’s verse. It is also a perpetual site of conflict in our politics and culture. This tension is apparent even in Gorman’s words. Her poem is yet another entry in a long rhetorical tradition of American jeremiads.

The jeremiad is named for the Prophet Jeremiah, who warned the people of Israel of the consequences of failure to fulfill their covenant with God. From that scriptural origin, “jeremiad” has come to refer to a rhetorical denunciation of sin and the related call to reform.

The first American jeremiads originated in the Puritan sermons of early New England colonies. John Winthrop—in language that echoes in the title of Gorman’s poem—exhorted his Puritan congregants to consider, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”

Within a generation, the Puritans were confronting the failure of their divine experiment. The jeremiad became a ritual means of purification, a coping mechanism for a religious community faced with its own moral failure and depravity. It consisted of three parts: 1) a scriptural precedent that established communal norms; 2) a condemnation of the current state of the community; and 3) a prophetic vision of salvation from moral failure that reconciles the discrepancy between ideal and reality. The jeremiad instantiated the American capacity for delusion and self-deception. It became an exhortation of low expectations:

“Even as the preacher exhorted, they knew enough about their listeners not to expect much from them…Theirs was a peculiar mission, they explained, for they were a ‘peculiar people,’ a company of Christianity not only called but chosen, and chosen not only for heaven but as instruments of a sacred historical design…In their case, they believed, God’s punishments were corrective, not destructive…In short, their punishments confirmed their promise.”[i]

The mutuality of sin and salvation purged the community of its guilt and implicitly encouraged its misconduct. The American jeremiad became a kind of rhetorical group therapy.  It required nothing more from its audience than faith in its narrative. Belief, not action, was the prerequisite for salvation.

An example? Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Consider this passage in which he absolves Americans of their moral responsibility by abdicating their agency to God:

The Almighty has His own purposes. If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

Lincoln’s address satisfied a deep national yearning for a conciliatory moral narrative. His formulation followed the classic jeremiadic tradition by sublimating the country’s vice into virtue. God’s very engagement with American history was proof of its unique status. The horrors of both slavery and war proved the national march towards salvation. 

But this is just one kind of American jeremiad. Another, the African-American or Black jeremiad, grew out of enslaved Black peoples’ fiery denunciations of white oppression. This jeremiad was not blind to American injustice and depravity. It bore prophetic witness to it.

For Black people in America, obvious parallels with the biblical story of Exodus countered white supremacist arguments that Black suffering proved their inferiority before God. Slavery was instead proof that the African-American community was God’s chosen people. Their suffering and hardship heralded God’s greater plan for the future.[ii] Reformulating the Exodus narrative, the African-American jeremiad provided assurance of the Lord’s salvation and nurtured a communal identity as a divinely favored people.

The early form of this African-American tradition was similar to that of its Anglo-American counterpart. But the tone and content were entirely different. The White Protestant jeremiad was a ritual of purification, an unfailingly optimistic prophecy of redemption. The (white) orator always addressed a “we,” his partners in a failing community. By contrast, the African-American jeremiad was a warning to the white, oppressive other. It served ritual purposes for the Black community, but its intended effect on white audiences was to persuade and admonish, not to comfort. An example? Think of Dr. King’s adaptation of the negro spiritual, “Go Down Moses,” in which he exhorted President Kennedy to “Go down Kennedy, way down to Georgia land. Tell old [Sheriff] Pritchett to let my people go!”[iii]

For much of our country’s history, these two rhetorical traditions existed in opposition to each other. They offered mutually exclusive views of America. But if you watch or read Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” you will see elements of both. It is not wrong to find comfort and hope in the midst of suffering and failure. But we cannot ignore history or evade its call to action. Belief in a brighter day to come is no substitute for acting to bring it about. As Gorman said,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

–Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”


[i] See Sacvan Bercovitch. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin (1978).

[ii] See Albert J. Raboteau. A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History. Boston: Beacon Press (1995).

[iii] See Keith D. Miller “Alabama as Egypt: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Religion of Slaves” in Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Sermonic Power of Public Discourse.

Looking Past OCI

OCI was last week. How is everyone doing?

For the uninitiated, the On-Campus Interview Program is one of the principal ways BC Law students line up 2L summer internships at big law firms. These internships hopefully (and usually) lead to post-graduation job offers. There are, of course, other ways to get jobs in these firms. But OCI is a unique chance to get on that career trajectory early. So for those who aspire to work in these firms, OCI is a hugely important event. It is another one of those choke points in legal education that can feel all-important and all-consuming. And like those other gatekeeping moments, students are assessed and judged based on partial information. Resumes, cover letters, GPAs. And then the interviews, now conducted virtually, further diminishing that sliver of human connection that interviews used to allow.

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BC Law Student Groups Call for Impeachment of President Trump

Many BC Law students were outraged by the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol. A number of student groups joined together to issue the following call to action to our elected representatives. It is presented here as a guest post.


On behalf of the Boston College Law Democrats, we respectfully ask Congress to bring articles of impeachment against President Trump at the next meeting of the House of Representatives. President Trump’s continuous undermining of the democratic process culminated today in acts of violence and a seditious occupation of the United States Capitol. The President’s inaction and implicit encouragement amount to high crimes against the Constitution. The evidence is clear that the President is not capable of upholding his oath of office, and thus should be impeached and removed from office.

Over the past four years, President Trump has repeatedly and clearly demonstrated that he is incapable of leading our nation. He has threatened our national security, the stability of our democracy and the fundamental principles of our Constitution. Instead of uniting this country, he has fanned the flames of discord. The violent insurrection on the sixth of January, 2021 was a direct result of his actions and he must be held accountable. While protesters stormed the steps of the Capitol building to prevent the peaceful transition of power, the President did not act. Instead, he incited chaos and relished in an attempt to undermine the institutions of our democratic process. As a direct result of President Trump’s incitement, the lives of duly elected members of Congress and hundreds of civilians were unnecessarily put at risk. The United States of America should no longer be forced to endure this existential threat to our democracy.

The President must not be allowed to subvert democracy with impunity. Congress must act to protect our institutions of government and ensure that President Trump will not be able to undermine them again. The President has violated his oath of office and continues to pose a threat to our democracy.

For the reasons above, we respectfully urge Congress to act.

– Boston College Law School Democrats

Cosigned by:

The Boston College Law School American Constitution Society

The Boston College Law School Latin American Law Students Association

The Boston College Undergraduate Democrats

The Boston College Law National Lawyers Guild

The Boston College Law School If/When/How Chapter

The Boston College Lambda Chapter

The Boston College Public Interest Law Foundation

Related content: BC Law professor and American Constitution Society chapter advisor Kent Greenfield drafts a letter calling for Trump’s removal from office. The letter was signed by more than 1,000 legal and constitutional scholars.

What Do Conservatives Believe?

In the early days of the pandemic, I read a tweet suggesting that public health authorities seeking to overcome conservative skepticism about the virus should heed the lessons of Cultural Cognition. Cultural cognition is a theory, coming out of Yale Law School, that perception of factual issues is shaped by normative commitments. In other words, our moral beliefs shape how we understand facts.

Around the same time I read that tweet, a conservative friend warned me about various Governors’ lock down orders and local officials’ enforcement of social distancing measures. He said that once government assumes a new power, it is unlikely to give it up. It seemed absurd to me to imagine governors and state health officials as crypto-fascists eager to control citizen’s lives. I have, however, ranted at and to my friends and family about federal government surveillance powers using the exact same argument.

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Black Art Matters

About five years ago, I stumbled onto some Afrofuturist art in a market in northern Uganda. I was moving through a maze of kitenge stalls when I came to a makeshift gallery that a young artist had set up in a forgotten corner of the market. One of his pieces was of a dramatic skyline, with arched spires climbing into the sky, draped in tropical vegetation. In the foreground, people in stylized, angular kitenge clothes were walking through a bustling public square. I asked him what it was and he said, “It’s the Kampala of the future.”

In contrast to a lot of antiseptic and tech-centric futurism, his mix of sci-fi architecture, verdant ecology, traditional culture, and civic harmony suggested that the ideal future would incorporate a healthy dose of the past. It reminded me of an aphorism from the other side of the African continent, embodied in the adinkra symbol, Sankofa, which depicts a bird with its head turned backward, retrieving an egg. The Sankofa symbol and word convey the idea that in moving forward, it is important to bring along what is essential from the past.

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Going Beyond Doctrine: Critical Perspectives at BC Law

When this year’s 1Ls sit down for their first Property Law class they are likely to discuss Pierson v. Post. The case concerns a dispute over who owned a wild fox killed during a hunt. Lodowick Post and his pack of hunting dogs were in pursuit of the fox, having chased it through a stretch of the town commons when Jesse Pierson suddenly intervened to kill and claim it. Post insisted that the fox was rightly his, as he and his pack of hounds had been in pursuit and were on the verge of capturing it. Pierson countered that a wild animal is no one’s property until it is definitively captured or killed.

Pierson is a 1L classic because it dramatizes the legal construction of ownership. The dividing line between the fox’s state of nature and its state as property is whatever the majority opinion says it is. More subtly, the case also dramatizes a key assumption driving much of Anglo-American property law: settling the question of ownership clarifies many of the rights and responsibilities that shape our relations as political subjects. Pierson can feel anachronistic, with the majority discussing obscure legal treatises and the minority perseverating on the noxiousness of foxes. But the case was not really about a fox.[1]

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