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In the past year we have celebrated a number of civil rights milestones: the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education; the fortieth anniversaries of the March on Washington and of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Collectively our nation now venerates our most progressive, socially transforming legal edicts, even as we accept, or ignore, persistent racial inequality. Much has been written about the limits and modern meaning of Brown. Elsewhere I have argued that we have failed to live up to the integrationist vision that animated Brown and the civil rights movement, primarily because our neighborhoods remain largely segregated by race and class. In this Article, I celebrate the coalition politics that made the civil rights revolution possible with a view toward understanding how and why coalition politics of the progressive kind seem to be stymied today. I argue that the thesis of interest convergence advanced by Professor Derrick Bell, while pessimistic in its outlook, offers a key insight into human nature and American race relations that can and should be harnessed in order to build the sustainable multiracial coalitions that will be necessary if we are to close existing gaps of racial inequality. The civil rights movement ultimately succeeded not only because it had moral force, but also because a powerful, well-organized grassroots effort altered the understanding of a voting majority in Congress as to what was in their enlightened self-interest and in the interest of the nation. I explore below the possibilities for progressives to recapture majoritarian politics based upon a convergence of interests among communities of color, working class, and progressive whites. A key challenge, as Bell and others suggest, is whether racial ideology often, but not exclusively, harbored by whites can be transcended by engaging seemingly disparate groups in the language of self-interest.

Publication Citation

79 St. John's L. Rev. 253-291

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Law and Race Commons