Dorothy Roberts

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Dorothy Roberts
Roberts Dorothy 2012 2106.jpg
Born Dorothy E. Roberts
(1956-03-08) March 8, 1956 (age 59)
Chicago, Illinois

Dorothy E. Roberts (born March 8, 1956 in Chicago, Illinois)[1] is an internationally recognized scholar, public intellectual, and social justice advocate, she has written and lectured extensively on the interplay of gender, race, and class in legal issues and has been a leader in transforming public thinking and policy on reproductive health, child welfare and bioethics.


Professor Roberts is the fourteenth Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor, George A. Weiss University Professor, and the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at University of Pennsylvania, where she holds appointments in the Law School and Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology.[2]

Professor Roberts is the author of the award-winning books Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Random House/Pantheon, 1997) where she describes the use of Norplant and other contraceptives in population control and Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books/Civitas, 2002), as well as co-editor of six books on constitutional law and gender. She has also published more than eighty articles and essays in books and scholarly journals, including Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, and Stanford Law Review. Her latest book, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century, was published by the New Press in July 2011.

Professor Roberts has been a professor at Rutgers and Northwestern University,[3] a visiting professor at Stanford and Fordham, and a fellow at Harvard University's Program in Ethics and the Professions, Stanford's Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and the Fulbright Program. She serves as chair of the board of directors of the Black Women's Health Imperative, on the board of directors of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, and on the advisory boards of the Center for Genetics and Society and Family Defense Center. She also serves on a panel of five national experts that is overseeing foster care reform in Washington State and on the Standards Working Group of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (stem cell research). She recently received awards from the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the 2010 Dorothy Ann and Clarence L. Ver Steeg Distinguished Research Fellowship.

Roberts received her Bachelor of Arts from Yale University and her Doctor of Jurisprudence from Harvard Law School.


Roberts has published more than fifty articles and essays in books, scholarly journals, newspapers, and magazines, including Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, University of Chicago Law Review,[4] Social Text, and The New York Times. She has written Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Civitas Books, 2002) and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997), in which she purports to give "a powerful and authoritative account of the on-going assault—both figurative and literal—waged by the American government and our society on the reproductive rights of Black women."[5] and was the co-author of casebooks on constitutional law and women and the law. Killing the Black Body received a 1998 Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

Her influential article, "Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality, and the Right of Privacy" (Harvard Law Review, 1991), has been widely cited[6] and is included in a number of anthologies.[citation needed] Her most recent book is Fatal Invention (The New Press, 2011), which argues that America is once again at the brink of a virulent outbreak of classifying population by race, proving that race has always been a mutable and socially defined political division supported by mainstream science.

She was also a blogger at


Roberts has delivered several endowed lectures, including the James Thomas Lecture at Yale Law School. She was elected twice by the Rutgers University School of Law graduating class to be faculty graduation speaker, and was voted outstanding first-year course professor by the Northwestern University School of Law class of 2000. She received the Radcliffe University Graduate Society Medal in June 1998. Her current projects concern race and child welfare policy.

Roberts has been a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University.

In 2002–03, she was a Fulbright Scholar at the Centre for Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, where she conducted research on family planning policy and on gender, sexuality, and HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean. She is currently conducting research on the significance of the spatial concentration of state supervision of children in African American communities and on the use of race in biomedical research and biotechnology.

Roberts is featured in the documentary film, Silent Choices, about abortion and reproductive rights from the perspective of African Americans. Roberts also served as an advisor to the film.

Views on torture[edit]

Professor Roberts has drawn parallels between what she sees as current U.S. "imperialism" and white supremacy, asserting U.S. torture of terrorist suspects is a tool to maintain supremacy just as violence has been used to maintain white supremacy, and comparing the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison to racist lynchings of blacks.[7]