The Affirmative Action Puzzle: A Living History from Reconstruction to Today

Knopf. Jan. 2020. 592p. ISBN 9781101870877. pap. $35. LAW
Urofsky (emeritus, history, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Dissent and the Supreme Court) seeks to provide context for understanding the history of affirmative action, along with the policy’s successes and failures. The book opens with a review of the immediate challenges of abolishing slavery. Simply outlawing chattel bondage with the 13th Amendment in 1865 was not enough for some, yet clearly too much for others, Urofsky notes. Persistent arguments have ensued about what rights, remedies, and restrictions U.S. law should provide to protect people from what is considered to be discrimination, the author explains. While civil rights are often centered on race, Urofsky notes that gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation have shared in the contention that persists in demonstrating deep divisions among Americans who disagree on the meaning of discrimination. Focused on federal law, particularly U.S. Supreme Court cases, this narrative recollects continuous conflicts within an undeniably long history of disparate treatment.
VERDICT This book purposely offers more questions than answers as Urofsky leads us to consider how law should best combat the legacies of racism, sexism, and ableism in order to open doors of opportunity to previously excluded groups. A thought-provoking read.

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