The Yale Law Journal

April 2005

Forbidden Conversations: On Race, Privacy, and Community (A Continuing Conversation with John Ely on Racism and Democracy)

Charles R. Lawrence III
114 Yale L.J. 1353 (2005)

More than ever, urban school systems are segregated by race and class. While a chief cause of this segregation is the flight of white and upper-middle-class black families from predominantly black public schools, there is little discussion of white flight in contemporary education policy debates. Instead, our conversations frame the causes of and remedies for educational inequality in terms of racially neutral private choices. Describing this phenomenon as the "privatization of concern" for our children, this article critiques a narrow view of parental responsibility and care that justifies segregation by invoking the liberty of familial privacy. Employing narratives from his experience as a D.C. school board member and parent, Charles Lawrence calls for an expanded understanding of John Hart Ely's process-defect theory that recognizes the continuing influence of racism on school choice. He argues that our silence on the subject of race undermines the democratic process, and he suggests that breaking the taboo against candid conversation about race and racism is a prerequisite to the creation of the community of care envisioned by Brown v. Board of Education.