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From Racial Inequality to Social Justice: The Legacy of Brown v. Board and Lessons from South Africa


  • Based on my Presidential Address, Biennial Convention of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues—“From Desegregation to Diversity”, Washington DC, June 26, 2004.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be address to James M. Jones, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716 [e-mail:].


This article addresses the question of why racial inequality persists in the United States after over four centuries, while South Africa has extricated itself from racial Apartheid and launched a vigorous campaign for racial justice that appears to exceed the will and capacity of the United States. It discusses the legacy of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision and its role in reducing racial inequality and fueling both defense of and attacks on racial segregation. Social justice, it is argued, is a point of view that depends on the interpretative schemas and personal positions of its advocates for its definition. Several psychological and social-structural mechanisms are presented and their roles in continuing racial inequality are proposed. Key provisions of the new South African Constitution and the Truth and Reconciliation process for adjudicating atrocities of Apartheid argue for the critical role of forgiveness and the cultural concept of Ubuntu. A brief discussion of current research in the United States suggests some ways in which this principle promises to reduce intergroup conflict and racial inequality.