Laws and Policies

This section provides resources about the relationship of laws and policies to racial equity and inequity. The resources provide information about laws and policies with the explicit intent of advantaging groups allowed to be called white, and disadvantaging and, in some cases, dehumanizing and/or criminalizing, groups not allowed to be called white, as well as laws and policies with that impact if not that stated intent.  As an example of explicit intent, the documentary, Slavery by Another Name, shares that “after the failure of Reconstruction in 1877 and the removal of black men from political offices, Southern states enacted a series of laws….[that] penalized anyone attempting to leave a job before an advance had been worked off… vagrancy statutes made it a crime to be unemployed.” Examples of implicit intent include laws and policies including mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines created as part of the so-called “war on drugs,” laws and policies that link voting rights and felony convictions, “three strikes you are out” laws and policies, and current immigration policies.

Resources also share ways in which the existence of a range of laws and policies simultaneously create and respond to cultural messages, particularly in terms of which groups have been deemed worthy of protection and support (white women, Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants at particular points in time) and which were not (Native Americans, recently emancipated African-Americans). Karen Brodkin, in her book How the Jews Became White writes about how in the 19th century United States anti-working class and anti-immigrant notions were tied together, and both were deeply tied to shifts in the need for particular kinds of labor. Brodkin argues that this occurred because people in power in the United States were threatened by a large influx of immigrants.

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