The Color of Law

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The Color of Law
The Color of Law (book cover).jpg
Cover image
AuthorRichard Rothstein
SubjectAmerican history
PublisherLiveright
Publication date
May 2017
Pages368
Awards2018 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism[1]
ISBN978-1-63149-285-3
OCLC959808903
305.8
LC ClassE185.61

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America is a 2017 book by Richard Rothstein on the history of racial segregation in the United States. The book documents the history of state sponsored segregation stretching back to the late 1800s and exposes racially discriminatory policies put forward by most presidential administrations in that time, including liberal presidents like Franklin Roosevelt.[2] The author argues that intractable segregation in America is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal levels, also known as de jure segregation — and not happenstance, or de facto segregation.[3] Among other discussions, the book provides a history of subsidized housing and discusses the phenomenons of white flight, blockbusting, and racial covenants, and their role in housing segregation. Rothstein wrote the book while serving as a research associate for the Economic Policy Institute, where he is now a Distinguished Fellow.

The book has been reviewed many times and was received with critical acclaim; among other honors, it made the longlist for the 2017 National Book Awards,[4] was placed at number four on Publishers Weekly's Top 10 Best Books of 2017,[5] and won Rothstein the 2018 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism.[1] It went on to become a bestseller during the mid-2020 resurgence of national interest in racial injustice following the George Floyd protests.[6] As of the December 20th, 2020 issue, the book has spent 32 total weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.[7]

Background[edit]

The author, pictured in 2015

At the time of the book's release, Rothstein was a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute[2][8] and a fellow Haas Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.[9] He is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Policy Institute, a senior fellow emeritus at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and is considered a leading authority on housing policy in the United States.[1] He has previously written several other articles on race and educational accountability and is the author of several other books in the area, including Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Improvement to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap and Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right.[1]

Themes[edit]

Segregation is categorized into two types by Rothstein, de jure and de facto.[10] While de facto segregation simply exists due to people's habits, de jure segregation is the result of laws and ordinances that discriminate against minorities. In the preface of the book, Rothstein argues that, if it can be shown that housing segregation in America is the result of de jure factors rather than simply de facto, then all Americans have a constitutional obligation to remedy the problem.[2] The book is devoted to arguing that intractable segregation in America is de jure in nature, being the result of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal levels.[3] Focusing on post-Reconstruction racial segregation in the United States, the book provides a history of subsidized housing, the phenomenons of white flight and blockbusting, and the concept of racial covenants, which all factor into the history of housing segregation in America.[10] In the book's discussions of the history of subsidized housing, it exposes policies in FDR's New Deal that oversaw construction of public housing, built with federal tax dollars, in which African Americans were systematically excluded.[9] Among discussions of other government programs to the same end, the book finds that African Americans were excluded from most FHA insured loans, due to the high risk of providing mortgages on homes in racially mixed neighborhoods, and shows a pattern of US courts upholding private exclusionary agreements, known as covenants, which forbade the sale of homes to minority groups.[9]

Content[edit]

Table of contents
Chapter Title
1 If San Francisco, then Everywhere?
2 Public Housing, Black Ghettos
3 Racial Zoning
4 "Own Your Own Home"
5 Private Agreements, Government Enforcement
6 White Flight
7 IRS Support and Compliant Regulators
8 Local Tactics
9 State-Sanctioned Violence
10 Suppressed Incomes
11 Looking Forward, Looking Back
12 Considering Fixes

The book is composed of twelve chapters and includes an epilogue as well as an appendix of frequently asked questions.[10] The first chapter of the book, "If San Francisco, then Everywhere?", argues that the racially disparate policies instituted by the otherwise liberal governments of cities such as San Francisco is evidence of a widespread problem.[10] Chapter two discusses the history of subsidized housing in the United States.[10] The third chapter covers policies of "racial zoning", where local zoning ordinances lead to the segregation of white and black neighborhoods.[10] Chapter four discusses a program by the US government, the Own-Your-Own-Home campaign, that systematically made it easier for white people to buy and pay off new homes in suburbs in the early 1900s.[10] The fifth chapter discusses police and court enforcement of private agreements forbidding the sale of homes in white neighborhoods to blacks and other minorities.[10] Many of these agreements were in the form of covenants in a house's deed which explicitly blocked sales of the homes to anyone not of the "Caucasian race".[10] Chapter six discusses white flight and blockbusting tactics used by real estate agents to accelerate the migration in order to make a profit.[10]

Reception[edit]

The book has received many reviews in newspapers, magazines, periodicals, and scientific journals and is has been listed on The New York Times Non-Fiction Paperback Best Seller list for non-fiction paperback books over two dozen times. Among others, the book was reviewed by Francesca Russello Ammon,[8] David Oshinsky,[2] Anna Richardson,[9] Terry Gross,[11] and Jacqueline Jones.[12] Reviews have been published in several newspapers, including The New York Times,[2] The Washington Post,[6] NPR,[11] The Tampa Bay Times,[3] and The Baltimore Sun,[13] as well as several popular magazines and periodicals, such as Publishers Weekly,[14] Slate Magazine,[15][16] The New York Review of Books,[17] The Los Angeles Review of Books,[9] The Kenyon Review,[18] Kirkus Reviews,[19] Dissent Magazine,[12] and Jacobin.[20] It has also received many reviews in history journals,[21][22][23][10] education journals,[24][25] and administrative and planning journals.[26][27][28][29][30]

Reviews[edit]

In The New York Times Book Review for the work, written by David Oshinsky in June 2017, the book is called "a powerful and disturbing history of residential segregation in America".[2] Oshinsky went on to write that "[o]ne of the great strengths of Rothstein’s account is the sheer weight of evidence he marshals."[2] After some analysis of the book and a discussion of background information, Oshinsky closes the review by writing that "[w]hile the road forward is far from clear, there is no better history of this troubled journey than The Color of Law."[2]

In her November 2017 review, Anna Richardson wrote that the book is "broadly accessible yet painstakingly researched" and notes that "[i]t is the rare book that evokes as much anger and outrage as this one".[9] After a discussion of the book's insights, Richardson closes the review by stating that the book documents in "appalling detail" the need for affirmative action as the "remedy for state-sponsored discrimination of the past".[9] Jacqueline Jones called the book "compelling" in her Fall 2017 review of the book and wrote that it provides "a detailed examination of the ways public entities have colluded with private interests to keep black people out of white neighborhoods".[12]

In the June 2019 issue of Jacobin magazine, Richard Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California — Berkeley, criticized the book for giving outsized blame to federal policy for housing segregation, a conclusion that he said was the result of Rothstein’s “dubious scholarship." Wrote Walker, “The fundamental error of this thesis stems from its depiction of racism as a system imposed from above, by the state, rather than something embedded in American social structures since before the founding." Walker states that, while federal housing law “lined up with the prevailing practices of racial segregation … Rothstein’s idea that this was imposed on reluctant localities is ludicrous.”[31]

Accolades[edit]

Among other acclamations of the book, it made the longlist for the 2017 National Book Awards,[4] it was placed at number four on Publishers Weekly's Top 10 Best Books of 2017,[5] it was named one of NPR's Best Books of 2017[32] one of Bill Gates' favorite books of the same year,[33] and it won Rothstein the 2018 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism.[1] The book spent four weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list beginning at position three in the May 20, 2018, issue[34] and ending at number ten on June 10, 2018, issue.[35] Following racial unrest in the United States, the book re-entered the list in June 2020.[36] For the book's 23rd consecutive week and 28th total week on the list in the November 22, 2020, issue, the book was placed at number five.[37] As of the December 20th, 2020 issue, the book has spent 32 total weeks on the list.[7]

The book's award summary for the 2018 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism argues the work had provided "incontrovertible evidence that it was the laws and policies passed by local, state, and federal governments that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day".[1] After summarizing the topics, the Hillman Foundation went on to note that "Rothstein’s invaluable examination shows that relearning this history is a necessary step because it is the foundation for understanding that aggressive policies are in order to desegregate these urban areas and finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past".[1]

Publication information[edit]

The book was published in New York in May 2017 by Liveright Publishing, an imprint of W. W. Norton & Company. It was originally published in hardback with ISBN 978-1-63149-285-3 and in e-book format with ISBN 978-1-63149-286-0, while a paperback edition with ISBN 978-1-63149-453-6 was published a year later. In addition to the publications by Liveright, Recorded Books released an audiobook edition in October 2017.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America". Hillman Foundation. April 18, 2018. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Oshinsky 2017
  3. ^ a b c Brink, Graham (July 24, 2018). "Government led segregation, author says". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved November 13, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America". National Book Foundation. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Best Books 2017 Publishers Weekly". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Mayes, Brittany Renee; Tierney, Lauren; Keating, Dan (July 2, 2020). "Demand for anti-racist literature is up. These black bookstore owners hope it lasts". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 4, 2020. Retrieved July 6, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Paperback Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Ammon 2017
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Richardson 2017
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Broyld, Dann J. (October 19, 2020). "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (review)". The Public Historian. 42 (3): 168–170. doi:10.1525/tph.2020.42.3.168. ISSN 1533-8576.
  11. ^ a b Gross 2017
  12. ^ a b c Jones 2017
  13. ^ Harrison, Jane (December 21, 2017). "Readers respond: Racial discrimination does drive government spending". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved November 13, 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. Liveright, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-63149-285-3". Publishers Weekly. February 20, 2017. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  15. ^ Cohen, Rachel M. (May 5, 2017). "The Courts Still Say No One Knows What Causes Segregation. A New Book Argues That's Absurd". Slate Magazine. Archived from the original on May 7, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  16. ^ Blumgart, Jake (June 2, 2017). "Housing Is Shamefully Segregated. Who Segregated It?". Slate Magazine. Archived from the original on September 5, 2019. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  17. ^ DeParle, Jason (February 22, 2018). "When Government Drew the Color Line". The New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Archived from the original on July 17, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  18. ^ Garfinkle, Deborah. "The Color of Injustice: Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law". The Kenyon Review. Archived from the original on July 19, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  19. ^ "Rev. of The Color of Law". Kirkus Reviews. February 20, 2017.
  20. ^ Walker, Richard (June 18, 2019). "The New Deal Didn't Create Segregation". Jacobin. Archived from the original on April 24, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  21. ^ Erickson, Ansley T. (February 2018). "Richard Rothstein . The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2017), 368 pp". History of Education Quarterly. 58 (1): 165–167. doi:10.1017/heq.2017.56. ISSN 0018-2680. S2CID 149195897.
  22. ^ Kurtulus, Fidan Ana (March 4, 2019). "Rev. of The Color of Law". Labor History. 60 (2): 162–163. doi:10.1080/0023656X.2019.1534318. ISSN 0023-656X. S2CID 158123494.
  23. ^ Squires, Gregory D. (December 5, 2017). "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein". Kalfou. 4 (2). doi:10.15367/kf.v4i2.171. ISSN 2372-0751.
  24. ^ Ross, Lydia; Powers, Jeanne M. (December 12, 2018). "Rev. of The Color of Law". Education Review. 25. doi:10.14507/er.v25.2440. ISSN 1094-5296. Archived from the original on February 9, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  25. ^ Gale, Dennis E. (September 2019). "Review: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein". Journal of Planning Education and Research. 39 (3): 380–381. doi:10.1177/0739456X18771171. ISSN 0739-456X. S2CID 149820563.
  26. ^ Callison, J. William (2017). "The Color of Law". Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law. 26 (1). Retrieved November 13, 2020 – via heinonline.org.
  27. ^ Mills, Alison (March 27, 2018). "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America". Berkeley Planning Journal. 29 (1). doi:10.5070/BP329138440. ISSN 1047-5192.
  28. ^ Zimmermann, Ulf (November 2019). "Richard Rothstein , The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America ( New York , NY: Liveright , 2017). 345 pp. (hard cover) , ISBN: 978‐1‐63149‐285‐3". Public Administration Review. 79 (6): 938–940. doi:10.1111/puar.13119. ISSN 0033-3352.
  29. ^ Hanley, Johanna (November 17, 2019). "The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America, by Richard Rothstein". Journal of Urban Affairs. 41 (8): 1231–1233. doi:10.1080/07352166.2019.1588576. ISSN 0735-2166. S2CID 213362050.
  30. ^ Chapin, Tim (October 1, 2020). "Rothstein: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America". Journal of the American Planning Association. 86 (4): 516–517. doi:10.1080/01944363.2020.1803632. ISSN 0194-4363. S2CID 222003337.
  31. ^ Walker, Richard (June 18, 2019). "The New Deal Didn't Create Segregation". Jacobin. Retrieved June 9, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  32. ^ "Best Books of 2017". npr.org. 2017. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  33. ^ "8 Books Bill Gates Read and Loved in 2017". The Observer. December 5, 2017. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  34. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - May 20, 2018 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  35. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - June 10, 2018 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  36. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - June 14, 2020 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  37. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - Books - Nov. 22, 2020 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 15, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External media
Audio
audio icon Author interview on NPR with Ari Shapiro, May 2017
audio icon NPR on-air book review by Terry Gross, May 2017
Video
video icon Conversation on c-span between Rothstein and Ta-Nehisi Coates, May 2017
video icon Acceptance speech for the 2018 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism, May 2018
video icon Brown University lecture on the book by Rothstein, February 2019
video icon Columbia University lecture on the book by Rothstein, September 2019

External links[edit]