Dignity in Race Jurisprudence

53 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2012

See all articles by Christopher A. Bracey

Christopher A. Bracey

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: February 1, 2005


Racial justice demands dignity; the acknowledgment and affirmation of the equal humanity of people of color. Denying dignity on the basis of color creates racial subordination, which triggers dignitary harms such as individual acts of racism and communal exclusion leading to diminished health, wealth, income, employment and social status. The legal recognition of dignity is therefore a prerequisite to political and social equality.

For Americans of African descent, dignity was long denied by the legal endorsement of slavery and the degrading policies of segregation. The struggle to be treated equally human eventually found success in landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education where the Supreme Court enshrined the rights of people color in the name of a collective sense of justice and dignity. But negative racial stereotypes and presumptions of cultural inferiority continue to pervade today’s social network, housing patterns, and racially disparate law enforcement policies.

This paper suggests that the Supreme Court has recently shifted its focus away from the idea of dignity and is therefore unable to address the contemporary racial problems of racial stereotypes, subtle racism, and societal discrimination. Instead, the Court is placing too much emphasis on the concept of colorblindness, ignoring the hallmarks of dignity and justice set forth in the civil rights era cases.

I propose that the Supreme Court return to a discussion of dignity in contemporary race jurisprudence, and to do so, need only look to the Court’s recent affirmation of gay rights and the dignity of the homosexual lifestyle in Lawrence v. Texas. Second, I offer what a renewed emphasis on dignity night look like in the equally contentious field of race relations. An emphasis on dignity may provide the Court with an anchor for its future race-based decision making designed to address the true nature of racial injustice.

Keywords: race, race relations, judge, judging, Supreme Court, African American, black, white, discrimination, racism, civil rights, slavery, minority, minority rights, racial equality, legal history, segregation, due process, equal protection, civil liberties, economic liberties, NAACP, Brandeis brief

JEL Classification: B31, D63, I28, I30, I31, J15, J38, J71, J78, K49

Suggested Citation

Bracey, Christopher A., Dignity in Race Jurisprudence (February 1, 2005). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2005; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-15; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2012-15. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2018311

Christopher A. Bracey (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-2546 (Phone)
202-994-5614 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.gwu.edu/Faculty/profile.aspx?id=10932

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