Citizenship and Racial Subordination
3 American Journal of Law and Equality 319 (2023)
28 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2023
Date Written: September 22, 2023
Citizenship is a powerful concept in public discourse, often regarded as a tool for promoting inclusion and racial equality. But citizenship has important limitations as a vehicle for achieving egalitarian aspirations. As scholars have noted, citizenship has an exclusionary logic, and gradations of citizenship are inevitable. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, it has often served as only a weak antidote to disadvantage based on race. Moreover, citizenship has not always brought greater rights or well-being for those who possess it. At times, its imposition has operated as an oppressive force. This essay, reflecting on one professor’s experience of teaching a law school seminar on citizenship, argues that the study of leading citizenship cases and associated scholarly commentary casts doubt on common assumptions about citizenship and its relationship to racial equality. Examining the history of American citizenship for free Black people, indigenous people, residents of United States territories, and Asian Americans exposes the ambiguity of a legal status typically associated with unalloyed social, political, and economic goods. Accordingly, this essay advocates for providing law students with opportunities to study citizenship law and theory.
Keywords: citizenship, race, equality
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