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Racial and social justice advocacy is in an era of transition. Race continues to permeate people's lives and to structure the social and economic hierarchy, but often in complicated ways that elude bright line categories. Disparities frequently result from cognitive bias, unequal access to opportunity networks, and other structural dynamics, rather than from intentional exclusion. For example, disparities in access to higher education persist as a result of differences in access, information, resources, networks, and evaluation, which give rise to achievement differentials at each critical turning point affecting successful advancement. These differences accumulate to produce substantial disparities in college participation rates, graduation, and movement into graduate and faculty positions.

Recent Supreme Court decisions provide further evidence that the hallmark narratives and strategies of the civil rights era have to be rethought. Discrimination – as defined by the courts – does not adequately account for persistent disparities in the core institutions that define citizenship, including education, criminal justice, housing, employment, and political participation. The federal judiciary has largely withdrawn from the affirmative project of eradicating persistent bias and structural inequality. Civil rights advocates are more likely to be in court to defend the legality of long-standing programs, rather than to advance affirmative racial justice goals. Community mobilization now takes forms that may differ dramatically from the grass roots, protest-based mobilization of the 1960s. Activism's center of gravity has shifted from a singular focus on federal government action to a multi-level, public/private array of local, regional, national, and international arenas. There is a need for new frameworks and narratives for advancing full participation that are informed by a fuller understanding of the mechanisms that sustain disparities and are connected to new locations and institutions for making those narratives meaningful in practice..


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Law | Law and Race | Law and Society


Posted/Reprinted with permission of the Saint Louis University Law Journal © 2010, St. Louis University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri.


Center for Institutional and Social Change