What is “Interest Convergence”?

by: Ji Ho (Geo) Yang, PHD Candidate at the University of Washington

Interest convergence as a concept suggests that progress and justice in social issues are based on the interests (i.e. needs, values, and desired outcomes) of different groups of people aligning or being shared.  In short, achieving any movement in social justice, including educational justice, is predicated on the interests of dominant stakeholders (i.e. white stakeholders).  As a concept, interest convergence was developed by Dr. Bell through his analysis of Brown vs. Board and the failures of educational equality from that case.  Dr. Bell noted that Brown vs. Board was achieved largely because white interests were aligned with the Civil Rights movement and the formation of Brown vs. Board.  This alignment or convergence of white interests with Black resistance for educational equality was due to various factors including the Cold War and the publicity of racism and Jim Crow.  However, the convergence of interest soon ended right after the decision of Brown vs. Board and before creating actual means of achieving educational equality.  Essentially, the interest in pronouncing educational equality was less detrimental to white dominance and power than making equality happen.  Making equality happen requires a reimagining and thus redistribution of power.  

Since its inception, interest convergence has become a key concept within Critical Race Theory (CRT) and an analytical tool for critical studies researchers.  The analysis and findings from Dr. Bell regarding the convergence of interests in Brown vs. Board still ring true today across educational settings in the U.S., including Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS).  In the wake of violence against Black people post-Obama presidency, including Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown; and since Trump presidency and COVID, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many districts have developed racial equity departments, policies, and practices.  Developing these policies is made easier for white dominant interests in periods of resource injections, such as federal COVID funding for education.  

In SPS, this included forming the African-American Male Achievement office (AAMA).  These departments and policies are crucial steps in bringing in BIPOC leaders, interests, and expertise to support racial equity work in our schools.  This does not mean that addressing inequities in education is now straightforward due to some convergence in interests for racial justice.  Just as seen with Brown vs. Board, racial justice in education today also requires a reimagining and redistribution of power in various forms (i.e. economic, political, etc.).  This issue of power is where white dominant interests often diverge.  School districts will emphasize their interests in racial equity and educational justice through passive progressivity, such as developing BIPOC leadership roles without providing resources to effectively lead.  White dominant interests may diverge by orchestrating distractions as those interests become retrenched in racial dominance and inequities.  For example, districts may distract critical racial equity work by demanding results based on quantitative data strictly from existing assessment and evaluation systems, which are inequitable systems to begin with.  

In the current post-COVID context, the budgetary issues that many school districts are experiencing are placing white interests in opposition to interests (and needs) related to racial equity and educational justice.  School funding and resources are key institutional and systemic aspects of racial equity and educational justice.  While white dominant interests in proclaiming racial equality in education have been clear since Brown vs. Board, interests in actually putting money and resources on the table to redistribute have always diverged since Brown vs. Board.  When budgetary issues started to arise post-COVID funding, SPS and other districts managed the issues by taking away resources from previously established racial equity departments and policies, including BIPOC leaders.  The divergence of interests or retrenchment in dominant interests is significant as it creates a constant “start-stop” dynamic to racial equity work that makes it difficult to sustain.  This dynamic is draining on those deeply interested in racial equity and educational justice and fortunately, those who are interested and invested in equity and justice are resistant and persistent.  As SPS is reckoning with its budget through cuts, loans, and reserves, conversations of school closures and resource consolidation are taking place.  As a former CPS teacher, I am familiar with the political and racial implications regarding school closures and resource consolidation.  It is often during these moments when it is exceptionally clear where the interests of educational stakeholders lie.  For myself, the concept of interest convergence serves as a powerful analytical tool to unpack educational policies and history.  More importantly, interest convergence is also a way to check my interests, sense of justice, and actions. 


Bell, D. A. (1995). Who’s afraid of critical race theory. U. Ill. L. Rev., 893.

Bell Jr, D. A. (1980). Brown v. Board of Education and the interest-convergence dilemma. Harvard law review, 518-533.

Ewing, E. L. (2018). Ghosts in the schoolyard: Racism and school closings on Chicago’s South Side. University of Chicago Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2004). Landing on the wrong note: The price we paid for Brown. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 3-13.