White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race

White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race

White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race

White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race


White by Law was published in 1996 to immense critical acclaim, and established Ian Haney López as one of the most exciting and talented young minds in the legal academy. The first book to fully explore the social and specifically legal construction of race, White by Law inspired a generation of critical race theorists and others interested in the intersection of race and law in American society. Today, it is used and cited widely by not only legal scholars but many others interested in race, ethnicity, culture, politics, gender, and similar socially fabricated facets of American society.

In the first edition of White by Law , Haney López traced the reasoning employed by the courts in their efforts to justify the whiteness of some and the non-whiteness of others, and revealed the criteria that were used, often arbitrarily, to determine whiteness, and thus citizenship: skin color, facial features, national origin, language, culture, ancestry, scientific opinion, and, most importantly, popular opinion.

Ten years later, Haney López revisits the legal construction of race, and argues that current race law has spawned a troubling racial ideology that perpetuates inequality under a new guise: colorblind white dominance. In a new, original essay written specifically for the 10th anniversary edition, he explores this racial paradigm and explains how it contributes to a system of white racial privilege socially and legally defended by restrictive definitions of what counts as race and as racism, and what doesn't, in the eyes of the law. The book also includes a new preface, in which Haney Lopez considers how his own personal experiences with white racial privilege helped engender White by Law.


The son of a White father from the United States and a brownskinned mother from El Salvador, I grew up in Hawaii, a place that found my mixed identity unproblematic, indeed almost typical. It was not until I arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, for college that I encountered on a sustained basis racial dynamics troubled by my identity. I was struck first, though, not by the question of my own location in mainland racial patterns, but by the patterns themselves. Never had I seen an environment so starkly segregated between White and Black. Even more startling, I could scarcely believe just how natural and commonplace such extreme segregation seemed to virtually all of my White peers and professors. No one ever talked about the overwhelming Whiteness of our academic world, or the Blackness of those doing menial work in our midst or populating the decaying city to the campus's east—our Manichean world was, literally, unremarkable.

It was this seemingly natural order that my identity disturbed, for I moved at the margin between White and non-White. There were some curious incidents, and a few ugly episodes as well—the double-take from professors when they first called roll and I raised my hand, a door slammed in my face to the yell of “go back where you came from” (and believe me, I wanted nothing more than to return to Hawaii). But on the whole I was treated well. Or rather, as I would eventually come to understand, I was treated White.

This understanding that I was being offered a White identity came first not from my peers and teachers but from the police. On half a dozen occasions during my university years, I was stopped and questioned by the police while walking in White areas—on campuses, in adjoining neighborhoods, in a city I was visiting. In each case but one, my educated accent, self-confidence, and university ID cards defused the initial hostility . . .

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