The Color of Law

By Richard Rothstein,

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

Book description

Widely heralded as a "masterful" (The Washington Post) and "essential" (Slate) history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law offers "the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation" (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth…


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Why read it?

5 authors picked The Color of Law as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

When I was trying to figure out how the city of Charlotte became segregated, this book was a godsend. Rothstein explodes the myth that segregation in America grew primarily from individual choices, such as White people fleeing a neighborhood when a Black family moved in. He shows how local, state, and federal governments passed laws and made policies that created the housing and school segregation that much of the nation lives with today.  

Many people think that racism is about individual acts of bigotry, and fail to recognize the systemic nature of racism, perpetuated by intentionally discriminatory public policies at the federal, state, and local levels. The Color of Law makes that process abundantly clear in the realm of the 20th-century housing policies that actively fostered and perpetuated neighborhood segregation. Many social scientists consider residential segregation to be the structural linchpin in America’s system of racial stratification. Understanding how we got there gives important insight into how we can change it. Everyone should read this book!

From Beverly's list on why racism persists.

Rothstein explodes the myth that racial segregation in housing is generally a product of individual prejudice and/or the actions of private institutions, such as banks and real estate firms. This impressive historical survey of housing policy at all levels of government makes it abundantly clear that it was the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal government that established and continue to sustain the patterns of residential segregation that pose such a formidable barrier to racial equality in the US.

This book shatters the myth that “de facto” segregation—in essence, people’s choices about where to live, rather than legal barriers—led to most of the segregation that still exists in the United States. Rothstein documents case after case of local, state, and federal government actions all over the country to bar black people from neighborhoods, developments, and from homeownership in general until all-too-recent times. He also lays out the many ramifications of these policies, including the exclusion of black Americans from opportunities to build wealth through the purchase of real estate and from the benefits that spring from living in the…

From Ian's list on understanding Black history.

Rothstein’s work is exact in its understanding of how pervasive and purposeful our nation has been in its effort to segregate communities, schools, and social interactions according to racial lines. He demonstrates how the local, state, and the federal governments worked side-by-side to foster discriminatory laws and practices to ensure that African Americans (and others) were denied opportunities to live in residential neighborhoods that gave them access to good jobs, schools and equitable resources and services. In order to understand racism, classism, and educational disparities, this book is essential reading – without it, decision makers, as well as citizens, are…

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