From ‘blood quantum’ to multiracial bill of rights, Dolezal saga ignites talk of identity

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-07-10 20:49Z by Steven

From ‘blood quantum’ to multiracial bill of rights, Dolezal saga ignites talk of identity

The Seattle Times

Nina Shapiro, Seattle Times staff reporter

The endless fascination with the Rachel Dolezal story reveals our hunger to talk about racial identity in all its complexity.

When Amanda Erekson was in her early 20s, a friend introduced her to a Japanese-American woman at a party. “Amanda is Japanese-American, too!” her friend enthused.

“The person was shocked,” Erekson recalls. “I know white people who look more Japanese than you,” the woman said.

The comment stung. Erekson, who is multiracial, identifies strongly with her Japanese-American heritage, although her appearance leads most people to assume she is simply white.

This kind of skeptical reaction is one reason the 33-year-old New Yorker, president of MAVIN, an organization devoted to the multiracial experience, bemoans the international media sensation that is Rachel Dolezal. Because of the former Spokane NAACP president, who resigned from her post Monday after her parents said she had been posing as black, Erekson says “it will be that much harder” for people like her…

…Race — or more specifically racial identity — has been Topic A in the national conversation over the past week. And it is one of the most nuanced and interesting conversations we’ve ever had.

People obviously have a deep need to talk about the subject, and to talk about it in complex ways, says New Jersey filmmaker Lacey Schwartz. She saw that same need in the outpouring of personal stories sparked by the making of her recent film “Little White Lie,” a documentary about growing up in a Jewish family and discovering in college that her biological father is African American…

To some extent, the current conversation involves picking apart details of the Dolezal saga, which seems to get stranger by the day.

Witness Dolezal’s assertion Tuesday, despite a birth certificate produced by Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal, that there’s no proof that the couple are her biological parents. She evinced a similar squishiness on NBC’s “Today” show earlier in the day when she said that she “identified” as black.

Whatever story she has that prompts such a statement, she’s not “owning it’ by honestly talking about it, Schwartz says. The filmmaker also objects to Dolezal’s declaration on “Today” that she needed to present herself as black because otherwise it wouldn’t be “plausible” to assume guardianship, as she did, of one of her adopted African-American brothers.

“That is a real diss,” Schwartz says. “My mother is white. I know lots of white people raising children of color.”

Yet, Camille Gear Rich, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Southern California, points out that parents who look different from their children often face incredulous questions. That intrusiveness might have pushed her into “going too far” by lying about her race, Rich says…


Yet this insistence on racial labeling faces a backlash.

MAVIN arose in 1998 in response to a growing desire by multiracial people to identify themselves in ways that might differ from how they are perceived. The group looks to a landmark “bill of rights for people of mixed heritage” produced by Seattle psychologist Maria P.P. Root.

Some key passages: “I have the right … To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify. To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me. To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters. To identify myself differently in different situations.” Also: “I have the right … To change my identity over my lifetime — and more than once.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Elective Race: Recognizing Race Discrimination in the Era of Racial Self-Identification

Posted in Articles, Law, Literary/Artistic Criticism on 2014-06-23 02:53Z by Steven

Elective Race: Recognizing Race Discrimination in the Era of Racial Self-Identification

Georgetown Law Journal
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Volume 102, Issue 5 (2014)
pages 1501-1572

Camille Gear Rich, Associate Professor of Law
University of Southern California, Gould School of Law

This Article posits that we are in a key moment of discursive and ideological transition, an era in which the model of elective race is ascending, poised to become one of the dominant frameworks for understanding race in the United States. Because we are in a period of transition, many Americans still are wedded to fairly traditional attitudes about race. For these Americans, race is still an objective, easily ascertainable fact determined by the process of involuntary racial ascription—how one’s physical traits are racially categorized by third parties. The elective-race framework will challenge these Americans to recognize other ways in which people experience race, including acts of voluntary affiliation as well as selective and conditional affiliations. Importantly, even if one concludes that most Americans still hold traditional, ascriptive-based understandings of race, there is evidence that elective race is steadily gaining influence in certain quarters, shaping government institutions’ formal procedures as well as certain Americans’ racial understandings.

To improve the clarity and precision of discussions about elective race, this Article outlines the key premises and norms associated with this ideological framework. My primary goal is to help courts and scholars understand the basic tenets and tensions that are likely to be present in plaintiffs’ elective-race claims. Although some scholars have trivialized racial self-identification interests or represented them as a threat to antidiscrimination law, my project is to show that racial self-identification decisions matter in concrete ways because they can trigger serious race-based social sanctions that are a core antidiscrimination law concern. Indeed, as we will see, voluntary racial-affiliation decisions can and do trigger race-based resentment, rejection, and social sanction when race-based resentment, rejection, and social sanction when they do not match certain expected or established American understandings about the boundaries of racial categories. Moreover, I predict that, though the number of cases that sound in the nature of elective race may be small at present, we should expect to see more cases of this kind given both the increased focus Americans place on the interest in racial self-identification and the shift toward institutional protocols that are intended to accommodate this interest. The elective-race cases will challenge courts, forcing them to decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) should recognize the autonomy claims of individuals who are injured in the workplace by the social and formal processes of involuntary racialization. Courts will be asked to rule on cases that suggest that an employee’s dignity interests are unjustly frustrated when other fail to respect the employee’s right to racial self-definition.

Read the entire article here.

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Making the Modern Family: Interracial Intimacy and the Social Production of Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-04-07 03:39Z by Steven

Making the Modern Family: Interracial Intimacy and the Social Production of Whiteness

Harvard Law Review
Volume 127, Issue 5 (2014-03-17)
pages 1341-1394

Camille Gear Rich, Associate Professor of Law
Gould School of Law
University of Southern California

According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family. By Angela Onwuachi-Willig. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 2013. Pp. 325.

Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s provocative book According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family seems tailor-made for the current cultural moment. The book arrives on the heels of the reelection of our first mixed-race President. It arrives in the midst of a media blitz that favorably presents mixedrace couples on a routine basis, making the multiracial family seem a normal, even pedestrian occurrence. Indeed, in 2012 the cultural embrace of the interracial family seemed complete when Modern Family was chosen as the top sitcom in the United States. The program centers on the Dunphy-Pritchetts, an interracial, gay-tolerant family, seemingly progressive in all dimensions. Onwuachi-Willig’s new book, however, boldly challenges the contemporary claim that interracial families are now an accepted and celebrated part of the American polity. The author instead painstakingly reveals that the world still subjects the interracial family to insult and inferior treatment that the law fails to address and, further, that the acceptance of interracial couples in contemporary popular culture is far more partial, conditional, and ambivalent than it might initially seem.

One need look no further than the program Modern Family itself to find evidence of America’s continuing anxiety about interracial unions. While fans of the program know the cast of characters well, the program’s viewers most likely have not fully apprehended the program’s cultural commitments and underlying political ambitions. The core characters of Modern Family are members of a white nuclear family, Claire and Phil Dunphy and their three children. This couple’s 1950s-style Dick and Jane union stands alongside the May-December romance of Claire’s white father, Jay Pritchett, who, having separated from Claire’s white mother, has married Gloria, a fiery Latina from Colombia. Jay has also functionally adopted Manny, Gloria’s Latino son. The family clan is complete when we are introduced to Claire’s brother, Mitchell Pritchett, a white gay man who has coupled with another white gay man, Cameron, and adopted Lily, a Vietnamese child. The not-so-silent political subtext that informs this current cultural favorite is that the era of interraciality has ended and the postracial future has arrived. Indeed, in the world of Modern Family, “interraciality,” the term Onwuachi-Willig uses to describe the discrimination aimed at mixed-race couples in American society, is a relic of the past. The program further reassures its viewers that the white nuclear family will not be threatened by this new post-racial future, a time when whites casually form intimate family relationships with people of color. For Modern Family is treacle-coated reassurance that in these new “modern families,” interracial parenting and interracial marriage will simply mimic the dynamics of the white nuclear family in its original form.

Close analysis of Modern Family further demonstrates that, despite the seeming cultural celebration of interracial families, the racial acceptance offered in the program is surprisingly partial. One major racial group is left out of the Dunphy-Pritchett clan’s seemingly capacious diversity circle — blacks. Indeed, in the Dunphy-Pritchett family, white parents eagerly reach out to care for Latino, Asian, and mixed-race children, but there are no black children in the family. Over the course of each season we occasionally see black friends, or black neighbors, but there is no sign that any black person has ever been invited into the Dunphy-Pritchett marital bed. One wonders, why did the producers’ willingness to represent interracial intimacy stop with blacks? According to Our Hearts provides an answer. Onwuachi-Willig explains that black-white romantic dyads and the mixed-race families they produce are particularly anxiety provoking in the United States and, as a consequence, are typically erased and rendered culturally invisible (p. 18). She further argues that this invisibility hides the fact that black-white families suffer under a unique form of hostility and disadvantage (p. 9). By charting these black-white couples’ experiences and using them in a “miner’s canary” analysis to assess race relations, she argues, we learn just how long racism and fear of interracial intimacy have endured (p. 122)…

…Indeed, history shows that the interracial family historically has been an institution that assimilated ethnic or racial differences to whiteness and therefore did not disturb the existing racial status hierarchy. Ethnic whites that immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, including Germans and Northern Europeans, intermarried with “American” or British whites as a way of being absorbed into the larger category of privileged white persons. A second wave of immigrant intermarriage expanded the category of whiteness again in the 1950s and 1960s, when Italians and other Southern Europeans were added to the category of whiteness. Today we are experiencing a third wave in this expansion as sections of the Asian and Latino communities have gained sufficient social status that they are being accepted as suitable marriage partners by privileged whites today. In many cases, whites appear willing to treat Asian or Latino background, particularly for mixed-race persons, as a kind of “ethnic” rather than racial difference. Professor Charles Gallagher refers to this dynamic, in which racialized or subordinated ethnic groups are granted status equal to whiteness, as “racial redistricting.”

Given the subtle and sophisticated nature of Onwuachi-Willig’s account of the interracial family, it is surprising that she does not cover the potentially racially regressive role the interracial family can play in contemporary race relations. However, this oversight may be a consequence of methodological choices she makes in her study. First, Onwuachi-Willig opts to make the black-white multiracial family the paradigmatic case that guides her understanding of interraciality (p. 122), and an assimilation focus is not as common in black-white families. Sociologists have suggested that assimilation messages are not as common because phenotypic differences prevent many children in black-white mixed-race families from assimilating to whiteness easily. However, there is some evidence that even black-white interracial families use these unions as a path for their children into whiteness when possible. Second, sampling bias may account for the problem. Onwuachi-Willig uses an approach called convenience sampling in her account. Specifically, she collects stories from former volunteers and acquaintances made through friends (pp. 8–10); understandably these like-minded individuals were more likely to share her progressive vision. Those who were not like-minded, for obvious reasons, would likely opt not to participate in a study of interraciality-based discrimination. Members of interracial couples who could see their children easily transitioning to a white identity or a transcendent raceless identity would be less interested in exploring the unique forms of discrimination faced by interracial couples.

Despite these problems, in my view, Onwuachi-Willig’s account of the interracial family provides a much-needed starting point for persons interested in theorizing about the relationship between family formation and racial formation. However, some supplementation of her account is required in order to fully address the interracial family’s tutelary role or its role as a site of racial messaging. Part B further explores these roles, concentrating on families that appear to be committed to assimilating their members to whiteness and therefore are treated as reinforcing existing racial status hierarchy in the United States…

Read the entire review here.

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Racial Commodification in the Era of Elective Race: Affirmative Action and the Lesson of Elizabeth Warren

Posted in Law, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-10-26 22:00Z by Steven

Racial Commodification in the Era of Elective Race: Affirmative Action and the Lesson of Elizabeth Warren

University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series
Working Paper 92
31 pages

Camille Gear Rich, Associate Professor of Law
Gould School of Law
University of Southern California

This Essay uses the current controversy over the racial self-identification decisions of former Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren as an occasion to explore incipient cultural and legal anxieties about employers’ ability to define race under affirmative action programs. The Essay characterizes Warren’s racial self-identification decisions as proof of what I call “elective race,” a contemporary cultural trend encouraging individuals to place great emphasis on their “right” to racial self-identification and a related desire for public recognition of their complex racial identity claims. I argue that our failure to attend to the importance placed on racial self-identification by Americans today places persons with complex racial identity claims at special risk for racial commodification. The Essay further suggests that the Warren controversy gives us an opportunity to rethink the way we conceptualize racial diversity. I argue that we must shift away the current model, which conflates race and cultural difference, toward a model that assumes racial diversity initiatives are sampling for employees that can teach us about the diverse ways that race is actualized and experienced. The Essay suggests that diversity initiatives that stress race’s use value as a source of insight into the social process of racialization avoid the cultural commodification risks posed by current affirmative action programs, reorient employers away from thin concepts of diversity, and give employers a basis for making principled distinctions between employees’ racial identification claims. The Essay concludes by identifying and defending a three-part inquiry that can be used to identify proper beneficiaries of diversity-based affirmative action programs.


    • A. The Right to Racial Self-identification In the Era of Elective Race
    • B. Employer Discretion In the Era of Elective Race
    • A. Authenticity Tests Versus Functionalist Inquiries About Race
    • B. Functionalist Inquiries About Race and the Risk of Racial Commodification
    • C. Re-writing Malone : Understanding the Social Processes of Racialization
      • 1. Physical Race or Phenotype-Based Race
      • 2. Documentary Race
      • 3. Social Race
    • A. The Dangers of Laissez Faire Approaches to Race
    • B. The Dangers of Liberty- Based Approaches to Race (or the Return of the Honestly Held Belief Standard)
    • C. Applying the Functionalist Inquiry to Warren and Malone


Over the past fifty years, despite periodic Supreme Court skirmishes, Americans have lived under a negotiated peace with affirmative action programs. Meanwhile employers have labored in the trenches, attempting to implement affirmative action programs in a principled fashion. Employers’ primary challenge in this process is balancing employees’ dignity interests in racial self-identification and employers’ countervailing interest in making so-called racial “authenticity” judgments to ensure the benefits of these programs are properly allocated.  This normally invisible struggle was put on national display when we learned that Harvard Law School seemingly had manipulated the complex racial identification claims of law professor Elizabeth Warren after Warren disclosed that she was part Native American, based on family lore indicating that she had a biracial Native American grandfather. Given Harvard Law School’s reported difficulty in finding minority faculty candidates, the school was quick to bracket Warren’s primary claim of whiteness, and categorize her as a Native American professor to improve the school’s diversity record. Years later, when Warren’s Senate campaign led political muckrakers to uncover the tenuous basis for her claim of Native American identity, Warren was quick to point out that she was an “innocent victim” of Harvard’s racial categorization decisions, as she neither sought nor received any affirmative action benefits based on her decision to identify as Native American. However, Warren’s caveats did little to assuage the concerns of race scholars about the harms threatened by her case. For the Warren controversy revealed that there was no protective force that stood between Harvard’s strategic diversity interests, its related desire to commodify Warren by race, and Warren’s personal interest in racial selfidentification. The Warren controversy warns about the ways in which an employee’s complex, racial identification decisions can be drafted to serve an employer’s purposes.

Concerns about the Warren controversy intensify when her treatment is contrasted against that of the Malone Brothers, two men who in 1977 self-identified as Black in their employment applications for the Boston Fire Department and were hired under an affirmative action program. Although the brothers previously had identified as white in their employment applications, they switched their racial identification to Black after they failed the Department’s standard entrance exam and learned of the more generous standards for Blacks under the Department’s court-ordered affirmative action program. The brothers felt entitled to make the switch, as family lore established that they had a Black greatgrandmother. In stark contrast to Warren, the Malone brothers were fired when the tenuous basis for their claims of Blackness were discovered, and they were adjudged to have committed “racial fraud.” The different results in the two scenarios, more than forty years apart, again raise complex questions about how to negotiate employees’ interests in “elective” or voluntary self-identification by race, employers’ discretionary power to define racial categories, and authenticity contests under affirmative action. For the fire department employer in Malone, just like Harvard in the Warren case, felt entitled to exercise its discretion to determine the character and content of racial categories, but this time employed a stricter, more rigorous authenticity-based standard that required further testing beyond the Malones’ simple act of self-identification.

Students of race look at the two cases and are puzzled. Why is it that Warren’s employer would embrace her tenuous claim of Native American ancestry today, but forty years ago the Malone Brothers similar claims about Blackness were the basis for termination? What happened in the four decades that separate the two cases to fundamentally change the employer’s orientation from one invested in restrictive definitions of race that test the racial authenticity of employees, to one prepared to accept the most tenuous act of self-identification as proof positive of racial status? Additionally, as a normative matter, what should we make of the extraordinary power we seem to have given employers to shape and mold an employee’s racial identity claims and draft them to its own purposes? Does an employer’s strategic approach to racial identity issues operate on a different moral or ethical plane than the strategic maneuvering of individuals? What role, if any, is there for law to play in negotiating these conflicts?

Indeed, contrary to post-racialists’ claim that Americans are being acculturated to ignore race, the sociological literature shows that individuals are actually being acculturated to demand that government and private employers respect and recognize their ever more complicated interests in racial self-identification. To document this trend, this essay explores contemporary changes in our views about racial identity over the past forty years and considers the consequences these changes have for the administration of affirmative action programs. After documenting the challenges our changed cultural views about racial
identity pose, the essay also warns that we must be mindful of the changed incentives of employers or affirmative action administrators in the era of elective race. In prior decades administrators might have opted for rather strict definitions of race; however, diversity demands and other factors have caused administrators contemporarily to prefer strategically deployed, flexible, and wide definitions for racial categories. Thus far, these changes in the understanding and treatment of race and their implications for affirmative action have gone unexplored…

…Part I of the Essay charts our path into the era of “elective race,” identifying the demographic, political and social changes that have encouraged Americans to regard the right to racial self-identification as a key dignity interest. This evolution has occurred simultaneous with employers litigating Title VII and Fourteenth Amendment affirmative action cases challenging their authority to define racial categories and the qualifications necessary to claim membership in a particular group. Although there is a rich scholarship on affirmative action and voluntary racial identification, no legal scholar has considered the impending conflict between employer’s discretionary definitional power over racial categories and the racial dignity interests of employees influenced by elective race understandings. I argue that, if employer discretion is left unbounded, employers will exercise broad power to shape race in ways that should give all Americans pause. Part II revisits the so-called racial authenticity inquiry conducted in Malone to reveals its functionalist foundations, and to retool this functionalist logic in ways appropriate for contemporary diversity-based affirmative action programs. I show that, by mining the inchoate concepts of race articulated in Malone, we gain insight into the diverse range of racialization processes that are the proper focus of diversity initiatives. Part II then considers Leong’s concerns about racial capital exchanges that occur in diversity-based affirmative action programs. I argue that the functionalist standard outlined here will clarify the proper terms on which racial status inquiries are conducted, and in this way ensure that we move away from the thin conceptions of diversity that lead to the commodification of race in its worst form.

Part III turns to the most common concerns about the functionalist inquiry, namely that it involves government in the elaboration and policing of the definition of racial groups. Specifically, Richard Thompson Ford and Cristina Rodriguez have warned against involving courts in disputes over the definition of racial categories, as they believe that in order to resolve these disputes government is required to give legal imprimatur to racial stereotypes and create “identity group subsidies” for putative racially-linked cultural practices. The revised functionalist analysis offered here is based on the understanding that we need greater demarcation between cultural diversity initiatives and racial diversity initiatives. I show that diversity initiatives that focus on diverse experiences of racialization largely avoid the stereotyping dangers that are the source of their concern. However, I also show that the law must recognize the link between race, culture and social subordination if it is to take account of the full range of racialization experiences that cause social subordination. Part III concludes by exploring Randall Thomas’s liberty-based arguments in support of relaxed approaches to racial identification, and the more contemporary manifestation of this argument in the work of Kenji Yoshino. This liberty-based approach to racial selfidentification again stresses the dignity injury employers and government inflict when they challenge employees’ racial identification decisions. The essay explains that this dignity interest must bow to queries about one’s experience of racialization when one claims, based on race, that one can advance an employer’s diversity goals…

…A. The Right to Racial Self-identification In the Era of Elective Race

Most Americans identify by race; however, the racial identity claims that most characterize the modern era are those made by multiracial Americans: persons who make complex claims regarding their racial ancestry and who in prior decades more willingly would have been absorbed into monoracial categories. Scholars such as Tanya Hernandez and Naomi Mezey have shown how in the 1990s multiracial advocacy groups shaped the national conversation on race as they petitioned for the addition of a new “multiracial” race category in the 2000 Census and 2010 Census. Multiracial advocates’ request for a separate multiracial category was ultimately rejected in favor of an option that allows multiracials to check off all racial categories with which they identify. Despite this setback, the multiracial movement still profoundly shaped federal policy and national discourse about race. Most significantly, the movement’s efforts caused the Office of Management and Budget to issue a revised “Directive 15,” the administrative guidance document that controls all federal racial data collection efforts. The new Directive 15 requires that all federal agencies respect an individual’s interest in racial self-identification and allow the exercise of this right or interest whenever possible in government-sponsored or solicited data collection processes…

…While Americans have been encouraged to see these moments of racial identity selection as important, the values and understandings that guide their decisions are surprisingly unclear. Some Americans may regard these inquiries as moments in which they are required to identify how they are racially perceived by others, regardless of whether their perceived race matches their personal racial identity commitments. Others answer these questions based on how they believe they are expected to answer these questions, either because of their family’s racial identity commitments or those of their cultural group. Still others answer these questions based on their symbolic commitment to particular communities, regardless of whether they have had any social experiences in which they were recognized as members of a given racial category. The wide variation in how individuals make their racial self-identification decisions makes these decisions ripe for misunderstanding, exploitation and abuse.

In addition to shaping federal racial-data-collection efforts, the multiracial movement also had a profound discursive impact on the language and constructs Americans use to articulate their relationship to race. For example, Census data shows that after the multiracial movement there was a surge in the number of persons that describe themselves as mixed race. Relatedly, a new group of “white multiracials” has emerged. These are persons who identify as white in certain circumstances, but also are willing to shift to a minority or multiracial identity when they enter a particular cultural context that makes minority background relevant, in response to significant life events, or even to gain potential strategic advantages in social interactions. Also, many more Americans are willing to challenge traditional, established racial categories and resist the default racial designation that would normally be assigned to them. For example, although persons who identify as Latino may regard this identity as a racial identity, federal law treats being Latino as a kind of ethnic designation and requires Latinos to further racially identify as white, Black or by using another federally recognized racial category. At present, large numbers of Latinos, particularly the young, resist this attempt to structure their racial identification choices and choose “other race” rather than select another option. Similarly, federal standards indicate that Middle Easterners should be categorized as white, but persons who identify as Middle Eastern may reject this proposition, citing their special experiences of discrimination as evidence that they are of a different race.

Further complicating matters, sociologists have raised questions about the integrity of peoples’ elective race decisions over time, as multiracials may change their responses to inquiries about race depending on the kind of form that is used, the order of the questions, and the context in which these questions are asked. Also, although the law review literature has devoted almost no attention to this issue, structural variables strongly influence racial identification decisions. For example, issues such as class, history of imprisonment and other experiences of social marginalization can trigger multiracials to “choose” to claim a minority identity. These insights are important, as they reveal that in many cases fluctuations in multiracials’ racial self-identification decisions are not driven by thin expressive interests or strategic considerations, but may be profoundly linked to grounding experiences of alienation and marginalization. Given the diverse array of influences that affect individuals’ racial self-identification decisions, we must develop legal analyses that treat elective race decisions in a manner that gives due weight to their complexity. Government has an obligation to develop an intelligent, coherent response on how to manage and interpret individuals’ shifting and sometimes conflicting racial identification choices as, in many cases,  individuals fail to fully appreciate the legal significance that attaches to these decisions.

Indeed, the law may be on a collision course with the cultural default emphasizing the importance of the right to racial self-identification, for most individuals are unaware that, to the extent this right exists, it is a defeasible one. Census officials still rely on third party observation or other categorization methods when it is impossible or more likely inconvenient to get racial self-identification information. This rule may result in a census official racially categorizing an individual in a way that fundamentally contradicts the individual’s own understanding of her race. Similarly, employers also retain the ability to racially identify employees when the employee declines to state his or her race, when conditions make racial data collection impossible or impracticable, or when the employee appears to have engaged in racial fraud. Education officials enjoy the same discretion. Last, and perhaps most important for our discussion here, employers and public entities retain the ability to define racial categories and the ultimate authority to determine whether an individual’s racial identity claims will be respected. Indeed Malone, while not cited for this proposition, stands for the principle that a public employer may define the content of a racial category and its membership. Subsequent cases have made this point more explicitly, as employees have challenged the technical definitions of race used by employers or government agencies when these definitions would prevent them from accessing benefits…

Read the entire paper here.

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Marginal Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2011-12-26 03:14Z by Steven

’Marginal Whiteness

California Law Review
Volume 98, Number 5 (October 2010)
pages 1497-1594

Camille Gear Rich, Associate Professor of Law
University of Southern California

How are whites injured by minority-targeted racism? Prior to filing her Title VII interracial solidarity claim, Betty Clayton thought she knew. For years, Clayton, a white cafeteria worker employed by the White Hall School District, was granted a nonresidency privilege that allowed her to enroll her daughter in one of the district’s schools. This was a special arrangement, as neither she nor her daughter lived within the district’s boundaries. This special arrangement abruptly came to an end when one of Clayton’s black coworkers learned that she had been given the nonresidency privilege and asked the district for the same benefit. The district refused the black worker‘s request and, to rebut any claim of racial favoritism, rescinded Clayton’s right to the privilege as well. The district then reinstituted an old rule that provided that only “teachers” and certified “administrative” workers were entitled to the nonresidency benefit, thereby ensuring that both Clayton and her black co-worker were ineligible. Clayton found herself the victim of what she believed was an obvious case of explicit racial bias.

Was Clayton a victim of race discrimination? Her claim may give some readers pause. Some might conclude that she was not subject to race discrimination, arguing instead that she was merely a secondary victim that fell prey to “friendly fire”—a white casualty incidentally injured by the district’s attempt to discriminate against her black coworker. Others might share Clayton’s view, arguing that she was a victim of discrimination. But for the districts desire to discriminate against her black coworker, the district would not have reinstated the stricter benefits rule and denied Clayton the residency privilege. But for the district’s discriminatory actions, Clayton would have been able to preserve her access to a valuable economic benefit: the ability to send her daughter to a White Hall school. And Clayton’s supporters would note that there was ample evidence in her case to prove the district’s racially discriminatory motivations, including: the district’s prior discriminatory behavior; the timing of the district’s decision to return to the old residency rule; and the absence of a reasonable nondiscriminatory justification for the old rule’s reinstatement.

Clayton seemed to believe that the merits of her claim were self-evident; however, her confidence was misplaced, as her allegations raise thorny questions about how courts, antidiscrimination scholars, and indeed even laypersons see whites’ relationship to minority-targeted discrimination in the workplace. Courts called upon to review these questions, particularly in Title VII cases, spend precious little time exploring how whites perceive minority-targeted discrimination to operate, or the range of ways in which minority-targeted discrimination perpetrated by certain whites can directly harm other whites’ interests. A case in point: in Clayton, the court quickly concluded that whites can be injured by minority-targeted discrimination but then tracked Clayton’s claim into a little known area of Title VII precedent, referred to here as interracial solidarity doctrine. As Clayton soon discovered, this analytic turn was less of a boon than it initially seemed, as interracial solidarity doctrine exerts an extraordinary regulatory power over white plaintiffs who attempt to use Title VII to challenge minority-targeted discrimination in the workplace. Rather than merely sorting out strong claims from weak ones, the doctrine functions as a kind of normative litmus test used to assess whether the type of harm white plaintiffs allege as a consequence of minority-targeted discrimination counts as compensable injury. As this Article shows, the doctrine plays this powerful gatekeeping function because it is informed by certain historically specific civil rights era propositions about whites and their relationship to race and race discrimination. The Article examines the costs the doctrine’s strong normative commitments have imposed on Title VII plaintiffs and asks whether the enforcement of interracial solidarity doctrine has become an end in itself, regardless of whether it actually serves Title VII’s larger policy goals.

Specifically, Title VII interracial solidarity doctrine currently only recognizes two kinds of harm whites can suffer from minority-targeted discrimination, and therefore only permits plaintiffs to plead these two kinds of injury. The first injury a plaintiff may claim is the frustration of his associational interests. This injury is based on the civil rights era norm establishing that whites are entitled to the benefits of diversity, that is, the economic, cultural, and educational relationships they can form by associating with mino-ities. The second injury a plaintiff can raise is the violation of a plaintiff’s right to a “colorblind” or nondiscriminatory workplace. This injury is informed by the civil rights era norm that whites have an interest in striving for a colorblind society. The “colorblindness” injury is based on the understanding that racial prejudice is a moral wrong because it compromises the struggle to make the United States a race-blind meritocracy. Scholars will recognize that both the diversity and colorblindness concepts of harm appear in areas of antidiscrimination law other than the interracial solidarity cases; however, these concepts play a special role in Title VII interracial solidarity doctrine, as they are the only bases the doctrine recognizes as a source of harm…

…In summary, this Article reviews cases involving Title VII interracial solidarity claims to reveal the hold that civil rights era norms have on legal understandings about whites’ relationship to minority-targeted discrimination. My goal is to reveal the burdens these norms impose on low-status or marginal whites as they attempt to plead their Title VII claims. My hope is that the discussion of marginal whites’ interests will help reveal their potential as allies in antidiscrimination struggles. However, this potential can only be fully realized if marginal whites’ problems and challenges are better reflected in Title VII doctrine and explored in antidiscrimination scholarship. To this end, this Article also shows that the two kinds of injury courts currently recognize under interracial solidarity doctrine—the denial of the enjoyment of a colorblind workplace and the frustration of one’s interest in diversity-based associational opportunities—are second-order concerns, and consequently fail to motivate substantial numbers of white persons. Indeed, the doctrine‘s focus on second-order injuries seems even more puzzling when one considers that it almost entirely overlooks the more highly motivating first-order injuries marginal whites suffer because of minority-targeted discrimination, including basic economic and dignitary harms. A doctrine that attended to these first-order interests would be far more effective in causing whites to initiate interracial solidarity actions. Therefore, the Article uses “failed” Title VII interracial solidarity cases like Clayton to develop a more expansive and nuanced account of how whites are injured by minority-targeted discrimination in the workplace, providing an essential supplement to the existing concepts of harm in Title VII interracial solidarity doctrine.

This Article, however, is more than a descriptive account that catalogues overlooked or undervalued injuries present in interracial solidarity cases. It also uses these injuries to develop a theory of “marginal whiteness,” a framework that allows courts and scholars to consider how white racial identity dynamics can be linked to interracial conflicts in the workplace. The discussion begins by defining the class of “marginal whites”—individuals who, because they possess some nonracial, socially stigmatized identity characteristic, have more limited access to white privilege, and relatedly have a more attenuated relationship to white identity. I argue that this attenuated relationship to whiteness often causes marginal whites to chafe at other whites’ requests that they bear burdens to support the maintenance of white privilege. Put differently, marginal whites’ ambivalence about whiteness becomes a critical frame that can allow low-status whites to see how higher-status whites’ attempts to limit the options of minorities actually materially interfere with marginal whites’ immediate economic and dignitary interests. The Article posits that, if Title VII provided these marginal whites with a compelling account of their injuries, they would be more likely to bring Title VII claims. The Article then considers how the marginal whiteness framework can help improve antidiscrimination scholars’ analysis of intraracial and interracial conflicts more generally…

…Part IV anticipates concerns about the social and intellectual transmission of the marginal whiteness framework, addressing questions about its descriptive accuracy, theoretical ambitions, and its potential to disrupt or undermine contemporary antidiscrimination mobilization efforts directed at whites. Part IV explains that, rather than wholly replacing civil-rights-era-influenced normative and descriptive accounts of whites’ interests, the concept of marginal whiteness provides an essential supplement to existing accounts of harm. Part IV also more specifically considers the ways in which marginal whiteness can function as a useful analytical tool in understanding contemporary “white racial formation” projects, including the overtures being made to and the identity politics struggles associated with multiracial whites, white Latinos, and Middle Eastern whites. It explores marginal whiteness’s potential explanatory power for understanding questions of ethnic and class fractures within the category of whiteness, while acknowledging the need for additional study on these questions. Part IV concludes by highlighting the ways in which the marginal whiteness framework breaks substantially from early Critical White Studies’ accounts of white interests, demonstrating its promise as a better analytic tool for analyzing post–civil rights era whites‘ struggles regarding racial identity than existing models of their interests.

Therefore, although a person may claim a “white” identity, she is merely a putative white person and therefore may not be socially recognized as white in all contexts. The unstable nature of putative whites’ whiteness claims is more easily seen in the case of multiracial whites or whites with phenotypic characteristics that may suggest they are of mixed or prominent ethnic ancestry. What is less often acknowledged is that putative whites with phenotypic characteristics that technically mark them as white may still exhibit features, engage in behaviors, or be otherwise marked in some way that signals to other whites that they are marginal or low-status white persons. Circumstances of scarce resources—or political, cultural, or social conflicts—may trigger higher-status whites to use these features to effectively redraw the lines of whiteness in a particular context and deny marginal whites access to resources (or white privilege). These low-status or marginal whites may find that they are, for all practical purposes, being treated like minorities, as they are subject to defamatory statements and denial of privileges available to other white workers. Consequently, people who exhibit low-status identity markers, but self-identify as white may find that their anxiety levels are increased when they are exposed to new or unfamiliar communities of whites, as they fear potential rejection or unfair treatment by other whites who do not regard them to be true white persons.

Although anxieties about racial misrecognition trouble all persons invested in maintaining their racial identities, individuals seeking to claim whiteness often suffer from particularly acute anxieties, because being socially recognized can confer a raft of social and material benefits. Stated alternatively, these putative whites know that misrecognition is not merely a source of irritation, embarrassment, or inconvenience, as might be experienced by a minority not properly identified with her chosen racial group. Rather, misrecognition may impose significant material costs for self-identified whites, costs that can affect their life chances…

…Finally, whites may be attracted to the marginal whiteness framework because it responds to America‘s changing demography. The number of multiracial persons in the United States who identify as mixed-race has risen significantly. At the same time, there has been a willingness by some white communities to accept mixed-race persons as white. Additionally, Latinos and Middle Easterners encounter institutional and social pressures that encourage them in some contexts to identify as white persons. Together these changes have created a situation in which many persons socially recognized in some spaces as being white are treated as minorities in others. This split consciousness may cause these contingently recognized whites to have a distant relationship with whiteness, similar to that predicted by the marginal whiteness model. Taken together, the demographic and social changes described above present antidiscrimination scholars and courts with a critical challenge: will we construct a doctrine that responds to these whites‘ potential to develop more of a critical stance on whiteness and white privilege, or will we allow this potential to go unmined? As studies show more whites growing disengaged from discussions about race, there will be more pressure to find novel ways to encourage whites to rejoin antidiscrimination efforts…

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