Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe is under fire this week after referring to the selection of an African American for vice president over Sen. Elizabeth Warren as mere “cosmetics.” The comment set off a firestorm with critics calling the comment racist. I have strongly disagreed with Tribe’s legal positions and his rhetoric. However, I testified with Tribe during the Clinton impeachment and I have interacted with him for years. He is neither a racist nor dismissive of racial concerns. Tribe has spent his life fighting for his vision of a more perfect and equal union. People need to afford others a modicum of decency and consideration in such ill-considered commentary. Anyone who believes that Laurence Tribe is a racist is discarding decades of public interest work over a wayward comment.
Tribe interviewed with the Washington Post to support Sen. Elizabeth Warren after signing a letter with 100 others to former Vice President Joe Biden. He told the Washington Post that Biden should not yield to the demand to select an African American woman. (Biden previously declared that he would not consider men for the position). Tribe stated “I think African-Americans above all would be the first to say they are more interested in results than cosmetics.”
Former Pete Buttigieg staffer Rodericka Applewhaite, objected Tribe was engaging in racist speech. She declared Tribe “has no business speaking for Black people” and that dismissing calls for black leadership as “cosmetic” is racist.
Notably, Tribe’s insistence that he is not “ANTI-excellent others” does not seem to include any male candidates who were categorically excluded by Biden. Biden’s promise not to consider any male candidate would violate federal law if he were the head of a corporation as opposed to the country.
Nevertheless, “cosmetics” aside, Tribe is no racist. Hopefully, he will be equally protective of other academics who have been recently declared racist for merely expressing their views on current events.