(Ignoring) Laws, Historical Narratives, and Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

I had a new thought/question on the topic of how we discuss Brown v. Board of Education and other aspects of history.

I have understood and observed for about a decade now that there is a gap between the law and reality.

I have also understood for roughly the same amount of time that the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) narrative includes an emphasis on the “with all deliberate speed” diction and an emphasis on how states and local school districts showed outright disregard for this ruling.

Early today through the course of a conversation discussing a suggested/possible new law (forgot the exact topic!), I commented without really thinking that “but of course it would not be followed or enforced.”

And that’s what got me thinking. I might write a book on the topic of laws that are ignored! Why is it such a common theme that laws–on both small items and large items–are outright ignored?

Donald Trump breaks laws all the time. School districts break laws all the time. All sorts of individuals and institutions (“rightfully”) act on the assumption that the law does not apply to them or will not matter.

I am left with two questions for the present time:

First, why is this pattern so persuasive? Why don’t laws actually matter? Why do we actually have laws since most are actually irrelevant in terms of everyday life?

Second, how come this historical process is only really discussed–at least in terms of historical narratives, present-day news is slightly different–when looking at Brown v. Board of Education?

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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3 replies

  1. You ask good questions. I strongly suspect that Brown v Board of Education comes up mainly because it is “Black History Month.” If we had a “Mass Shooter Month” we might be discussing the 2nd Amendment more often or any of the past gun laws.

    As to why laws are ignored, look closely at which laws get ignored. If they protect the vulnerable (and it is really hard to think of any wealthy person who is vulnerable unless they are old and being taken advantage of by their likely heirs), they will most often be ignored. Behavioral economists have demonstrated over and over again that wealth tends to make people think they are so special that they can ignore the law, they have a right to take advantage of poorer people, that they are entitled to a privilege not granted to everyone. They lose their ability to empathize with other humans. One would think they become psychopaths to look at their profiles. Most people who are wealthy will not be prosecuted simply because the prosecutors know they can afford good lawyers who will delay “justice” for many years, tying up the courts which could use that time to prosecute the poor who do not have enough to buy their justice.

    Yes, our legal system is broken. Cara Drinan’s recent talk on Alternative Radio, ‘The Justice System’s War on Kids’ really gets at all the holes in our justice system. The sheer number of people who are unjustly convicted of crimes points to a willingness to provide “justice” rapidly, without really doing the footwork necessary for finding the perpetrator. We have to keep in mind that prosecutors are more interested in closing a crime file than in prosecuting the right person. “Justice for all” is a rather laughable concept in this country.

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  2. I’!ll gladly read that book. It would hit the best seller list and maybe have some impact.

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