Title: Book Review: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Author(s) : Richard Rothstein
Reviewed by Stacy A. Ogbeide
Book Review: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America By Richard Rothstein, Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and Senior Fellow (emeritus) at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017; 325 pages
As you read the title of this book, you might be thinking, “why would I want to read a law book if I work in a clinical setting?” At the end of this book review, my hope is to convince you why you should read this book and why this is relevant to every person who works in health care.
Have you ever wondered why certain racial and ethnic populations of patients in your clinic live in specific areas of your city or town? Why it may be harder for racially minoritized patients to access quality health care, school systems, or healthier food options? Have you ever considered why patients in certain zip codes live longer compared to patients who live in other zip codes within the same city? Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law provides the reader with a remarkable understanding of structural racism within institutions and government-sanctioned segregation within governmental housing policies. There are several case examples provided throughout this book which highlight not only the government’s passive approach to addressing discriminatory practices but also the facilitation of discrimination practices within the housing market.
While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 provided some protection to prevent future discrimination, it has been unable to unravel the damage which had already taken place particularly with the 13th amendment. As a health care provider in 2021, I continue to see how the housing conditions established a century ago still impact the health of my patients (and those in my community who look like me) to this day.
Rothstein does not disappoint. This comprehensive book is well organized and covers many of the complex social and racial issues faced specifically by African Americans in the US not only a century ago, but also today in cities such as San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, and Seattle. Housing disparities are not a “northern versus southern” issue in the US – it is everywhere. I wager if you look closely in your area of the country, you will see it in your own backyards, too.
There are many great books which address institutional and structural racism in health care as well as racial and ethnic health disparities. I encourage you to continue to challenge and expand your understanding of these important disparities which are impacting your communities today. How The Color of Law differs from previous writings is its intentional focus on discussing state-sanctioned discrimination within the housing market and how neighborhoods become the way that they are: racially segregated. We can no longer deny what research continues to identify how housing disparity, racism, and other social determinants on health impact the overall health outcomes of individuals within our communities. This book gives you a different vantage point for understanding all of the factors that impact health status, especially the intergenerational factors.
I found this book to be simultaneously frustrating and enjoyable to read and worth the investment of time – no matter if you are a trainee or a seasoned health care professional. I encourage you to be challenged by the content of the book. The increased awareness of disparities can help equip and empower you to help identify ways to become an agent of change to address racism in your communities. I applaud the author for writing such an important text. Richard Rothstein may not have realized he wrote a book that could not only help address racial inequities within legal matters, but it also helps us understand racial and ethnic health disparities, too. For these contributions, on behalf of health care providers everywhere, I say thank you.
Rothstein, R. (2017). The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated america. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Stacy A. Ogbeide
Stacy Ogbeide, is a Board-Certified Clinical Health Psychologist and a Board-Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Dr. Ogbeide is the Director of Behavioral Health Education in the Family Medicine Residency, the Primary Care Track Coordinator for the Clinical Psychology Internship, and an Associate Professor/Clinical in the Department of Family & Community Medicine. Dr. Ogbeide also has a joint appointment in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She has been a faculty member in the Department of Family & Community Medicine since 2015. Most recently, Dr. Ogbeide serves as Assistant Dean for Faculty in the Office for Faculty within the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. Dr. Ogbeide’s professional areas of interest include: The Primary Care Behavioral Health (PCBH) consultation model, behavioral medicine/health psychology, faculty development and mentorship for those who are underrepresented within academic medicine, and primary care workforce development. Dr. Ogbeide’s work has been featured on Texas Public Radio, in the San Antonio Express-News, and in other news media outlets.