Brown Is Beautiful

By Romero, Mary | Law & Society Review, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Brown Is Beautiful


Romero, Mary, Law & Society Review


Brown Is Beautiful Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice. By Ian F. Haney López. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003. vii + 324 pp. $27.95 cloth.

In one of his most compelling speeches Malcolm X cried out, "We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary" (Malcolm X 1970:37). In this conservative era, it feels a bit odd to recall how fervently students, activists, parents, and even a few parish priests debated the range of strategies and goals available to the Chicano Movement (1960s to early 1970s). Dozens of scholarly works have examined the Chicano Movement, including diverse groups ranging from the United Farm Workers (UFW)1 (Matthiessen 1969; Ferriss & Sandoval 1997; Jenkins 1985; Levy 1975) to the Chicano Liberation Front2 (August Twenty-Ninth Movement 1975), from the G.I. Forum3 (Allsup 1976; Marquez 1993) to the Crusade for Justice4 (Vigil 1999) and La Alianza Federal de Mercedes5 (Nabokov 1969; Tijerina 2000; Blawis 1971). Movement struggles have included the fight for bilingual education and school desegregation (Carter & Segura 1979; Donato 1997), attempts to gain representation on school boards (San Miguel 1987, 2001), and seeking representation in local and state government and on juries (Acuña 1981), but the movement has also included bombings (Vigil 1999); Reies López Tijerina's 1967 courthouse raid (Nabokov 1969), student walkouts in spring 1968 (jail breaks, as they were frequently called) (Muñoz 1989), the August 29, 1970, Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War (Chávez 2002; Mariscal 1999), and an incredible loathing toward the police (Morales 1972). A growing number of books (e.g., Treviño 2001; Chávez 2002; Resales 2000), dissertations (e.g., Gomez 2003), and articles (e.g., Chávez 2000), as well as a documentary film series (Norberg 1995), have contributed to preserving as well as interpreting the history of the Chicano Movement. Each addition to this project adds new perspectives, challenges interpretations, and identifies new links connecting past approaches to current political agendas.

Ian F. Haney López's Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice focuses on two pivotal criminal cases during the Chicano Movement involving litigation that Mexican identity is a distinct racial group. López uncovers court proceedings providing detailed descriptions that he dissects alongside his insightful analysis of the defendants' legal defense. These are important sources that social scientists and historians have not mined in studying the Chicano Movement. Court cases and lawyering strategies open a perspective on the Chicano Movement that adds to studies of more familiar struggles: in the streets, against police brutality; in the schools, for better education; in the fields, for the unions; and on college campuses, for admissions and relevant curricula. The first part of the book sets up the increasing activism in Los Angeles that led up to cases known as the East L.A. Thirteen and the Biltmore Six in 1968 and examines the challenges posed by the decision to use an equal protection defense to expose judicial bias. By examining legal violence toward Mexican American youth, and the responses that Los Angeles Superior Court judges gave to inquiry about their grand jury selections, López unearths micro-levels of the social construction of race and begins to reveal the rise, dissemination, and acceptance of racial ideas, racist practices, and racial inequality. Lopez postulates the notion of race as "common sense" to explain how Chicano youth, community activists, and judges draw from their everyday experiences to construct racial ideas that are then acted upon. Applying his "common-sense" theory of racism and court and police discrimination as legal violence, the second part analyzes judges' selection of grand juries and policing in Mexican American communities. In the last section, López demonstrates the increasing use of race rather than ethnicity as identity in the Chicano Movement and draws a connection between protest, legal repression, and race. …

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