2017 National Book Award Longlist, Nonfiction

Richard Rothstein

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein Charmaine Craig
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
(Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company)

ISBN: 9781631492853

National Book Foundation: Why did you write this book?
Richard Rothstein: As a student and analyst of education policy, I was convinced that our goal of closing the black-white achievement gap could never be approached in segregated schools. Yes, a black child does need to ‘sit next to’ a white child to be well educated, just as a white child needs to sit next to a black child to be well educated. Further, when the most economically disadvantaged children are concentrated in classrooms and schools, the challenges teachers face become insurmountable. Racial minority schools of concentrated disadvantage are segregated schools, and schools are segregated today largely because the neighborhoods in which they are located are segregated. Yet in 2007, the Supreme Court prohibited school districts from implementing modest explicit racial integration plans on the grounds that residential segregation is accidental, created without substantial government direction. That claim seemed implausible to me, and I determined to investigate it. The Color of Law is the result.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Rothstein: Independent scholars know that writing a book like this would generally be impossible without library privileges at a research university, including use of contemporary (now on-line) and older journals and out-of-print books by scholars of past generations. For most of the time I was researching The Color of Law, I was a fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law. I am indebted to former dean Christopher Edley for that courtesy fellowship and for the library privileges it granted, including assistance of its research librarians. Away from Berkeley, I relied upon Naomi Robbins, research librarian at the Wellfleet (MA) Public Library, to retrieve needed volumes from public or university libraries elsewhere within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But my favorite library must be the Eastham (MA) Public Library whose children’s librarian, Marianne Sinopoli, unerringly predicts, year by year, my grandchildren’s interests.


In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation—that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation—the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments—that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.


About the Author

Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a Fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He lives in California, where he is a Fellow of the Haas Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.


- WEBSITE: epi.org/people/richard-rothstein

(Photo credit: Judy Licht Photography)


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