THE MELANCHOLY OF RACE
How does an individual go from being a subject of grief to being a subject of grievance? What political and psychical gains or losses transpire in the process?
This transformation from grief to grievance, from suffering injury to speaking out against that injury, has always provoked profound questions about the meaning of hurt and its impact. Although it may seem that the existence of racial injury in this country is hardly debatable, it is precisely at moments when racial injury is most publicly pronounced that its substance and tangibility come most stringently into question. The struggle to translate racial grief into social claims, for instance, formed a central drama in the desegregation of the nation. Arguably the most momentous Supreme Court ruling in United States history, Brown v.Board of Education1 ( 1954) overturned the Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v.Ferguson, which upheld Jim Crow laws through the chimera of "separate but equal" public accommodations and institutions for blacks and whites.It was the moment when American apartheid gave way.In his effort to challenge Plessy v.Ferguson and to argue that "separate is inherently unequal" even if the facilities are materially equal, NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall enlisted the help of social psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, whose work focused on the detrimental effects of racism on children of color.
The use of psychological evidence had been introduced into the courts by the turn of the century, but Marshall's use of it was a gamble. 2 As Marshall warned Clark, whatever psychological evidence they gathered had "to prove damage." 3 The social psychologists assembled by Kenneth Clark to write the document entitled "The Effect of Segregation and the Consequences of Desegregation—A Social Science Statement," which served as