Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), ..

Book (1996), 225pp, available at Auburn University RBD Library. From the Critical America series.

Critical legal theory; a historical and legal examination of the “free white person” prerequisite and racial language in U.S. naturalization law 1790-1952, and the “Prerequisite cases” in U.S. federal courts ruling on the construction of “white” 1878-1952.

Special focus on the early prerequisite cases and then the process leading up to Ozawa and Thind in 1923. Appendix A includes a comprehensive timeline of federal prerequisite cases; Appendix B includes excerpts from some of the major prerequisite cases discussed in the book. The closing chapters include a critical account of the socially constructed nature of race and of Whiteness, the role of legal categorization and legal construction in that process of social construction, an analysis of the persistence of Whiteness despite the removal of explicit racial and color line discrimination from law, etc.

Haney López very much wants to apply the framework he develops in the book to the immigration politics of the mid-1990s and in particular the role of Whiteness and racialized targeting of Mexican Americans and Latinxs broadly in anti-immigrant political movements, focusing especially on the Proposition 187 campaign in California. He also discusses In re Rodriguez (1897), the main federal case to deal with the question of the whiteness of Mexican American immigrants in the prerequisite-case era. But although he clearly takes anti-Mexican immigration politics as a key contemporary parallel to the prerequisite-era debates over whiteness and (mainly) “Asiatic” exclusion, the discussion of Rodriguez is very short, and indeed seems abortive and a bit confused. (Did the ruling hold that Mexicans were white, or that they weren’t white? Haney López seems to say two different things in the main text, the notes and the Appendices.) The case is explicitly treated as exceptional and not integrated into the overarching analysis of the prerequisite cases. (But then, of course, Rodriguez holds the opposite of Mexicans from what they held of Chinese, Japanese, etc. immigrants, and what Haney López takes now to be the case of the treatment of Mexicans in, e.g., California electoral politics. In any case the federal case history itself is pretty limited and confusing, perhaps even itself confused.)


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