Reconceptualizing the Harms of Discrimination: How Brown v. Board of Education Helped to Further White Supremacy

For decades, literature has played a vital role in revealing weaknesses in law. The classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is no different. The long-revered work of fiction contains several key scenes that illuminate significant gaps in the analysis of one of our most celebrated decisions: Brown v. Board of Education, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that state-mandated racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. In particular, the novel opens a pathway that enables its readers to visualize the full harms of white supremacy, which include not only the detrimental effects of experiencing discrimination for Blacks but also the dehumanizing effects of perpetrating discrimination, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, for Whites. More specifically, the book constructs a narrative from which society can begin to understand how the Brown Court defined the harms of discrimination too narrowly and, more so, how this limited understanding of the harms of discrimination—here, segregation—has unintentionally resulted in the development of anti-discrimination doctrine that is unable to lead us to true racial equality.