Bell Supported “Separate but Equal”
Lee Stranahan touched on this point, citing Derrick Bell’s book as evidence. But I think it’s worth elaboration, in light of a 2004 article I stumbled across today (and I’m sure I’m not the first). Derrick Bell explicitly believed that Brown v. Board of Education was decided incorrectly — and that the U.S. Supreme Court should have upheld Plessy v. Ferguson‘s “separate but equal” standard . . . and given more teeth to the “equal” part.
“From the standpoint of education, we would have been better served had the court in Brown rejected the petitioners’ arguments to overrule Plessy v. Ferguson,” Bell said, referring to the 1896 Supreme Court ruling that enforced a “separate but equal” standard for blacks and whites. While acknowledging the deep injustices done to black children in segregated schools, Bell argued the court should have determined to enforce the generally ignored “equal” part of the “separate but equal” doctrine.
I went back and forth with Tommy Christopher about this tonight on Twitter. Christopher has not only maintained that Bell was not “radical” — he also maintains that no conservative can honestly believe that, and that anyone who pretends to is engaged in a cynical racist-based “smear” of a dead man who can’t defend himself.
I tried and tried to get Christopher to acknowledge that Bell believed the High Court should have rejected Brown and adopted the Plessy standard, while giving teeth to the “equal” part of “separate but equal.” Time and time again, I closely paraphrased or even quoted Bell’s opinions on the case, and Christopher continually refused to acknowledge that Bell (admittedly in the light of the aftermath of Brown) actually said that the High Court should have upheld Plessy. (He would acknowledge that Bell believed it would have led to better results, but when I would directly put the question to him whether Bell believed the Court should have maintained the separate but equal doctrine, he would refuse to give a straight answer.)
(I am almost certain that Tommy will say I am mischaracterizing the exchange, since he constantly accuses me of mischaracterizing everything he says. My response is: read the tweets for yourself and decide for yourself.)
Granted, I understand why Tommy was seemingly reluctant to admit Bell’s views. Because to do so is to admit that they are radical — and Tommy has very self-righteously mocked the notion that anyone could consider Bell’s views radical. But they are. It is radical to say we should have “separate but equal” in this country. It is radical to say Plessy v. Ferguson should have been upheld.
And when we call it “radical” we are not lying or being cynical or racist. We are speaking the truth.
I call on Tommy Christopher to acknowledge Bell’s views on this issue are radical.
And here is what I’m really getting at: when he doesn’t, I call on you guys to notice . . . and to remember.
UPDATE: Here is one example from my exchange with Tommy: