While honoring the efforts and sacrifices of the people whose struggles culminated in Brown v. Board of Education , the Supreme Court case that ended school segregation in this country, New York University Professor Derrick Bell provocatively suggested last week that generations of black children might have been better off if the case had failed. Bell said the Supreme Court should have enforced the "equal" portion of the "separate but equal" ruling that segregated schools. Photo: L. Ferguson ," Bell said, referring to the Supreme Court ruling that enforced a "separate but equal" standard for blacks and whites. While acknowledging the deep injustices done to black children in segregated schools, Bell argued the court should have determined to enforce the generally ignored "equal" part of the "separate but equal" doctrine.
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When the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down in , many civil rights advocates believed that the decision finding public school segregation unconstitutional could become the Holy Grail of racial justice.
Fifty years later, despite its legal irrelevance and the racially separate and educationally ineffective state of public schooling for most black children, Brown is still viewed by many as the perfect precedent.
Derrick Bell here shatters this shining image of one of the Court's most celebrated rulings. He notes that, despite the onerous burdens of segregation, many black schools functioned well and racial bigotry had not rendered blacks a damaged race. Brown's recognition of racial injustice, without more, left racial barriers intact.
Given what we now know about the pervasive nature of racism, the Court should have determined—for the first time—to rigorously enforce the "equal" component of the "separate but equal" standard. By striking it down, the Court intended both to improve the Nation's international image during the Cold War and offer blacks recognition that segregation was wrong. Instead, the Brown decision actually enraged and energized its opponents. It stirred confusion and conflict into the always vexing question of race in a society that, despite denials and a frustratingly flexible amnesia, owes much of its growth, development, and success, to the ability of those who dominate the society to use race to both control and exploit most people, black and white.
Racial policy, Bell maintains, is made through silent covenants—unspoken convergences of interest and involuntary sacrifices of rights—that ensure that policies conform to priorities set by policy-makers.
Blacks and whites are the fortuitous winners or losers in these unspoken agreements. The experience with Brown , Bell urges, should teach us that meaningful progress in the quest for racial justice requires more than the assertion of harms. Strategies must recognize and utilize the interest-convergence factors that strongly influence racial policy decisions.
In Silent Covenants , Bell condenses more than four decades of thought and action into a powerful and eye-opening book. In his most creative chapter, Bell imagines an alternative Brown decision that would have upheld segregation but insisted on the equalization of resources between blacks and whites.
Had that road been followed, he suggests, black children might have gotten the education they needed and deserved. His pervasive melancholy may surprise readers who expect movement veterans to celebrate victories rather than rue their missteps, but to Bell the very perception of Brown as a victory is a 'mirage' that must be vanquished. Captures the significance of Brown at the time of its pronouncement and of African Americans' then-unconquerable optimism about the country's ultimate goodness.
Dickerson, Mother Jones -. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Academic Skip to main content. Search Start Search. Choose your country or region Close. Dear Customer, As a global organisation, we, like many others, recognize the significant threat posed by the coronavirus.
Please contact our Customer Service Team if you have any questions. To purchase, visit your preferred ebook provider. Election Silent Covenants Brown v. Board of Education undermined rather than advanced black childrens' educational needs.
Dickerson, Mother Jones - "Bell's wide-ranging provocations effectively challenge those who still consider Brown the 'Holy Grail of racial justice. Also of Interest. Immigration Outside the Law Hiroshi Motomura. Rethinking America John M.
Murrin, Andrew Shankman. Black, John T. Groce, Charles E. Twists of Fate Vanessa C. Counting Americans Paul Schor. The U. Accumulation by Segregation Ghazala Jamil. Dance in Chains Padraic Kenney. American Discontent John L. On Race George Yancy. Rights Make Might Kiyoteru Tsutsui. No Shortcuts Jane F. Imprisoned by the Past Jeffrey L.
Silent Covenants: Brown V. Board of Edcuation and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform
As an educator, I never questioned the power of Brown v. Board of Education as a testament to the maturation of our nation's beliefs about segregation. However, in Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform , Derrick Bell shatters the ideologies associated with the landmark case and argues that Brown offered little more than symbolic encouragement that discrimination could be overcome by litigation. In this review, I first expound upon Bell's general argument of Brown as an unfulfilled dream for racial reform and then offer a critical look at the points that offer implications specific to educational practitioners, researchers and policymakers.