Valuing Identity

63 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2017 Last revised: 5 Jan 2018

Date Written: March 27, 2017


Popular engagement with black racial identity is steadily increasing. From protest slogan “Black Lives Matter,” to the visibility of black racial identity on number-one-debuting visual albums like Lemonade, blackness is increasingly visible in mainstream American culture. At the same time, “Black Lives Matter” gave way to “All Lives Matter,” and American courts continue their retreat from identity, insisting on “colorblind” legal analysis to assess law and policy adopted to address inequality. This article considers that divergence, arguing that the law’s hostility to identity is a form of dispossession, the negative consequences of which extent beyond marginalized communities. More than just a useful vehicle for antidiscrimination efforts, identity politics are also important social goods, central to a properly functioning democracy, and integral to political and social resilience among minoritized identity groups. Using black racial identity as exemplar, the “harms” of racial identity like stigma and essentialism are reframed, clearing the path for responses to discrimination that are improved on account of more positive legal engagement with identity, and highlighting the problem with post-identity legal frameworks like ‘dignity’ into which identity is increasingly subsumed. This conception of identity in general, and black racial identity, in particular, has implications for law, policy, and American democracy.

Suggested Citation

James, Osamudia R., Valuing Identity (March 27, 2017). 102 Minn. L.Rev. 127 (2017), University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-14, Available at SSRN: or

Osamudia R. James (Contact Author)

University of Miami School of Law ( email )

1311 Miller Drive
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States
305.284.5837 (Phone)

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