Soledad O'Brien and CNN Fail to Challenge 'Separate But Equal'

Soledad O'Brien and CNN Fail to Challenge 'Separate But Equal'

When was the last time you saw an explicit call for racial segregation go completely unchallenged on a national news network? 

If you missed Soledad O’Brien on CNN this morning, you missed Prof. Dorothy Brown of Emory University explaining why Derrick Bell believed black Americans would be better off under “fully funded separate but equal,” while host O’Brien simply grinned.

Here is the exchange from the show (4:13 in the video below):

O’Brien: Would he have said that the civil rights movement was a sham? Or that Brown v. Board of Ed[ucation] was a sham?

Brown: He wouldn’t say it was a sham but he has been very critical of civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education. And his argument, Professor Bell’s argument was the solution did not get the children what the children needed, so perhaps the lawyers in the cases didn’t spend enough time talking to the parents. So Professor Bell’s argument is, “You know, maybe if we had gotten fully funded separate but equal that might’ve been a better alternative to what we have today.”

You read that correctly — on national television, Prof. Dorothy Brown put forward Bell’s idea that America would be better off with “separate but equal”, as long as it was “fully funded.”

At that point, Ms. O’Brien completely ignored the extraordinary and completely offensive offensive answer just given and went on to her next question.

Lest you think Brown’s statement was a misreading of Derrick Bell’s position, you should be aware that he wrote an entire book about this idea, entitled Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. Marybeth Gasman described the book as follows:

This time he imagined an alternative court decision in the landmark desegregation decision–Brown v. Board of Education. In Brown v. Board and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform, Bell, who played a significant role in fighting for justice in the courts after the Brown decision, lamented his actions. After years of reflection he had come to the conclusion that blacks might be better off in a separate but equal society–where equal was enforced.

The book’s official description from Oxford Press says:

Here, Derrick Bell shatters the shining image of this celebrated ruling [Brown]. He notes that, despite the onerous burdens of segregation, many black schools functioned well and racial bigotry had not rendered blacks a damaged race. He maintains that, given what we now know about the pervasive nature of racism, the Court should have determined instead to rigorously enforce the “equal” component of the “separate but equal” standard.

Do Soledad O’Brien and CNN favor a society where blacks and whites are “separate but equal?” There was certainly no indication in the broadcast that they oppose this profoundly segregationist idea, the polar opposite of e pluribus unum.

It pains me to state the obvious once again about the ideas of Derrick Bell: if a white person had written a book suggesting that perhaps white people would be better off if we still had “separate but equal,” he or she would be universally abhorred as racist.

The reality is that the current President of the United States chose to assign the ideas of Derrick Bell to students at the University of Chicago as required reading. Obama did not just embrace Derrick Bell physically; he also embraced his ideas enough to consider them worthy of inclusion in his curriculum. Those ideas continue to affect his appointments and administration. 

That is exactly why Derrick Bell’s ideas and Barack Obama’s candidacy must be fully vetted, despite efforts by self-appointed media gatekeepers like Ms. O’Brien. The rejection of Brown v.  Board of Education is completely consistent with Derrick Bell’s views. 

The media, too, must be vetted. Nothing better demonstrates Andrew Breitbart’s point than the fact that CNN and Soledad O’Brien have foisted Bell’s “separate-but-equal” argument for racial segregation onto their viewers in the name of “correcting” Breitbart’s revelations about Obama.


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