The Color of Law
Richard Rothstein. The Color of Law: A forgotten history of hour our government segregated America. 2017.
summary from Economic Policy Institute, Washington DC, where author is a fellow:
"In The Color of Law (published by Liveright in May 2017), Richard Rothstein argues with exacting precision and fascinating insight how segregation in America—the incessant kind that continues to dog our major cities and has contributed to so much recent social strife—is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
"To scholars and social critics, racism in our neighborhoods has long been viewed as a manifestation of unscrupulous real estate agents, unethical mortgage lenders, and exclusionary covenants working outside the law. This is what is commonly known as “de facto segregated,” practices that were the outcome of private, not legal or public policy, means. Yet, as Rothstein breaks down in case after case, until the last quarter of the 20th century de facto paled in comparison with de jure (government-sponsored) segregation.
"A former columnist for the New York Times and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, as well as a Fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Rothstein has spent years documenting the evidence that government not merely ignored discriminatory practices in the residential sphere, but promoted them. The impact has been devastating for generations of African-Americans who were denied the right to live where they wanted to live, and raise and school their children where they thought best.
"While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 provided modest enforcement to prevent future discrimination, it did nothing to reverse or undo a century’s worth of state-sanctioned violations of the Bill of Rights, particularly the Thirteenth Amendment which banned treating former slaves as second-class citizens. So the structural conditions established by 20th century federal policy endure to this day.
"At every step of the way, Rothstein demonstrates, the government and our courts upheld racist policies to maintain the separation of whites and blacks—leading to the powder keg that has defined Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and Chicago. The Color of Law is not a tale of Red versus Blue states. It is sadly the story of America in all of its municipalities, large and small, liberal and reactionary.
Reviews / Critiques / Alternate views
Adina Levin review
"The Color of Law – devastating history, incomplete policy." review on alevin.com, November 19, 2017.
"Richard Rothstein’s Color of Law is a devastating summary of the many ways that the US government created a society that was racially segregated by law, and as a consequence profoundly unequal in wealth. The account is powerful history, and needed for people to face segregation and inequality. But I’m not sure the focus on constitutional law is the best fulcrum for change.
"While it is true that the segregated living patterns and wealth disparities were definitively created by government policy, there has been a pivot that the book acknowledges but underestimates. The book cites several cases where, governments, stymied by the illegality of segregating by race, turned to economic segregation via zoning."
"The book is great as is your summary. But I think there is room for critique, at least of the take that “it’s all government’s fault” (some of it obviously is). The one that gets closest to this (but doesn’t require a Marxist perspective) that I’ve seen in Destin Jenkin's review (below).
Destin Jenkins. "Who Segregated America?"
Destin Jenkins, "Who Segregated America?" publicbooks.org December 21, 2017.
"Rothstein doesn’t convincingly explain why the government remained committed to racial residential segregation for decades. If government was the tool by which segregation was created, who—or what—was the hand that wielded it?
"Curiously, The Color of Law ignores the obvious answer: capitalism. The book’s focus on law and policy shifts attention away from surplus value and patterns of extraction and exploitation, instead of focusing on these dynamics as an integral part of America’s democratic, law-making system.
"we might ask, of both Rakim and Rothstein, what is the ideological work achieved through pinning inequality solely on government?"
- Destin Jenkins, "Who Segregated America?" publicbooks.org December 21, 2017.
- Levin, Adina. "The Color of Law – devastating history, incomplete policy." review on alevin.com, November 19, 2017.
- Rosser, Ezra (2018). "Property, Race, Segregation, and the State." Feb 7, 2018.