Rendered Invisible: African American Low-Wage Workers and the Workplace Exploitation Paradigm

45 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2017 Last revised: 20 Jun 2017

Llezlie Green Coleman

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: March 11, 2016


The narrative of low-wage worker exploitation has increasingly narrowed in focus to reflect the experiences of undocumented immigrant workers whose immigration status makes them particularly vulnerable to wage theft and other denials of their substantive workplace rights. Indeed, much of the scholarship in this area rests solidly at the intersection of immigrant justice and employment law. This article disrupts this paradigm by arguing that this limited narrative has rendered African American low-wage workers invisible. It also draws from the voices of low-wage worker advocates who have borrowed from current activism to announce that #BlackWorkersMatter. Given the role of paradigms in defining which issues merit our attention, analysis, and assessment, this article argues for a shift in the scholarly conversation to consider not only the historical reasons for the distancing of African Americans from worker advocacy, but also the current dynamics that have facilitated this phenomenon. This article draws from critical race theorists’ black/white binary analysis to consider whether there exists an immigrant/non-immigrant binary paradigm in the analyses of low-wage worker exploitation. Finally, it considers the particular vulnerabilities and disadvantages this paradigm creates for African American workers.

Keywords: employment law, workplace law, race and the law

Suggested Citation

Green Coleman, Llezlie, Rendered Invisible: African American Low-Wage Workers and the Workplace Exploitation Paradigm (March 11, 2016). Howard Law Journal, Vol. 60, No. 1, 2016; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2012-12. Available at SSRN:

Llezlie Coleman (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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