Richard Rothstein makes complex government-sanctioned segregation eminently clear in The Color of Law. Although he’s a researcher and academic, his writing is easy to read. It’s the content—the actions he describes—that made me angry enough to throw things. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Rothstein’s analysis of the history of segregation in the United States is comprehensive. He lays out each piece of the story with clarity because of his firm grasp on the subject. Example after example show that segregation isn’t simply a choice made by African Americans. Instead, the government enacted countless policies that forced segregation. These policies kept African Americans down. They haven’t had the same access to safe and affordable housing, adequate schools, manageable commutes, or fair wages that their white contemporaries have.
The Color of Law explains how the government essentially restricted the American Dream to white people. Parents tell their children, “you can achieve anything, no matter where you grow up.” But Rothstein shows that this isn’t actually the case. African American kids must climb such a steep uphill out of segregation that it’s nearly impossible. Sadly, the Michelle Obamas of the world are few and far between.
Laws, legal documents, resolutions, and other publicly accessible information is available to document this reprehensible history. In fact, it’s hidden in plain sight. Rothstein pulls it all together in a logical sequence.
Reading on the topic of social justice is important to me. And I feel disheartened by most of the books I read, at the very least. This book, however, made me furious. Step by step, our government supported one race over all others. I’m honestly a little ashamed to be white right now.
Authors, commentators, and even politicians discuss whether African Americans are entitled to reparations for this wholesale oppression. I started out feeling on the fence about it, mostly because I didn’t understand the connections between past decades and the present. But after reading Rothstein, I’m in favor of expanding the discussion. And Rothstein presents a strong case to enact policy that remedies the generations of African American suffering at the hands of the government.
Combining listening to the audiobook and reading the print version helped me. I listened for a while, then went back and verified my grasp of the content by reviewing the book. This process helped me embed the detailed information more firmly in my brain. If you can put your hands on both versions, I recommend this method.
But most of all, I encourage everyone—literally, everyone—to read this book. Be ready to change how you see the U.S., the government, and whatever opportunities you’ve been given (or not) in your lifetime.