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Book Review

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University of Michigan Law School




This review essay analyzes Derrick Bell's provocative new book, Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform (2004). In Silent Covenants, Professor Bell reviews Brown v. Board of Education, and inquires "whether another approach than the one embraced by the Brown decision might have been more effective and less disruptive in the always-contentious racial arena." Specifically, Professor Bell joins black conservatives in critiquing what he describes as a misguided focus on achieving racial balance in schools and argues that the quality of education for minority children, in particular Blacks, would have been better today had the Supreme Court instead decided simply to enforce the "equal" component of the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson. In this book review, For Whom Does the Bell Toll: The Bell Tolls for Brown?, Professor Onwuachi-Willig recommends Professor Bell's book as a thought-provoking critique of a decision that has been championed by persons of all races and ethnicities. Although agreeing with Bell's interest-convergence theory, his thorough explanation of historical instances in which policymakers have sacrificed the rights of minorities in the United States, and his arguments concerning white resistance to integration, she disagrees with Professor Bell's conclusion that enforcement of the "separate but equal" doctrine would have proved more effective than the strategy that civil rights lawyers employed in arriving at Brown. Overall, she argues that Bell's approach to achieving such equality likely would have landed minorities in the same position as they are in today. In so doing, she details Bell's explanation of the promise of Brown and the ways in which its failure is merely a continuation of the disregard for the rights of minorities (except when such rights coincide with the interests of Whites). She then demonstrates how Bell's own interest-convergence theory does not support his criticism of Brown and his endorsement of the "separate but equal" strategy that he claims ultimately would have served minorities the best. Finally, she explores the potential for coalition building between minorities and poor Whites by examining recent events and occurrences surrounding the debate about the Texas Ten Percent Plan.


Review of Derrick Bell, Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform (2004)

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