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Some days it seems easier to live with innocence, as though this afternoon's traffic and tonight's dinner were the big challenges of our lives, as if we could keep turning the key in the ignition and burning the incandescent bulb in the kitchen, magically removed from a grid that involves coal and oil, mercury poisoning, and pipelines, and colonialism and war.

Charles Lawrence wrote an article to prove to himself that he was not crazy. To tired colleagues who were saying, "There are no racists here," an adult variant of "Wasn't me," he chose a response that ruptured. In the post-civil rights era, a new rule of etiquette arose among good liberals. Its premise was, "Among us, the good citizens in this room, there are no racists," and suggestions to the contrary were affronts to personhood. No racists here at this university, in this workplace, in this editorial board room, in this legislature, since we are good people and good people are not racists.

This new social norm stood in conflict with the stark empirical landscape of continuing racial subordination. Prosperity, health, safety, good jobs, education, recreation, housing, freedom from incarceration and shelter from the storm--basic life advantages that you would want for someone you love--are distributed on racial axis in this country.

If there are no racists here and racial disparities persist, then there are only three possible explanations. First, the disparities are residual effects of past racism that will fade away over time. Second, the disparities are overstated and are in fact de minimis. Third, the disparities are natural. Some people are not equipped to compete or don't try hard enough or just prefer being where they are.

Publication Citation

40 Conn. L. Rev. 1035-1044 (2008)