Simple Justice or Complex Injustice?: American Racial Dynamics and the Ironies of Brown and Grutter
3(1) Perspectives on Urban Education
15 Pages Posted: 3 May 2018
Date Written: 2004
In 1954, the Supreme Court rendered its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, ruling unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The eventual result of Brown was the complete breakdown of de jure segregation. It is appropriate we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of this decision, which is aptly described by the title of Richard Kluger's (1975) famous book, Simple Justice. Yet, Brown is marked by a series of ironic twists, not the least of which is its tragically unfulfilled promise; public schools today are more segregated than they were 30 years ago. Also, the social science evidence presented in Brown, along with its legal reasoning and relationship to U.S. foreign policy interests, have generated much debate. Here, I analyze the many ironies surrounding Brown, including the role of social science, political interests inherent in the decision, limitations of future desegregation efforts, and neoconservative rearticulation of the Civil Rights Movement. I also consider parallels between Brown and the recent University of Michigan affirmative action cases, which in many ways are its present day corollaries. My aim is to illustrate the ambivalence of Brown as not only a "simple justice" but also a "complex injustice."
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