Black and White Together: A Reconsideration: W. B. ALLEN

Social Philosophy and Policy 8 (2):172-195 (1991)

Principled discussions of civil rights became inherently less likely as a direct result of the observation by Earl Warren, in Brown v. Board of Education, that, respecting freedmen, “Education of Negroes was almost non-existent, and practically all of the race were illiterate,” and in proportion as that observation increasingly became the foundation of common opinion on the subject. Warren's observation was not true in any meaningful or non-trivial sense. Nevertheless, it served to perpetuate the myth of a backward people needing help to catch up instead of the truth of a people being held back. That is the perspective – the disadvantaged group perspective – that ultimately infected all discussion of civil rights, even after the designation of so-called “disadvantaged groups” had been extended beyond American blacks. To define civil rights, we may well begin with what all mankind would likely recognize. Thus the dictionary definition of “civil rights” stands: “the rights that belong to all individuals in a nation or community touching property, marriage, and the like.” In that definition the term “rights” may be further expanded to mean “legitimate claims,” following the definition of right as law – as “a claim or title or interest in anything whatever that is enforceable by law.” This definition applies with minimal distinction of regimes intruding and, therefore, without the host of recent complications in the United States that create the impression that civil rights have something to do with pluralism. Previously, the generic definition was thought to exhaust the meaning of the term in the United States.
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DOI 10.1017/S0265052500001187
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