Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court's celebrated 1954 decision that ended segregation in the United States, did not end a caste based inequality among the races. One of the nations currently struggling with such a legacy of discrimination is Brazil. Brazil's path to overcome structural inequality has some interesting parallels and differences with the American experience.
Writings by Brazilian legal scholars such as Joaquim B. Barbosa Gomes and Hedio Silva Jr. had bolstered the thought that the American civil rights experience has lessons for Brazil. This experience, which was greatly shaped by Brown, contributed to the growth of Brazilian legal thought against racial inequality. For example, critics of Brazilian jurisprudence noted how American courts found constitutional space to permit affirmative action while simultaneously ruling that quotas violate equal protection.
Brazilian legal scholars looked to the U.S. as well as other nations to find ways for law to be employed to break down structural inequalities. Nevertheless, despite the achievement of de jure egalitarianism, inequalities persist in Brazilian society. This can be an important cautionary lesson for those who might believe that formal equality before the law is all that is required to achieve racial justice.
As it did for Brazil, Brown v. Board of Education should cause us to ask broader, comparative questions concerning law and inequality. By looking at Brown in a comparative context as part of a larger worldwide effort to tear down walls of caste and race, we can get a more complete picture of the true importance of that landmark decision.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-126, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2012-126
Robert J. Cottrol, Brown and the Contemporary Brazilian Struggle Against Racial Inequality: Some Preliminary Comparative Thoughts, 66 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 113 (2004).