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Reproducing Racism

Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock In White Advantage

Daria Roithmayr
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 205
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  • Book Info
    Reproducing Racism
    Book Description:

    This book is designed to change the way we think about racial inequality. Long after the passage of civil rights laws and now the inauguration of our first black president, blacks and Latinos possess barely a nickel of wealth for every dollar that whites have. Why have we made so little progress?Legal scholar Daria Roithmayr provocatively argues that racial inequality lives on because white advantage functions as a powerful self-reinforcing monopoly, reproducing itself automatically from generation to generation even in the absence of intentional discrimination. Drawing on work in antitrust law and a range of other disciplines, Roithmayr brilliantly compares the dynamics of white advantage to the unfair tactics of giants like ATandT and Microsoft.With penetrating insight, Roithmayr locates the engine of white monopoly in positive feedback loops that connect the dramatic disparity of Jim Crow to modern racial gaps in jobs, housing and education. Wealthy white neighborhoods fund public schools that then turn out wealthy white neighbors. Whites with lucrative jobs informally refer their friends, who refer their friends, and so on. Roithmayr concludes that racial inequality might now be locked in place, unless policymakers immediately take drastic steps to dismantle this oppressive system.Daria Roithmayris the George T. and Harriet E. Pfleger Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. An internationally acclaimed legal scholar and activist, she is one of the country's leading voices on the legal analysis of structural racial inequality. Prior to joining USC, Professor Roithmayr advised Senator Edward Kennedy on the nominations of Clarence Thomas and David Souter, and taught law at the University of Illinois.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6933-1
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    At the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term, the image of a black man against the backdrop of grand marble and the stately appointments of the Oval Office seems quite routine and unremarkable. Photographs and footage show a man very much at home in the White House. Even at the beginning of his first term, Obama moved easily and comfortably through the halls of power, in contrast to other relative newcomers to insider Washington, like Jimmy Carter for instance.

    Contemplating Obama’s reelection, we might all too easily forget that not too far from the White House, just east of the...

  5. 1 The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same Some (Incomplete and Unsatisfying) Explanations for Persistent Inequality
    (pp. 13-24)

    In the mid-1990s, scholars Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray publishedThe Bell Curve, a provocative best-selling book about human intelligence. At the center of the book, the authors argued that the divide between highly intelligent people (“the cognitive elite”) and the unintelligent was widening dramatically, because opportunities and resources were increasingly distributed on the basis of merit rather than class or social status. Noting that unintelligent people were reproducing at a faster rate than intelligent people, the authors went on to recommend that government intervene to reverse that trend for the sake of general welfare.

    Most controversially, the authors...

  6. 2 Cheating at the Starting Line How White Racial Cartels Gained an Early Unfair Advantage during Jim Crow
    (pp. 25-37)

    On a cold winter morning in Memphis, in January of 1919, a committee of four white switchmen marched into the office of one Edward Bodamer, superintendent of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad. The switchmen were there, they said, to discuss a demand by the area yard workers: fire all black workers, or they would strike. Bodamer threw the switchmen out of his office, warning them as they left that a strike would be illegal. Ignoring the warning, dozens of switchmen and yardmen walked off the job in protest.¹

    Over the next five days, the strike spread like wildfire. Work...

  7. 3 Racial Cartels in Action An In-Depth Look at Historical Racial Cartels in Housing and Politics
    (pp. 38-54)

    Sometime in late 1928, leaders of the all-white Woodlawn Property Owner’s Association (WPOA) called members to an emergency meeting. WPOA was headquartered in Washington Park, which in those days was a middle-class white neighborhood in south-side Chicago. White neighbors were of varying ethnicities, mostly German and Irish immigrants. But large numbers of black families had been moving into the surrounding neighborhoods in the preceding months, and agitated members of the association wanted the organization to address what they perceived to be the imminent “invasion” of black residents.

    At the meeting, association members quickly coordinated a defense against potential desegregation. Teaming...

  8. 4 Oh Dad, Poor Dad How Whites’ Early Unfair Advantage in Wealth Became Self-Reinforcing over Time
    (pp. 55-68)

    In 2000, two economists from the University of Washington published a paper on discrimination in jobs. The paper outlined a provocative argument—that segregating the races could reproduce inequality over time indefinitely, even if intentional discrimination were to end tomorrow.¹

    The authors set up a simple mathematical racial income gap model that looked very much like Glenn Loury’s earlier model. In their model, a person’s individual ability to get a job was directly connected to her community’s ability to help all its residents in their job search. They proposed a simple thought expermient. Suppose there were two communities, one white...

  9. 5 It’s How You Play the Game How Whites Created Institutional Rules That Favored Them over Time
    (pp. 69-81)

    Most high school seniors competing for admission to elite colleges like Harvard experience a fair amount of anxiety during the process. They know all too well that grades and test scores are not enough to get into Harvard. In addition to great numbers, applicants must demonstrate that they are well-rounded, that they are potential leaders, and that they are willing to give back to the community. Applicants likely are not as aware, however, that Harvard’s preference for the well-rounded applicant can be traced to a complicated and somewhat dubious history of racial and ethnic politics.

    As is true today, Harvard...

  10. 6 Not What You Know, but Who You Know How Social Networks Reproduce Early Advantage
    (pp. 82-92)

    Students who took shop classes at Glendale High in Baltimore in the 1970s and 1980s might remember Tim Spano, a white shop teacher who taught brick masonry at the public school for many years. By all accounts, Mr. Spano was one of those memorable teachers, offering guidance and mentoring even to students who hadn’t taken his class.

    Sometime in the late 1980s, two black students, Jermaine Decker and Allen Howard, took a shop class from Mr. Spano. Both Jermaine and Allen would later report that they found Mr. Spano to be a terrific teacher who cared deeply about his students....

  11. 7 Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor? How Neighborhood Effects Reproduce Racial Segregation
    (pp. 93-107)

    In the 1990s, economist Roland Bénabou developed a sort of thought experiment to try to understand the relationship between public school financing and the wealth of a neighborhood. Imagine two neighborhoods, with the same distribution of wealth among neighbors and equal public school spending per student. Now suppose that school spending in Neighborhood A, for whatever reason, becomes just slightly higher than Neighborhood B. Maybe the community votes in favor of a bond issue for the school. Maybe an influx of wealthier neighbors comes into the neighborhood by chance. Do these small differences in spending make any difference to the...

  12. 8 Locked In How White Advantage May Now Have Become Hard-Wired into the System
    (pp. 108-120)

    In 2006, sociologists Robert Sampson and Jeffrey Morenoff published a remarkable study on race and poverty in Chicago.¹ The authors tracked the rise and fall of poverty rates and racial make-up of Chicago neighborhoods for a two-decade period, between 1970 and 1990. Cities are vibrant, dynamic places and people move in and out of neighborhoods on a regular basis. Sampson and Morenoff expected to find that neighborhoods changed their character, if not a lot then at least a little, over the period of twenty years. But the authors were surprised to discover just how little the neighborhoods had changed when...

  13. 9 Reframing Race How the Lock-In Model Helps Us to Think in New Ways about Racial Inequality
    (pp. 121-134)

    In 1989, the US Supreme Court issued its decision in what would turn out to be one of the Court’s seminal affirmative action cases,City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co(1989).¹ The city of Richmond, Virginia had adopted a program that reserved 30 percent of the dollar amount of any contract for minority-owned construction companies.² A white-owned company challenged the program in court, arguing that it violated the owner’s right to equal protection. The Court declared the set-aside program illegal, finding that the goal of remedying societal discrimination could not justify the quota imposed by the city. In the...

  14. 10 Unlocking Lock-In Some General Observations (and One or Two Suggestions) on Dismantling Lock-In
    (pp. 135-150)

    In 2010, sociologists Darrick Hamilton and William Darity, Jr. proposed a bold policy to close the black and Latino wealth gap: baby bonds. If wealthy white families gave their kids a head start by putting them through college and giving them a down payment on a house, then the government could give wealth-poor families of color their own head start through children’s trust funds. In particular, the government could provide asset-poor children a sum of money at birth, a “baby bond,” in a guaranteed growth rate account, that would be enough to provide $50,000 or $60,000 for kids when they...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 151-158)

    The preceding chapter does not purport to provide a handbook for policy makers to prescribe ways to dismantle feedback loops or to unlock lock-in. Rather, it points to some very practical implications from the lock-in model that policy makers will have to take into account.

    First, time matters. The lock-in process is a dynamic one, and in the case of racial disparity, time makes the problem worse. Where many policy makers assume that the racial gap will eventually narrow, given Becker’s arguments about the costliness of discrimination, the lock-in model assumes that time will actually make things worse, as advantage...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 159-184)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 185-194)
    (pp. 195-195)