Rebecca Gould, College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham; Harvard University, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, is publishing Justice Deferred: Legal Duplicity and the Scapegoat Mentality in Paul Laurence Dunbar's Jim Crow America in Law & Literature. Here is the abstract.
Although best known as a poet, African-American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) developed a unique voice in his fiction. This essay explores the bifurcation Dunbar discerned between the law as an instrument of justice and as a stabilizer of the segregationist status quo in Jim Crow America. Dunbar creates characters who are systematically scapegoated for crimes they did not commit in order to expose the law’s precarious relationship to justice. His treatment of lynching as a paradigmatic manifestation of the scapegoat mechanism links this practice to a political theory of violence, whereby the innocent are punished for the crimes of the guilty, and society requires their sacrifice in order to redeem its guilt. Without relinquishing his faith in the law, Dunbar used prose narratives to expose the disjuncture between law and justice made manifest by the US Supreme Court’s rationalization of racial discrimination in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Beyond considering the light Dunbar’s fictions shed on the relationship between law and justice, I locate these interventions within a longer history of thinking about the role of the writer as a scapegoat who enables society to sin without experiencing guilt.Download the article from SSRN at the link.