The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Liveright: Norton. May 2017. 336p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781631492853. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631492860. SOC SCI
OrangeReviewStarConventional narratives about segregation in 21st-century America hold that persistent racial disparities are a product of de facto segregation—the summation of individual preferences—rather than de jure segregation enforced (unconstitutionally) by law. Legal scholar Rothstein (NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Univ. of Calif., Berkeley) disabuses us of this "too-comfortable notion" that the state has not incentivised, and in some cases explicitly required, discrimination against African Americans. Rather than being an accident of privately held prejudice, Rothstein's work argues that segregation across the long 20th century was a product of federal, state, and local housing and land-use policies that directly and intentionally led to the suppression of black family wealth and well-being. To support his argument, he draws on extensive historical research that documents government efforts to create and enforce segregation. Each chapter focuses on a particular tactic such as public housing, racial covenants, or state-sanctioned violence. The final section calls on citizens to accept collective responsibility and remedy state wrongs through public policy.
VERDICT This indictment of government-sponsored segregation is a timely work that will find broad readership among those asking "How did we arrive here?" and "What next?"
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