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    Ian Haney Lopez View on Racism

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    Racism is engrained in the subconsciousness of people and society at large. UCLA School of Public Affairs recognizes that ” The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that Critical Race Theory uses in examining existing power structure” Ian Haney Lopez uses similar analytical approach and examines how one can be recognized as a “white person” through the power structure of the legal system. He also extensively defines and explains how is “race” constructed in the legal process. He acknowledges the contradiction in the court’s rulings for the racial prerequisite cases from 1878 through 1952.

    Throughout the text, Lopez has defined “race” multiple times due to common misconceptions. In preface, he explains that “ race are not biologically differentiated groups but rather social constructions” Lopez emphasizes that a person’s ancestry does not account all the relevant characteristics of race because it is shaped by “class, religion, nationality, gender, sexual identity, and so on.” In 1790, Congress restricted to only grant citizenship to “white person”; however, the court did not elaborate on the characteristics of a “white person”. The term “race” is significant in which the naturalization of immigrants was depended on how the court interpreted the concept of white identity. This troubling racial ideology has led to open interpretations by the court.

    Lopez examines legal construction of race during the period before the Civil Rights Movement in which white supremacy was ubiquitously evident across the country. His principle argument is racism persists in contemporary society because people exploit racial hierarchy and put themselves in a more desirable position; Lopez states, “Race and Racism are centrally about seeking, or contesting, power… remain vibrant today only because racial hierarchy remains in the material interest of many in our society” (xvii)

    In his earlier analysis of the prerequisite cases, Lopez does not take into account of how the court’s rulings were associated with the contest for power, but he highlights how the court rationed their decisions using two methods- scientific evidence and common knowledge. Lopez seems to deviate from his key argument that is presented in the preface. In addition, he only includes the first 37 of the 52 prerequisite cases in which he does not provide justification for such selection. Yet, White by Law presents powerful insights and critiques for the troubling racial ideology in both historical and contemporary context.

    Lopez repeatedly emphasizes that “white” is not a rigidly defined human identity, and the court has used this vague term to its advantage case-by-case to exclude immigrants since Congress only favored “white person” to be naturalized. Racially restricted laws led immigrants around the world to establish themselves of fitting in the characteristics of “white person”. Between the 1870s and 1910s, 11 of 12 prerequisite cases were turned down for citizenship, and the majority of the applicants was from Asian countries.

    A federal court in Washington justified the racial bar by stating, ” The yellow or bronze racial color is the hallmark of Oriental despotisms. It was deemed that the subjects of these despotisms…were not fitted and suited to make for the success of a republican form of government” (39) Most notably justifications for the court rulings are “common knowledge” and ” scientific evidence”, and Lopez articulates his intuitive understanding of court’s undertaking and states, Comparing the rationales put forth in Ozawa and Thind suggests that the Supreme Court abandoned scientific explanations of race in favor of those rooted in common knowledge when science failed to reinforce popular beliefs about racial differences” (56)

    Although Lopez elucidates the two important rationales, Lopez does not explore the “material interests” of US government in the earlier cases as he notes that,” Justice lies… in seeking to dismantle race as a system that correlates to power and privilege.” (xvii) It is important to shed light on the impacts of politics and foreign relations because those two factors intertwined with the court’s decisions on those early prerequisite cases. For instance, Lopez mentions an excerpt from Judge Sawyer, “Congress retained the word ‘white’ in the naturalization laws for the soles purpose of excluding the Chinese from the right of naturalization”, to explain one of the four rationales, congressional intent. (45) However, this distinct rationale is rarely used to analyze the early cases.

    In later chapters, Lopez makes a transition from racial bars to the “colorblindness” in contemporary policy. He defines “colorblindness” as White supremacy continues to be rationalized through proselytized racial rights. Lopez critiques that the extensive struggles for today’s racial rights never trumped the racial hierarchy or racial boundaries, and he asserts, ” we are becoming like Latin America… we have indeed transcended race and need take no further efforts, as well as legal regime that at once presents itself as aggressively committed to rooting out racism but that in fact excels only at forestalling state and private efforts to disestablish racial hierarchy.” (156) Lopez has successfully made a compelling argument for the incapability to attain racial equality due to White dominance.

    In the closing chapter, Lopez makes a prediction that White dominance will continue to persist in US, and the dynamic term “white” will continue to expand based on the the material interests of the proponents of colorblindness. Lopez concludes, “ Colorblindness redefines race and racism in a manner that excuses contemporary manifestations of racial scapegoating as legitimate concerns over inferior cultures and behavioral delinquency” (162) In his closing statement, Lopez has eloquently tied his principal argument to his predicament of the White supremacy phenomenon.

    In conclusion, White by Law is an academic read that is packed with technicalities of legal cases and debates. Overall, Lopez’s remarks are provocative insights and sound arguments. This text appeals to graduate students and academic scholars, who want to gain a deeper understanding on topics such as legal construction of whiteness and critical race theory. Graduate students and scholars can also extrapolate extensive information on racial oppression. White by Law will continue to make a lasting contribution in legal academics since Lopez extensively examines 37 court cases as empirical evidences for his insightful theories.

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    Ian Haney Lopez View on Racism. (2023, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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