We're going to take this movement and... reach out to the poor people in all directions in this country .. into the Southwest after Indians, into the West after the Chicanos, into Appalachia after poor whites, and into the ghettos after Negroes and Puerto Ricans. And we are going to bring them together and enlarge this campaign into something bigger than just a civil rights movement for Negroes.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I never will forget one little blonde co-ed.... She demanded right in my face, "don't you believe there are any good white people?" . "What can I do?" she exclaimed. I told her, "Nothing."
I regret that I told her that. I wish ... I could telephone her, or write to her, and tell her what I tell white people now when they present themselves as being sincere ... I tell them that at least where my... organization is concerned, they can't join us .... Where the really sincere white people have got to do their "proving" of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America's racism really is-and that's in their own home communities; America's racism is among their own fellow whites.
The above quotes from two path breakers of the civil rights era evince clashing visions of coalition building-one embracing inter-minority group coalitions and the other questioning their usefulness. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the name of social justice called for ever-expanding collaboration, which included whites; Malcolm X rejected such coalitions as unnecessary and misdirected. Though several decades old, these conflicting sentiments-one following an assimilationist model and the other more nationalist-are still the subject of academic debate. In fact, a considerable amount of legal scholarship, written primarily by scholars of color, has recently taken contrasting views regarding the efficacy and propriety of coalitional efforts. These scholars have included some of the academy's most accomplished authors, including Lani Guinier, Gerald Torres, Richard Delgado, Haunani-Kay Trask, Robert Williams, Kevin Johnson, and Eric Yamamoto.
The following pages explore this contemporary debate, and ultimately sides in favor of inter-minority group coalitions, as they may be effective democratic vehicles towards social change. Part II examines the argument in favor of inter-minority group coalitions. Part III addresses the challenges to those positions, including the arguments posed by leading skeptics. Finally, Part IV rejects the cynicism associated with coalitions and proposes a concrete point of commonality that may help forge much needed common ground for many racial and ethnic outsider groups.
"Coalitions and Collective Memories: A Search for Common Ground,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 58:
2, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol58/iss2/5