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The Current Landscape of Race: Old Targets, New Opportunities

18 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2009  

Richard Delgado

University of Alabama - School of Law


The fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education provided a good time to step back and survey recent writings about race. It brought forth a wealth of scholarship-retrospective, critical, and celebratory. The three books that I take as illustrative are each, in their way, excellent. Reflective, even ruminative, All Deliberate Speed interweaves the story of author Charles Ogletree's life with national events that took place during the same period, such as the Brown decision, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, and the lawsuit for black reparations growing out of the 1921 Tulsa riots. Ogletree's book brings these events to life, while reinforcing how much remains to be done to effectuate Brown's mandate. In Whitewashing Race, Michael K. Brown and his coauthors put forward a scorching critique of an emerging neoconservative approach to race and show how it has produced a new type of tough-minded, "realist" racism exemplified by Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom's America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible. Alexander Tsesis's book, The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom, audaciously seeks to reorient racial jurisprudence so that it avoids the cultural inertia and doctrinal baggage that recent books - including the other two reviewed here - document. He seeks to place such jurisprudence on sounder footing.

Although these otherwise strong books contribute greatly to current knowledge, they - like much recent writing about race - nevertheless devote scant attention to two issues that ought to be on the agenda of every serious treatment of race: white privilege and the place of nonblack groups such as Latinos and Asian Americans in the civil-rights equation. Not only for African Americans, but also for other groups, two forces - oppression and favoritism - maintain white supremacy, so that ending one without attention to the other would do little to improve matters. If the demise of formal, state-sponsored racism has left in place a system of informal favors, exchanges, informational networks, old-boy references, and college-entrance criteria by which whites see to their own, the system of white-over-black power relations will hardly budge. White privilege thus demands the serious attention of every race scholar.

This Review proceeds in four parts. Part I describes the three books. Part II highlights what is valuable in each and points out a few minor respects in which they fall short. Parts III and IV identify a deeper shortcoming: the failure to come to terms with white privilege and the black-white binary paradigm of race, issues that lie outside the conventional paradigm of race scholarship but that are becoming more salient with each passing day.

Keywords: racial discrimination, civil rights, oppression, white supremacy, white privilege, favoritism, Charles J. Ogletree Jr., Michael K. Brown, Alexander Tsesis, Brown v. Board of Education

Suggested Citation

Delgado, Richard, The Current Landscape of Race: Old Targets, New Opportunities. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 104, P. 1269, 2006; U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research. Available at SSRN:

Richard Delgado (Contact Author)

University of Alabama - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

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