VLS Community Book and Film Club on Racial Justice and Civil Rights

Open to all members of the Vanderbilt Law School community, the Book and Film Club on Racial Justice and Civil Rights guides investigation into thought-provoking works to analyze their ideas and perspectives with a goal of developing greater depth of understanding on themes of racial justice and civil rights. Facilitated by a member of our faculty, each meeting encourages open and wide-ranging conversation on the themes raised in each work, connecting them to our own thinking, experiences and areas of study and research.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Community, along with the George Barrett Social Justice Program welcome members of the law school community to these discussions, even if they have not fully read the assigned book. For the academic year 2020–21, the book club will hold all meetings virtually.

Spring 2022

"My Name is Pauli Murray," a 2021 Amazon original documentary film directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West

April 15, 2022, 6:00 p.m.

This critically acclaimed 2021 documentary spotlights the life and legacy of an often overlooked - but extraordinarily influential - figure in the history of civil rights. Dr. Murray’s writings, described by Justice Thurgood Marshall as essential reading for civil rights lawyers, have powerfully shaped the fight for racial justice and civil rights. Dr. Murray was also instrumental in fighting for gender equality and doing so from an intersectional lens. Their impact on jurisprudence, institutions, and public thought has been singularly important – and yet little is known about who Dr. Murray was, their life and contributions to the world we inhabit today.

Co-sponsored by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Community and the George Barrett Social Justice Program.
Co-hosted by Black Law Students Association, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council, Law Students for Social Justice, outLaw, and Women Law Students Association.

Spring 2021

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (Penguin Random House, 2020)

January 22, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people's lives and behavior and the nation's fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball's Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day.

Choke Hold by Paul Butler (The New Press, 2018)

February 19, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

Cops, politicians, and ordinary people are afraid of black men. The result is the Choke Hold: laws and practices that treat every African American man like a thug. In this explosive new book, an African American former federal prosecutor shows that the system is working exactly the way it's supposed to. Black men are always under watch, and police violence is widespread—all with the support of judges and politicians. In his no-holds-barred style, Butler, whose scholarship has been featured on 60 Minutes, uses new data to demonstrate that white men commit the majority of violent crime in the United States.

Representing the Race by Kenneth Mack (Harvard University Press, 2014)

March 19, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

Representing the Race tells the story of an enduring paradox of American race relations through the prism of a collective biography of African American lawyers who worked in the era of segregation. Practicing the law and seeking justice for diverse clients, they confronted a tension between their racial identity as black men and women and their professional identity as lawyers. Both blacks and whites demanded that these attorneys stand apart from their racial community as members of the legal fraternity. Yet, at the same time, they were expected to be "authentic"—that is, in sympathy with the black masses. This conundrum, as Kenneth W. Mack shows, continues to reverberate through American politics today.

Fall 2020

Fatal Invention by Dorothy E. Roberts (The New Press, 2012)

October 23, 2020, 12:00 p.m.

This groundbreaking book by the acclaimed Dorothy Roberts examines how the myth of the biological concept of race—revived by purportedly cutting-edge science, race-specific drugs, genetic testing, and DNA databases—continues to undermine a just society and promote inequality in a supposedly “post-racial” era. Named one of the ten best black nonfiction books 2011 by AFRO.com, Fatal Invention offers a timely and “provocative analysis” (Nature) of race, science, and politics by one of the nation’s leading legal scholars and social critics.