Tom MacWright

I read The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein on


So I finally read Color of Law.

It is, as I expected, good.

I’m a little surprised by it. It seemed to break into the mainstream as the book to read about housing discrimination, but it reads like an addendum for folks who already have a background in the subject. It’s a big and – saying that not only individual racism is at fault, but also state-sanctioned policies that are explicitly discriminatory enough that they could make the US Government liable. In that way it provides a legal theory for how damages, reparations, or readjustments could be made, as well as an explanation for how racist policies were able to permeate even into communities that didn’t want them.

Where I found it a little tricky was where it discussed the distinction between people and their government, something that seems natural when you think of a rural farmer versus a congressman. But the distinction blurs when it comes to local government, because councils and housing boards are made up of people who own houses and whose opinions reflect a certain class of locals – but locals nonetheless. The legal argument still holds in the local case because these folks, acting as the government, are responsible in that role. But the cultural argument is harder to make, because the communities are imposing their own values on… themselves.

I really applaud Rothstein on how he handles the ‘Solutions’ section. It’s short, clearly summarized, and broadly outlines the avenues for change. He doesn’t omit solutions entirely, and he doesn’t go too broad or too narrow. I do wish that it proposed potential replacements for systems which can’t seem to rid themselves of discrimination, like home lending.