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Reproducing Racism

How Everyday Choices Lock In White Advantage

Daria Roithmayr

Publication Year: 2014

This book is designed to change the way we think about racial inequality. Long after the passage of civil rights laws and now the inauguration of our first black president, blacks and Latinos possess barely a nickel of wealth for every dollar that whites have. Why have we made so little progress?
Legal scholar Daria Roithmayr provocatively argues that racial inequality lives on because white advantage functions as a powerful self-reinforcing monopoly, reproducing itself automatically from generation to generation even in the absence of intentional discrimination. Drawing on work in antitrust law and a range of other disciplines, Roithmayr brilliantly compares the dynamics of white advantage to the unfair tactics of giants like AT&T and Microsoft.
With penetrating insight, Roithmayr locates the engine of white monopoly in positive feedback loops that connect the dramatic disparity of Jim Crow to modern racial gaps in jobs, housing and education. Wealthy white neighborhoods fund public schools that then turn out wealthy white neighbors. Whites with lucrative jobs informally refer their friends, who refer their friends, and so on. Roithmayr concludes that racial inequality might now be locked in place, unless policymakers immediately take drastic steps to dismantle this oppressive system.
Daria Roithmayr is the George T. and Harriet E. Pfleger Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. An internationally acclaimed legal scholar and activist, she is one of the country’s leading voices on the legal analysis of structural racial inequality. Prior to joining USC, Professor Roithmayr advised Senator Edward Kennedy on the nominations of Clarence Thomas and David Souter, and taught law at the University of Illinois.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i -vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The reason I got into academia in the first place was the freedom to think, teach, and write on the issues I care most about. As important if not moreso has been the opportunity to collaborate, and this book was the highlight of my professional life in that regard. Richard Delgado first came to me, now many years ago, with the idea...

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pp. 1-12

At the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term, the image of a black man against the backdrop of grand marble and the stately appointments of the Oval Office seems quite routine and unremarkable. Photographs and footage show a man very much at home in the White House. Even...

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1. The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Some (Incomplete and Unsatisfying) Explanations for Persistent Inequality

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pp. 13-24

In the mid-1990s, scholars Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve, a provocative best-selling book about human intelligence. At the center of the book, the authors argued that the divide between highly intelligent people (“the cognitive elite”) and the unintelligent...

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2. Cheating at the Starting Line: How White Racial Cartels Gained an Early Unfair Advantage during Jim Crow

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pp. 25-37

On a cold winter morning in Memphis, in January of 1919, a committee of four white switchmen marched into the office of one Edward Bodamer, superintendent of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad. The switchmen were there, they said, to discuss a demand by the area...

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3. Racial Cartels in Action: An In-Depth Look at Historical Racial Cartels in Housing and Politics

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pp. 38-54

Sometime in late 1928, leaders of the all-white Woodlawn Property Owner’s Association (WPOA) called members to an emergency meeting. WPOA was headquartered in Washington Park, which in those days was a middle-class white neighborhood in south-side Chicago...

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4. Oh Dad, Poor Dad: How Whites’ Early Unfair Advantage in Wealth Became Self-Reinforcing over Time

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pp. 55-68

In 2000, two economists from the University of Washington published a paper on discrimination in jobs. The paper outlined a provocative argument—that segregating the races could reproduce inequality over time indefinitely, even if intentional discrimination were to end...

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5. It’s How You Play the Game: How Whites Created Institutional Rules That Favored Them over Time

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pp. 69-81

Most high school seniors competing for admission to elite colleges like Harvard experience a fair amount of anxiety during the process. They know all too well that grades and test scores are not enough to get into Harvard. In addition to great numbers, applicants must demonstrate that they...

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6. Not What You Know, but Who You Know: How Social Networks Reproduce Early Advantage

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pp. 82-92

Students who took shop classes at Glendale High in Baltimore in the 1970s and 1980s might remember Tim Spano, a white shop teacher who taught brick masonry at the public school for many years. By all accounts, Mr. Spano was one of those memorable teachers, offering...

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7. Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: How Neighborhood Effects Reproduce Racial Segregation

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pp. 93-107

In the 1990s, economist Roland Bénabou developed a sort of thought experiment to try to understand the relationship between public school financing and the wealth of a neighborhood. Imagine two neighborhoods, with the same distribution of wealth among neighbors and equal...

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8. Locked In: How White Advantage May Now Have Become Hard-Wired into the System

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pp. 108-120

In 2006, sociologists Robert Sampson and Jeffrey Morenoff published a remarkable study on race and poverty in Chicago.1 The authors tracked the rise and fall of poverty rates and racial make-up of Chicago neighborhoods for a two-decade period, between 1970 and 1990. Cities are...

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9. Reframing Race: How the Lock-In Model Helps Us to Think in New Ways about Racial Inequality

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pp. 121-134

In 1989, the US Supreme Court issued its decision in what would turn out to be one of the Court’s seminal affirmative action cases, City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co (1989).1 The city of Richmond, Virginia had adopted a program that reserved 30 percent of the dollar amount of any...

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10. Unlocking Lock-In: Some General Observations (and One or Two Suggestions) on Dismantling Lock-In

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pp. 135-150

In 2010, sociologists Darrick Hamilton and William Darity, Jr. proposed a bold policy to close the black and Latino wealth gap: baby bonds. If wealthy white families gave their kids a head start by putting them through college and giving them a down payment on a house, then the...

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pp. 151-158

The preceding chapter does not purport to provide a handbook for policy makers to prescribe ways to dismantle feedback loops or to unlock lock-in. Rather, it points to some very practical implications from the lock-in model that policy makers will have to take into account...


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pp. 159-184


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pp. 185-194

About the Author

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pp. 195

E-ISBN-13: 9780814769331
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814777121
Print-ISBN-10: 0814777120

Page Count: 205
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Racism -- United States.
  • Whites -- United States -- Economic conditions.
  • Whites -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Minorities -- United States -- Economic conditions.
  • Minorities -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Racism -- United States.
  • Race discrimination -- United States.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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