John B. Diamond Delivers 2022 Brown Lecture to Thousands Worldwide
John B. Diamond Delivers 2022 Brown Lecture to Thousands Worldwide

November 2022

On November 3, John B. Diamond presented the 2022 AERA Brown Lecture in Education Research, “Defending the Color Line: White Supremacy, Opportunity Hoarding, and the Legacy of Brown,” to a small in-person audience at the AERA Convening Center in Washington, D.C., and a virtual audience of nearly 3,000 viewers from 38 countries.

Diamond’s talk was immediately followed by a moderated discussion forum and audience Q&A. Joining him was moderator Alia Wong (USA Today) and commentators Akilah Alleyne (Center for American Progress) and Michelle Molitor (The Equity Lab).

Diamond, professor of sociology and education policy at Brown University, is a leading scholar in the study of race in education and how it shapes instruction and learning in U.S. schools and school systems. His research focuses on the relationship between social inequality and educational opportunity, examining how leadership, policies, and practices shape students’ educational opportunities and outcomes.

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine introduced the event.

“We are experiencing a great deal of change and uncertainly as a country, politically, in our schools, and across society. Tonight’s lecture will touch on several of those flashpoints,” said Levine. “It will be a conversation that we will learn from and one that advances the national discourse around Brown.”

AERA President Rich Milner then introduced Diamond.

AERA President Rich Milner and John B. Diamond

“We are honored for the opportunity to learn from Dr. Diamond’s knowledge and wisdom as he examines the deeply embedded role of White supremacy in U.S. educational organizations and the ways that opportunity hoarding helps sustain it,” Milner said.

Diamond opened his lecture with a confession: “I struggle with our narratives about Brown. We treat Brown like a beacon in our march toward racial justice while often downplaying the terror, pain, and suffering that led to the decision and came after it.”

He also used his own experience as a window into the limitations of dominant Brown narratives.

“My lived experiences give me firsthand connections to the heritage of fugitivity, the power of Black education spaces, and the centrality of Black educators in the struggle for racial justice,” said Diamond. “These experiences also give me a window into the downside of Brown, a downside that is often drowned out by dominant racial progress narratives that celebrate Brown as a watershed moment.”

In his lecture, Diamond used W. E. B. Du Bois’s concept of the color line to frame his talk, and detailed how White supremacy, White racial ignorance, and opportunity hoarding taint Brown’s legacy and undermine racial justice.

John B. Diamond

 “Unfortunately, our theories of race and education have often shied away from interrogating how deeply embedded White supremacy is in the core of our educational institutions and the central role White racial actors and institutions play in sustaining it,” said Diamond. “Along with critical race scholars like Derrick Bell, I believe it is imperative that we take the permanence of racism seriously and examine schools as they are rather than how we wish they were.”

Diamond built upon Du Bois’s concept of the color line, “a physical and symbolic boundary through which racial domination is established and maintained,” by discussing how opportunity hoarding—monopolizing resources and excluding others’ access to them—defends it.

“Opportunity hoarding is not just a thing of the past. Currently, district boundaries, attendance zones, local funding schemes, and district secession continue to create and maintain racially separate and unequal schools,” said Diamond.

“However, opportunity hoarding happens in integrated schools as well,” Diamond said, using the example of a racially diverse suburban high school in which White parents used tracking to monopolize valued educational spaces for their children.

Diamond also described how education helps cultivate White racial ignorance by stopping conversations about race in their tracks.

“Education is a terrain on which racial conflict plays out, and one current strategy is to prevent people from even talking about race,” said Diamond. “Another way people and institutions defend the color line is by silencing and discrediting dissent.”

Diamond concluded by giving examples of how to disrupt Whiteness, White supremacy, and opportunity hoarding, such as interrupting current thinking, reconstructing organizational routines to lead toward racial justice, and encouraging working in solidarity with broader justice movements.

“I struggle to assert my humanity, honor my ancestors, build on the legacy of Black educators, and try to create liberatory educational spaces inside schools and beyond,” concluded Diamond. “But all of our humanity depends on this struggle, and I call on all of us to join it.”

John B. Diamond

The discussion forum that followed included Diamond in an engaging dialogue introduced by Wong, who covers educational inequities at USA Today. Akilah Alleyne, director and team lead for K–12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, and Michelle Molitor, executive director of The Equity Lab, offered reflections on the issues raised in the lecture.

Alleyne noted that the true burden of Brown was the obligation by law for Black families to acquire funds and transportation to physically place themselves in schools and institutions that were initially designed to enable White students to succeed.

“The burden of Brown, then, of simply attaining an education, did not fall on White children and their families,” said Alleyne. “It fell on Black children and their communities.”

Molitor opened her comments with a personal story about growing up with a White father and a Black mother, adding that “nationally, we have only ever really practiced desegregation, or being proximate to one another.”

“There has never been a collective investment in all of us doing the work, an honest and true integration where we deeply value each other’s humanity and support our collective efforts to thrive,” Molitor said.

(From left to right) Moderator Alia Wong, commentators Akilah Alleyne and Michelle Molitor, and John B. Diamond

During the forum, Diamond was asked about the intersection of racism and other forms of oppression. 

“These are all linked struggles,” answered Diamond. “We need to be fighting against White supremacy, but we also need to be fighting lots of other battles. We need to be fighting antisemitism. We need to be fighting against patriarchy. Our future and our humanity depend on us opening up and understanding that all of these struggles are linked, and we can do something to hopefully make things better.”

Levine adjourned the program, thanking those who attended in person and virtually.

“So much of what we were examining really speaks to how we need to come together around these issues and deal with these intersectionalities in meaningful and progressive ways,” said Levine. “We can see how the foundations of knowledge add to that.”