Structural Racism, Workplace Discrimination, and the United States Supreme Court, 1971-1989

74 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2012

See all articles by William M. Wiecek

William M. Wiecek

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Judy Hamilton

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: August 23, 2012


In the last forty years, sociologists have produced a vibrant body of literature on structural racism that explains why dramatic racial disparities persist and focuses on social structure instead of bigoted individuals. In this analysis, social structure rather than the intentions of bigoted individuals account for the discrepancies of outcomes between the races. Sociologists emphasize the effects of racism on groups, rather than individuals. Structural racism perpetuates the effects of past overt discrimination because it arises from policies and procedures that appear on the surface to be race-neutral. The combination of invisibility, automaticity, and white self-interest renders it as elusive as it is effective. White privilege figures as importantly as black disadvantage in accounting for racial disparity.

We link the disciplines of sociology and constitutional history to demonstrate that since 1970, the Supreme Court has failed to recognize structural racism in the workplace, and has promulgated legal doctrines that protect it, assure its continuation, and disable other branches of both the federal and state governments from eradicating it. The Court’s sociological and psychological assumptions run counter to reality and embed unacknowledged policy preferences. Doctrinal assumptions about colorblindness, facial neutrality, and white innocence enable the Justices not just to willfully ignore structural racism, but to protect it as a constitutional good.  

Keywords: Structural racism, racism, workplace discrimination, unconcious racism, Washington v. Davis, colorblindness, white privilege, Wygant v. Board of Education, United States Supreme Court

Suggested Citation

Wiecek, William M. and Hamilton, Judy, Structural Racism, Workplace Discrimination, and the United States Supreme Court, 1971-1989 (August 23, 2012). UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 309. Available at SSRN: or

William M. Wiecek (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Judy Hamilton

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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