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Twenty years ago, Professor Charles Lawrence wrote “The Id, The Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning With Unconscious Racism.” This article is considered a foundational document of Critical Race Theory and is one of the most influential and widely cited law review articles. The article argued that the purposeful intent requirement found in Supreme Court equal protection doctrine and in the Court’s interpretation of antidiscrimination laws disserved the value of equal citizenship expressed in those laws because many forms of racial bias are unconscious. Professor Lawrence suggested that rather than look for discriminatory motive, the Court should examine the cultural meaning of laws to determine the presence of collective, unconscious racism. In this Article, Professor Lawrence discusses the origins and impact of his groundbreaking article. He notes that while an increasingly conservative Supreme Court majority has ignored his call to recognize the presence of unconscious racism and to consider the meaning of cultural text, an important body of research and scholarship has emerged to substantiate his assertion concerning the ubiquity of unconscious racial bias. He applauds the work that has advanced our understanding of unconscious bias, but he expresses concern that this scholarship’s focus on the mechanisms of cognitive categorization rather than on the history and culture of racial subordination embedded in our unconscious may have undermined the central lesson of his article: to advance the understanding of racism as a societal disease and to argue that the Constitution commands our collective responsibility for its cure.

Publication Citation

40 Conn. L. Rev. 931-978 (2008)