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Reading Back, Reading Black

15 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2007  

I. Bennett Capers

Brooklyn Law School


This essay builds on post-colonial theory and black literary theory to pose a pair of questions. If the reading of Western literature can be enriched by examining the great canonical texts through the lens of race, can a similar enrichment obtain from using a similar reading practice to read the law? Stanley Fish has argued that we each belong to interpretive communities, and that members of these communities are guided in their readings of texts by a common consciousness, which produces interpretive "strategies [that] exist prior to the act of reading and therefore determine the shape of what is read." If this is true, what does it mean for the study of law to have a community of black readers?

This essay engages these questions and attempts to describe a reading practice of reading black. To illustrate the reading practice, the essay examines two cases that do not appear to be engaged in race work at all, The Queen v. Dudley & Stephens, and Muller v. Oregon. The essay demonstrates that far from diminishing these opinions - these grand narratives, these master texts - reading black reveals other layers, other meanings, and in the process deepens and widens our understanding not only of the holdings of these opinions, but also the how and why of them.

Keywords: race, gender, cultural studies, humanities, literature, jurisprudence, critical race theory, black literary theory, post-colonial theory

Suggested Citation

Capers, I. Bennett, Reading Back, Reading Black. Hofstra Law Review, Vol. 35, No. 8, p. 101, 2007; Hofstra University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-2. Available at SSRN:

I. Bennett Capers (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States


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