White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (Critical America (New York University Paperback))

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Lily white. White knights. The white dove of peace. White lie, white list, white magic. Our language and our culture are suffused, often subconsciously, with positive images of whiteness. Whiteness is so inextricably linked with the status quo that few whites, when asked, even identify themselves as such. And yet when asked what they would have to be paid to live as a black person, whites give figures running into the millions of dollars per year, suggesting just how valuable whiteness is in American society.

Exploring the social, and specifically legal origins, of white racial identity, Ian F. Haney Lopez here examines cases in America’s past that have been instrumental in forming contemporary conceptions of race, law, and whiteness. In 1790, Congress limited naturalization to white persons. This racial prerequisite for citizenship remained in force for over a century and a half, enduring until 1952. In a series of important cases, including two heard by the United States Supreme Court, judges around the country decided and defined who was white enough to become American.

White by Law traces the reasoning employed by the courts in their efforts to justify the whiteness of some and the non- whiteness of others. Did light skin make a Japanese person white? Were Syrians white because they hailed geographically from the birthplace of Christ? Haney Lopez reveals the criteria that were used, often arbitrarily, to determine whiteness, and thus citizenship: skin color, facial features, national origin, language, culture, ancestry, scientific opinion, and, most importantly, popular opinion.

Having defined the social and legal origins of whiteness, White by Law turns its attention to white identity today and concludes by calling upon whites to acknowledge and renounce their privileged racial identity.

2 thoughts on “White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (Critical America (New York University Paperback))

  1. Paul H. Hawkins
    1
    24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Passionate and Thoughtful, December 2, 2000
    By 

    This review is from: White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (Critical America (New York University Paperback)) (Paperback)

    Some writers are passionate, but not well researched. Others are well researched, but make for a boring read. Fortunately, Ian F. Haney Lopez is both passionate and thoughtful. Best of all, he writes in such a way that arouses passion and thought in his audience. Another strength of this book is that it provides a good balance between teaching us about the historical context of “whiteness” and a well-articulated argument about why such a historical understanding is important to us today. This book is so impressive that my training partners and I now quote from it as part of our anti-racism training program.

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  2. 2
    11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Debunking Attacks, December 25, 2003
    By 
    C. Cornell
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (Critical America (New York University Paperback)) (Paperback)

    One of the many attacks Lopez receives regarding White By Law is his alleged “white pessimism” that keeps him from genuinly wanting to deconstruct whiteness, because he would lose his White benefits. This is backed up by his many contradictions throughout the book. Though I agree he does contradict himself quite often, he does not cave into the idea of White superioroity as some critics on this page say. Critics of Lopez who are well versed in Race Theory and who want to deconstruct whiteness, fault him for simotaneously stating that whiteness is a “fantasy” and yet still “exists.” To put it in common-man’s English, this makes sense. Whiteness DOES exist, but only as a socially constructed idea. To blindly say that Race does not exist in any form is like saying that Liberalism doesn’t exist. I mean, you can’t touch liberalism. There is no genetic way of identifying liberals. Same with religion. Catholocism doesn’t really exist, only in social construct. Critics of Lopez would have him write his entire book with out mention of racial existance because acknowledging race would go against Critical Race Theory. However, this book was not written to be read solely by the most enlightened intellectuals. It was written for any lay-person with a vocabulary large enough to understand it (which should be everyone, but sadly isn’t.)
    One point I would agree with critics on is that White By Law has large moments of useless contradictory ranting. This is especially obnoxious to the average American who is trying to educate themselves. If Lopez wants to gain more support for his theories, he needs to take the first step in the new intellectual revolution: the uniting between scholars and the average-joe’s and the removal of the painfully obvious elitest attitude in the intellectual world. A book more to the point would be a great resource for the masses.
    Overall, the book is beneficial. Lopez is not absorbed in his own personal conflict. He admits the painful truth, that race does exist in America. A critical race thesis should read as this “Race exists right now, but it didn’t used to and it doesn’t have to anymore.”

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