The Color of Law was recently recommended to me as a great book to better understand the current challenges created by systematic racism in this country. While an intense novel, that surprised me on numerous occasions, it often was a painful read.
The main premise of this book is the current situation that African Americans are struggling with did not happen by happenstance and a few private citizens who were racist individuals. Rather, the United States government, at federal, state, and local levels, created inherently and systematically racist and unjust laws, policies and rules to ensure African Americans were penalized because of their skin color. Distinguishing these as being de jure segregation, which includes government policies as the cause, rather than just de facto, which occurred through private parties, is his main theory.
His arguments are strong and I found all the research and data he presented, overwhelming. To be clear, I don't mean overwhelming in the sense that I cannot understand his arguments. Rather, I found it overwhelming how much I was unaware of the consistent and notable racist practices that were put in to law throughout our country's history. Here is a summary of the areas he covers that are FULL of policies and rules that are discriminatory: housing, zoning, mortgage and lending, white flight, tax code, local housing ordinances, state sanctioned violence, etc.
Reading this book reminded me of the first time I read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (if you have not read, a must read!). Like that book, I feel almost foolish with how many important items in America's history were hidden from me over the past 30 years. As a political science major, I read many books about history and government policies, and very little in this book was covered.
It's depressing and shocking to know that so many Americans are unaware of the troubling history in our country. This is especially concerning because it helps explain so much about the inequities in our country. It's not just luck certain people are not as wealthy, have as much property, have the chance to go to college, etc. It's also not just because of a few racist individuals in the past. Rather, America has a history of overtly racist rules, laws, policies, and discriminatory practices that ensured African Americans would not be able to advance like other races. While there are many things that have changed, much, much more needs to be done to right these wrongs. And, without understanding and knowing this history, it's harder to do so.
I strongly recommend this book to all readers.