American Race Policy

This graduate level seminar traces the evolution of race policy in the United States from the development of the color line, through the struggle for equal rights, to alternative forecasts about the role of race in America’s future.  Strong emphasis will be placed on understanding the circumstances that led to particular policies and policy changes.  Students will be encouraged to read and develop their own interpretations of primary sources, such as Supreme Court cases, rather than to rely solely on the interpretations of scholars.
The term “race policy” is of recent vintage – the past decade or so.  There is a huge amount of literature about race as viewed through the lenses of particular disciplines – history, sociology, psychology, politics, economics – but there is not much literature about race as a policy arena.  This is ironic, considering the central role of race in American life.  It also is an interesting contrast with other important issues such as health, education, the environment, and national security, all of which have well-established bodies of policy literature
This is a course about policy making as well as about a specific policy arena, so we will spend time discussing the processes of policy development and implementation.
Principal Texts:

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988).

W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (any edition).

Ariela Gross, What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, The Federalist Papers (any edition).

Ian Haney Lopez, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race, (New York: New York University Press, 2006).

Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro, Black Wealth, White Wealth, (New York: Routledge, 2006).

Edward Telles, Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

The evolution of race policy in the United States will be followed more-or-less chronologically.  Starting in late February, however, a portion of each class session will be devoted to students’ presentations.  The principal themes are:

Original Intent.  When, how and why did race become such an important feature of American society?  Readings include The Original Constitution and selections from The Federalist Papers.

The Racialization of America.  How were laws and lawsuits used to determine who fit into which racial category and thus to determine rights and citizenship?  Readings include the Dred Scott decision and chapters from Gross’s What Blood Won’t Tell.

Emancipation, Separate-But-Equal, and the Dawn of Protest. How did the Civil War Amendments answer the Dred Scott decision?  What did Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois disagree about?  Readings include Yick Wo. v. Hopkins, Plessy v. Ferguson, Washington’s Atlanta Exposition speech, and selections from The Souls of Black Folk.

The Exclusion of Non-whites.  How did immigration laws affect the racial composition of the country?  Readings include Lopez’s White By Law.

The Civil Rights Movement.  How was the position of black Americans affected by the two world wars?  Which branch of government proved to be most reliable in the advance of civil rights?  Readings include Martin Luther King., Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters.

The New Policy Regime.  What did people expect to happen as a result of the new civil rights laws?  How effectively did the new policies address discrimination in education, housing and other areas?  Why, with so much apparent progress, was there so much frustration?  Readings include the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Johnson’s 1965 Howard University speech.

Comparisons.  How do the experiences of black Americans compare with those of other groups – the internment of Japanese-Americans, and the “Caucasian cloak” that concealed discrimination against Mexican Americans?  How does American race policy compare with that in other countries?  Readings include Telles’ Race in Another America.

Outcomes and Controversies.  How much better off are African-Americans today than they were before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?  How did affirmative action become such an important part of the policy debate?   Readings include Oliver and Shapiro’s Black Wealth, White Wealth.

Forecasts and Policy Options.  Where do we go from here?  What are the alternative policy paths?  What do past experiences tell us about current controversies over immigration and assimilation?

Requirements and Expectations
Graduate students should be active participants in a process of discovery.  My responsibilities include getting the conversation started, guiding students toward existing knowledge and points of view, and assessing students’ contributions to the class.  I place great value on clear, concise writing and speaking, so students will be given ample opportunities to work on their communications skills.  Course requirements include:

Class attendance and participation – 20%.

Short paper about expectations for class – 10%.

Short memos based on weekly readings – 10%.

Two book review projects (briefings and papers); or, one book review and one short research paper – 30% each.

Discussions about race can be intellectually stimulating; they also can be emotionally challenging.  Some issues may turn out to be more complicated than they initially appear.   I expect us to show respect for one another’s views, to offer constructive criticism, and to observe high standards of academic integrity.
Class Size: up to 15.