May 16, 2016

Taking a wrong turn after Brown vs Board of Education

Silent Covenants: Brown V. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial ReformSilent Covenants: Brown V. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform by Derrick A. Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, very good, but a few definite "issues" at the same time, which I'll note at the end.

That said, I largely agree with Bell, and with other authors who have also raised some of the same points.

"Equal" is about more than just physical integration, to the degree that was ever possible. It's also about equality in financial and other resources, and within integrated classrooms, equality of student treatment by teachers. None of that comes easily, and much of it hasn't come much further than physical integration.

He (as do other authors) note that much of the problem lies with the Supreme Court's "Brown II" ruling, which imposed no timetables and led to Southern behavior dilatory at best, intransigent at worst. (It's interesting as a historical counterfactual to wonder what would have happened if Warren had junked the desire for unanimity in remedy on Brown II, and even dropped hints that 7 votes were fine and he'd accept 6. Frankfurter would have either become more truculent, or let himself be drug along into something more than "all deliberate speed," and other holdouts might have taken note.)

From here, Bell looks at alternatives, such as African-American specific charter schools and even homeschooling. He notes both their promises and perils while encouraging an open mind to all alternatives.

That said, I did have a few "issues" with the book, generally related to Bell's Critical Race Theory background.

1. In things like Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, he seems to almost always treat improvements in racial issues in American life, when offered by white Americans, as a zero-sum game, namely that they're always done for white self interest. Why can't something be seen as, say 85 percent white self interest but yet 15 percent true benevolence.

2. "Privilege" and related issues, which have spilled into today's "social justice warrior" world. It's a relatively useful generalization, and generalizations, as compared to stereotypes, are of real value. But, generalizations can be pushed too far, and even way too far, to the point of becoming stereotypes. Plus, when dealing with individuals as individuals, it's usually better to try to remove generalization lenses.

3. Bell at one point in the book, in discussing reparations (an issue that is "fraught" among many African-Americans as well as liberal whites) claims that American Indians have received reparations. Other than small reparations to small individual tribes that don't stick out on my radar screen, this is definitely news to me — and, I venture, to millions of American Indians.

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(I'm in the process of reading another book, also critical of the Brown II decision and beyond, but from a somewhat different viewpoint.)

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