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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Of Jazz and Double-Dutch Jump Rope: Serena Mayeri’s Reasoning from Race

There has been a long history of reasoning from race--acknowledging the significant analogies between racist, especially anti-black practices, and sexist practices. Mayeri’s Reasoning from Race plumbs the depths of this strategy.  I review the book in a recent article in Texas Law Review Dicta.  I use metaphors from popular culture-- jazz and double-dutch jump rope-- to frame my discussion.  
Women and blacks have often been said to have lesser faculties than white men. It has been observed that, unlike other some social outsiders, women and blacks frequently possess physical and social characteristics that function to systematically and explicitly exclude them from opportunities to which members of other groups might aspire. These shared characteristics of women and blacks have been summarized as falling into several typologies such as high social visibility because of appearance and experiencing social, legal, economic and educational disparities that result from discrimination. Given these shared typologies, it would seem that reasoning from race would play an even larger role in theorizing the way that gender oppression works. That there are not more discussions of this nature speaks not only to the barriers themselves but also to the way in which members of oppressed groups articulate their goals and the differences between themselves and others.  
There is frequently a process of convergence and divergence as groups shape their identities. This is especially evident in the context of law. While race-sex congruence often framed the legal strategy of many feminist advocates as they struggled to bring the gains of the civil rights movement to women’s quest for equality, feminism's embrace of civil rights norms was sometimes a hesitant embrace. This hesitance was born of the need for women to forge their own road, even if that road was sometimes cut with borrowed tools and in some parts parallel to or intersecting with the swath blazed by the civil rights movement.