New York Times Bestseller • Notable Book of the Year • Editors' Choice Selection
One of Bill Gates’ “Amazing Books” of the Year
One of Publishers Weekly’s 10 Best Books of the Year
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction
An NPR Best Book of the Year
Winner of the Hillman Prize for Nonfiction
Gold Winner • California Book Award (Nonfiction)
Finalist • Los Angeles Times Book Prize (History)
Finalist • Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize
This “powerful and disturbing history” exposes how American governments deliberately imposed racial segregation on metropolitan areas nationwide (New York Times Book Review).
Widely heralded as a “masterful” (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 of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. A groundbreaking, “virtually indispensable” study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history (Chicago Daily Observer), The Color of Law forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past.
Rothstein's comprehensive and engrossing book reveals just how the U.S. arrived at the "systematic racial segregation we find in metropolitan areas today," focusing in particular on the role of government. While remaining cognizant of recent changes in legislation and implementation, Rothstein is keenly alert to the continuing effects of past practices. He leads the reader through Jim Crow laws, sundown towns, restrictive covenants, blockbusting, law enforcement complicity, and subprime loans. The book touches on the Federal Housing Administration and the creation of public housing projects, explaining how these were transformed into a "warehousing system for the poor." Rothstein also notes the impact of Woodrow Wilson's racist hiring policies, the New Deal era Fair Labor Standards that excluded "industries in which African Americans predominated, like agriculture," and the exclusion of African-American workers from the construction trades, making clear how directly government contributed to segregation in labor. And Rothstein shows exactly why a simplistic North/South polarization lacks substance, using copious examples from both regions. This compassionate and scholarly diagnosis of past policies and prescription for our current racial maladies shines a bright light on some shadowy spaces. 13 illus.
Government Mandated Discrimination
Richard Rothstein has put together a damning account of the federal, state, and private laws & policies that deepened the segregation in neighborhoods across America. Often these mandates created segregation where does none before. Even more disturbing is that many of these efforts to separate populations happened during wartime when we were supposed to be coming together as one country. Imagine how disillusioned Black veterans where when they came back from fighting for their country only to be denied home ownership.
It’s no wonder then that the far right doesn’t want anyone reading books like this one. It can’t be read without the anger swelling to a level where nothing can put out the fire but complete and immediate reparations and accountability. Changes that would require some to say goodbye to unearned privileges and wealth. Rather than do that, we know they prefer to dig deeper and let the poison of racism continue to stealthily eat away at the soul of the nation.
Those who argue against economic repair are also likely the beneficiaries of equity gains during a real estate value climb during the pandemic unparalleled in history. They also won’t acknowledge that those left out of those gains are the descendants of citizens discriminated against by LAW and not just sentiment. Rothstein finds a balance in the end that offers inclusive and restorative measures that can bring marginalized minority groups into their equitable positions while also desegregating neighborhoods.
A well-written, compelling, account. The book is meticulously argued and supported, while not resorting to less accessible legal verbiage.
The Color of Law masterfully makes the case that segregation of contemporary neighborhoods is not de facto, but instead de jure, segregation attributable to the efforts of elected state and federal officials. I picked this book up to broaden my understanding on Red Lining policies and white flight, but I walked away with much more information. Mob intimidation, loan denials, pernicious public works projects, forced relocation efforts, etc. The list is innumerable in how African American communities were forcefully segregated. The lasting symptoms of this de jure state sanctioned violence are seemingly everlasting and deeply corrupting. No matter your political disposition, this is a valuable read. Richard Rothstein has strongly convinced me that some form of rectification must occur.