Law School Grad Haunted by Racist Class Notes

April 12, 2007 — -- Kiwi Camara boasts an impressive resume. He is the recipient of a coveted clerk position for a U.S. Court of Appeals' judge and a distinguished law fellowship, a Stanford economics doctoral student, and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, the youngest graduate in the history of Harvard Law.

Yet this 22-year-old whiz kid cannot get a job.

It seems no matter where Camara goes his reputation is never too far behind. His mere presence on college campuses across the country has ignited intense debate, sit-ins and even protests.

With such impressive credentials, one would never guess that something as basic as Camara's class notes could incite such controversy, but that is exactly what happened.

In his first year at Harvard Law in 2002, when he was just 16 years old, Camara posted notes from his property law class online, a common practice at Harvard. However, in his notes Camara used a derogatory word in reference to African-Americans -- using the term "nigs" as shorthand for blacks.

Immediately, Camara's racist remark sparked campus and citywide debate, despite its removal from the law school's intranet site.

Now, nearly six years later, Camara is still haunted by this incident.

"It's followed me at every stage of my career," he said in an interview with ABC News. "When I applied for law firm jobs, when I was a law student. It came up again when I applied for clerkships with judges in my third year of law school. And it's come up ever since. Several law schools have expressed to me informally that the controversy is the reason why they can't make me an offer as a law professor."

Camara does not try to make excuses for his discriminatory note; instead he agrees with those who speak out against him and characterizes his comment as "very bad." Yet Camara insists that he is not racist.

"I have no explanation for what I did. It wasn't a decision. It was a mistake, and I don't think it indicates my views on race," he said. "I'm not a racist, and I've never been a racist."

Camara's supporters note that, with the exception of this one episode, his record is virtually spotless. However, his detractors argue that off-hand comments such as Camara's prove that discrimination is still an issue in the United States and must be addressed.

After radio shock jock Don Imus' comments in reference to the Rutgers' women's basketball team, questions have begun to surface regarding the correct punishment or repercussions for off-the-cuff racist comments. Is it acceptable for blacks to refer to each other in derogatory ways -- whether in music, in literature or in everyday conversation? Should we hold a 16-year-old college student who makes a racist note to the same standards as a 66-year-old radio personality with a history of impulsive discriminatory remarks?

In Camara's case detractors argue that the Harvard incident calls in to question this student's character. One thing's for sure, Camara is not dwelling on the past, instead preferring simply to make the most of his situation and get on with his life.

"One thing that I've learned from this experience is that it's never going to go away," he said. "So, going forward, the best thing for me to do is not try to make it go away, but to try to tell my story, to explain what happened in my own words, to say I 'm not a racist and to try and turn it into something good."

At present, Camara is considering turning his story into a book. Ultimately, Camara cites the Internet as the main culprit behind his inexorable reputation as a racist.

"Twenty or 30 years ago, this story would have disappeared by now, certainly much faster than it has any hope of disappearing today," said Camara. "It's not a problem created by the availability of information, it's a problem created by what we do with that information."

Ultimately Camara insists that stigmatization such as his is leading many law students to stop taking risks in the classroom and curbing their opinions in class discussions or projects, thus hindering their development into effective lawyers.

"I think many law students feel nervous about expressing controversial views on racial subjects and on other subjects because they worry about what their professors, classmates and employers will think about them," he said. "I think what my case shows is that their fear isn't entirely misplaced … [and that] is a very large problem."

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