HKS Authors

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Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, HSPH; Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law, HLS


In a powerful law review article published ten years ago, Jack Greenberg, one of the most respected and talented US civil rights lawyers and constitutional scholars of his time, addressed the commonalities and differences between African American and anti-Roma structural racism. As a lead litigator in the watershed US Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education and head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Greenberg had been consulted by leaders of the Roma movement in Europe for advice on how to cull enduring political and socio-economic advantage for an oppressed and stigmatized minority from successful litigation, and what Roma activists might learn from their African American comrades. The law review article, his considered reply, advanced the thesis that though "for much of their histories the Roma in Eastern Europe and African Americans traversed similar paths. … [d]uring World War II … their paths forked."1 African Americans had built a civil rights movement that brought the deep-seated and extreme racism to which they were daily exposed, despite the abolition of slavery, to national (and international) attention, a movement that compelled US courts to firmly outlaw segregation. By contrast, Greenberg argued, though the abolition of Roma enslavement in Eastern Europe had, like for African Americans, not halted enduring structural racism against them, it failed to generate comparable political visibility and widespread civil society mobilization. While African Americans eventually had large numbers of the majority white population joining their cause and marching side by side with them, the Roma's extreme social and cultural marginalization had continued.


Bhabha, Jacqueline. "Unfinished Business: The Long Road Ahead to Civil Rights and Roma Rights." Human Rights Quarterly 43.1 (February 2021): 197-201.