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Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Harvard Law Review
Vol. 101, No. 7 (May, 1988), pp. 1331-1387
DOI: 10.2307/1341398
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1341398
Page Count: 57
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Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law
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Abstract

Recent works by neoconservatives and by Critical legal scholars have suggested that civil rights reforms have been an unsuccessful means of achieving racial equality in America. In this Article, Professor Crenshaw considers these critiques and analyzes the continuing role of racism in the subordination of Black Americans. The neoconservative emphasis on formal colorblindness, she argues, fails to recognize the indeterminacy of civil rights laws and the force of lingering racial disparities. The Critical scholars, who emphasize the legitimating role of legal ideology and legal rights rhetoric, are substantially correct, according to Professor Crenshaw, but they fail to appreciate the choices and possibilities available to an oppressed group such as Blacks. The Critics, she suggests, ignore the singular power of racism as a hegemonic force in American society. Blacks have been created as a subordinated "other," and formal reform has merely repackaged racism. Antidiscrimination law, she argues, has largely succeeded in eliminating the symbolic manifestations of racial oppression, but has allowed the perpetuation of material subordination of Blacks. Professor Crenshaw concludes by demonstrating the importance of exposing the racist nature of ostensibly neutral norms, and of devising strategies for change that include the pragmatic use of legal rights.

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