Remembering Keith Aoki, Law Professor, Activist, Comic Artist

The respected civil rights, critical race theory and intellectual property scholar leaves behind a strong legacy.

By Julianne Hing Apr 29, 2011

We lost a bright light when UC Davis law professor Keith Aoki passed away earlier this week. He was as a respected civil rights, critical race theory and intellectual property scholar, and, in the words of UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson, "a fervent defender of immigrant rights."

In a recent article titled "Welcome to Amerizona," Aoki dared ask where the country was headed in the post-SB 1070 era:

We use the phrase "Amerizona" to describe a state of internal disorder represented by Arizona’s recently passed SB 1070, as well as the flurry of state and local law-making pertaining to undocumented immigrants and immigration reform. We also use it to illustrate one of many possible futures for states, municipalities, and the entire nation so that we may ask the question: is this the future of immigration reform and of American society in this century?

Aoki was also as a talented comic book artist who co-created Bound by Law, a popular comic on copyright law and fair use that is, true to his values, available to download for free.

His collaborator Jamie Boyle, in his moving tribute to Aoki, says he was also, above all, a decent man.

Keith cared about injustice, about exclusion — something he understood on a visceral level. Unlike some people who are great at the rhetoric of equality, but terrible at the practice, Keith’s personal behavior was a complete mirror of his political views. He was such a gentle, decent man. He was so humble that he treated everyone as if they were not only his equal, but practically his senior. As I write this, I am getting e-mail after e-mail from junior scholars who explain that they just have to write to me, to contribute to this fund, because they met this really incredible guy once, or a couple of times, and they — somewhat in awe of attention from this very distinguished senior person — instead found themselves being treated with incredible kindness and respect, offered help, given advice and assistance.

He’s survived by his wife and two daughters. Aoki was 55.