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Civil rights


The life course of Black boys is a stark reminder of the realities of inequality. While recent attention to policing and high profile deaths of Black youth and adults has raised consciousness of life-threatening situations, this focus exposes the most visceral and deadly aspect of a much larger set of issues. Those issues begin at birth, and are powerfully framed before adulthood, creating inequality particularly when the individual is most vulnerable, in childhood. This Article confronts the inequalities of Black boys and their subordination, as a vehicle to expose inequalities more generally based on children’s identities.

The life course of Black boys is the basis for two groundbreaking contributions. First, the Article proposes a model, the developmental equality model, to achieve children’s equality. It takes developmental scholarship centered on analysis of the experience of children of color and other “outsider” groups of children and proposes it as a critical addition to the law’s use of development as an interpretive lens or rule of decision. Rather than imagining a child without race, gender, or class when those identities so powerfully affect development, I argue identities, and their intersectionalities, must be central to the developmental model. Most importantly, this race-conscious developmental scholarship must be fused with equality principles to address structural discrimination responsible for children’s inequalities. My developmental equality model brings this critical perspective to law, as a way to meaningfully confront state action that challenges or blocks children, and as a basis to require support for all children’s developmental opportunities.

The second critical contribution of the Article is its application of the developmental equality model to the life course of Black boys from birth to age 18. The article summarizes a comprehensive interdisciplinary collection of social science literature on the development of Black boys. The developmental equality model is tested against this data; and the model suggests where policy and litigation should focus to dismantle systemic discrimination that blocks opportunity for Black boys. The data on Black boys is critical because Black boys matter. But the data is also important because it exposes inequalities that affect all children at the bottom of hierarchies among children. This example therefore serves to expose and deal with all children’s inequalities.

The synergy between these two pathbreaking contributions provides the basis for the usefulness of the developmental equality model to achieve real, substantive equality. The final section of the article sketches the potential use of the model to advance litigation and policy strategies.