Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein is a Research Associate of the Economic Policy Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, a Contributing Editor of The American Prospect, and an occasional contributor. His previous work on racial segregation and public education is posted here, and his most recent Prospect print story, "The Making of Ferguson," can be read here. Readers may correspond with him about his writing at riroth@epi.org.

Recent Articles

The Supreme Court's Challenge to Housing Segregation

For decades, the Fair Housing Act's potential was squandered. A recent Court decision may finally change that. 

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
In June, the Supreme Court issued several decisions with big policy implications. Its rejection of a challenge to Obamacare and its endorsement of the right to same-sex marriage have received the attention they were due. A third decision, confirming that the Fair Housing Act prohibits not only policies that intend to perpetuate racial discrimination and segregation, but those that have the effect of doing so, was equally momentous. Yet because the ruling concerned an obscure (to the public) and technical phrase (“disparate impact”), it has been more difficult to understand. To comprehend its significance, a review of its background is in order. Roots of the Fair Housing Act In over 100 cities during the summer of 1967 African Americans rioted, in rebellion against segregated and inadequate ghetto conditions. President Lyndon Johnson appointed a commission headed by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner to determine the causes of the riots; its report was issued in March, 1968. The...

How Government Policies Cemented the Racism that Reigns in Baltimore

A century of federal, state, and local policies have quarantined Charm City’s black population in isolated slums.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) A boy runs from a public housing development toward the intersection where Freddie Gray was arrested, Friday, April 24, 2015, in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. But the unrest that followed is as much a comment on 100 years government housing policies that continue to the present day as it is about unjust policing. This article originally appeared on the website of the Economic Policy Institute , under the title, " From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation ". In Baltimore in 1910, a black graduate of Yale Law School purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood. The Baltimore city government reacted by adopting a residential segregation ordinance , restricting African Americans to designated blocks. Explaining the policy, Baltimore’s mayor proclaimed: “Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the...

The Making of Ferguson: How Decades of Hostile Policy Created a Powder Keg

Long before the shooting of Michael Brown, official racial-isolation policies primed Ferguson for this summer’s events.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
This article is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. OCTOBER 15, 2014 In 1968, Larman Williams was one of the first African Americans to buy a home in the white suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. It wasn’t easy; when he first went to see the house, the real estate agent wouldn’t show it to him. Atypically, Williams belonged to a church with a white pastor, who contacted the agent on Williams’s behalf, only to be told that neighbors objected to sales to Negroes. But after the pastor then gathered the owner and his neighbors for a prayer meeting, the owner told the agent he was no longer opposed to a black buyer. Williams had been living in the St. Louis ghetto and worked as an assistant school principal in Wellston, a black St. Louis suburb. His wife, Geraldine, taught in a state special education school. They could afford to live in middle-class Ferguson, and hoped to protect their three daughters from the violence of their St. Louis neighborhood...

Affirmative Action, Race or Class: An Exchange

Should universities shift their recruitment focus away from race and onto poor neighborhoods?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
To the Editor: I wish to respond to Richard Rothstein’s critical review of my book, Place, Not Race , in your magazine. While I appreciate that he concludes that the book is “worth reading” and that my proposals are possibly even a “wise” response to the political and legal assault on affirmative action, I believe he mischaracterizes my argument in ways that would be misleading to anyone who doesn’t bother to read the book. Rothstein insists throughout the review that I focus exclusively on low-income African-Americans while ignoring middle class ones. That is not true. As I argue in the book, only about 30 percent of black children live in middle class neighborhoods and not all of these children are poor. As Rothstein himself points out, proximity to poverty is a common, lived experience for African American families of varying incomes. If universities were to follow my proposal of giving special consideration to any high achiever that lives in a...

Race or Class? The Future of Affirmative Action on the College Campus

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Chief Justice John Roberts says that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In university admissions, this means becoming “colorblind,” taking no affirmative action to favor African Americans. Apparently intimidated by Roberts’s Supreme Court plurality, many university officials, liberals, and civil-rights advocates have exchanged their former support of affirmative action for policies that appear closer to Roberts’s. In effect, these newer plans say that the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to pretend colorblindness but devise subterfuges to favor African Americans. One approach is to favor low-income students regardless of race. Another adopts the Supreme Court’s embrace of diversity as educationally beneficial, prompting universities to enroll disadvantaged minority students for this purpose while making no obvious attempt to remedy historic wrongs. Some...

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