Friday, February 1, 2013

Response to Derrick A. Bell “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest Convergence Dilemma’"

By Denise Francis

Bell explored the issues of overturning the Plessy v Ferguson decision of separate but equal. In theory the decision was used to legalized segregation as long as both black and white people had similar experiences. It was no a surprise that amenities, dining and traveling experiences of black americans would never be equal to that of whites. With this understanding, Brown v. Board of Education aimed to reverse the effects of the previous legislation for children of all colors to have a better education.
After Brown v Board was passed, integration into white schools was strongly resisted. Black children had experienced harassment from students, teachers and faculty alike. Black parents made conscious decisions regarding their children’s education. Currently there are programs that were established to integrate schools, usually urban students into suburban schools. Being from Boston, I’m familiar with the METCO program that has a five year waiting list to integrate schools. After hearing stories from friends who were in the METCO program, I highly doubt I would have enjoyed my experience at a suburban school. Many of my friends experienced being tracked into underperforming classes and feeling isolated from the larger school community. Bell explains that this form of integration and education reform are the exact issues that should have been dealt with under Brown v Board.
            Bell receives a considerable amount of backlash from reformers because he says that demographic patterns, white flight and the lack of effective social reforms contribute to the continuation of school segregation. I completely agree with Bell’s argument simply from  personal experience in the Boston public school system. In order to effectively integrate schools, the source of our social issues need to be adequately addressed.
All too often America turns to temporary fixes to bandage problems instead of actually fixing the problem. Bell advocates that we take a closer look at our nations and the terms in which it functions in order to progress our society. 


  1. I think your analysis of Bell is spot on. Rather than focusing on the celebratory history of the civil rights movement, specifically on Brown, he questions this history by assessing the real material consequences of the court decision to overturn Plessy. Indeed, there were and are deeper issues that must be tackled before superficial reforms can bring about real change. I found his suggestion that separate but actually equal education deserves consideration to be provocative. I do believe that since the outcome to nominal integration has been continued racial discrimination in education, that this possibility must be considered even as it problematizes the U.S. narrative of racial progress.

  2. I agree as well. I think that the idea of integrating schools would imply that students would leave the better school to attend the other, which is obviously ridiculous to imagine and thus the only realistic integration would mean Blacks into White schools. Bell argues though that Black schools hold this circle of culture, between the parents and Black teachers, that these students could not get elsewhere, and thus the solution should be to reform the Black schools, which I also agree with. I'm not arguing for continued segregation, however I do not think that Black students should be forced to leave their neighborhoods and travel large distances to receive and education that is rightfully theirs, to be harassed, uncomfortable, isolated and tokenized.

  3. Denise,
    Your reading of Bell raises many of the implications of his argument that I find most interesting and worthy of scrutiny still in 2013. Bell argues that the ways those become invested in legislating social change, and the subsequent processes of enforcing that legislation, are often divorced from a sense of how the world actually works. Bell's argument is so powerful for me in this new decade because we as a nation seem to be increasingly interested in a kind of empty performance at the larger level of discourse while individuals are fighting for freedom every day but that these struggles are reduced or disappeared out of the larger conversations happening at a national level. Moreover, these conversations often seem to be so ahistorical and full of vacuous "culture war" terms that we continue to remain blind to the very realities that good Critical Race theory is drawing our attention to.

    Your comment and Dayna's also remind me that what is at stake here are the patterns of people's lives--mobility both physical and social. How does this reality become buried in the current debates about education reform--public vs private, charter schools, STEM funding, the humanities, etc?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.