The Desire for Whiteness: Can Law and Economics Explain it?

27 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2011


This paper provides a new theoretical perspective on colorism by considering it from an economic point of view. I rely on three theories of law and economics that explain racial discrimination. While critiquing these theories, I also extend them to evaluate colorism. This is challenging because these theories correlate race with skin color. I use the “desire for whiteness” (DFW) as a tool for analyzing these theories and as a fundamental characteristic that distinguishes racism from colorism. This paper studies the cross-cultural applicability of these theories from beyond the traditional American labor market (ALM) to the Indian arranged marriage ‘market’ (IAMM). This paper finds that: (a) these theories are able to provide some insights into why decisions in these markets are based on skin color, (b) the insights are incomplete and do not fully explain the complexities of colorist interactions though they do explain some of its history, (c) applying these theories to the IAMM strengthens these theories – the statistical theory for instance, is better able to explain discrimination in IAMM than in ALM, (d) only McAdams’ status production theory is able to deliver an account of DFW. I conclude that a legal framework relating to colorism should aim to eliminate DFW from society.

Suggested Citation

Bhattacharya, Shilpi, The Desire for Whiteness: Can Law and Economics Explain it?. Jindal Global Legal Research Paper No. 8/2011, Available at SSRN: or

Shilpi Bhattacharya (Contact Author)

Jindal Global Law School ( email )


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