News, Events, Actions and Commentary on law and social justice. Welcome to the official blog of the United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) of the National Lawyers Guild.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Critical Concepts of Race Privilege

Critical Concepts of Race Privilege1

In the mid-1980s, two sociologists affiliated with Ethnic Studies developed and promulgated the

theory of racial formation, which explains that race is a social construct, a concept that people impute

with evolving meanings as societies change historically.2 The theory of racial formation is foundational to

understanding the centrality of race and racism in the United States and offers a significant challenge to

other paradigms of race, including those that are biologistic or based on constructs of ethnicity, class, or


A few years later, some feminist scholars adapted critiques of patriarchy to extend critical

understandings of race in the United States. They conceptualized white privilege—the sometimes hidden

yet significant motivation for the continued subordination of minority social groups in the United States.3

By the early 1990s, feminist legal scholars had extended critical knowledge about race and racism by

naming the transparency phenomenon—a key component of white privilege that explains why most

people who are socially constructed as white tend not to think about how race affects their daily lives but

instead think of race as something that other people have.4 Race is a colored thing; race marks some

people’s differences from the (putative) norm.5

Responding to these ideas about race and racism, critical race theorists critiqued and supplemented

the concepts of white privilege and the transparency phenomenon to extend critical comprehension of the

social construction of whiteness and the maintenance of white supremacy in the United States.6 One of their

several important insights is that the transparency phenomenon incompletely explains white privilege:

throughout the United States’ racial formations, law has naturalized the constitutive privileges of racial

whiteness. By statute and judicial opinion, legislators and judges reified the social construction of racial

whiteness as a biological reality that is confirmed by everyday common sense.7

These critical concepts can help people who are dedicated to effecting social justice better

understand the current era of “colorblind constitutionalism8 promulgated by the Renquist Court and to

intervene against this aspect of the neoconservative project (shared by the Federalist Society), which

directly supports the United States’ racial hierarchy. Additionally, developing critical understanding of how

race has been socially constructed to privilege the white social group by subordinating all social groups

defined as non-white and dubbed minorities may help people of good will work together successfully

across the diverse categories of social difference to which we are all subject, e.g., age, dis/ability, gender,

race, sexuality, etc. Developing such critical understandings is a project of critical race praxis and

interracial justice.9

1 Prepared by Marc-Tizoc González for the “Race Privilege Town Hall Meeting,” held on Wednesday January 26,

2005 at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and hosted by the Center for Social Justice as part of its Spring

2005 “Privilege Series,” with minor revisions on October 11, 2006 for the “Introduction to LatCrit Theory:

Scholarship and Practical Applications” panel of the Tenth Annual National Latina/o Law Student Conference.


3 See e.g., Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, in Working Paper 189: White

Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s

Studies (1988), available at



M. Wildman, with Adrienne D. Davis, Language and Silence: Making Systems of Privilege Visible, 35 SANTA CLARA

L. REV. 881 (1995); Barbara J. Flagg, “Was Blind, But Now I See”: White Race Consciousness and the Requirement

of Discriminatory Intent, 91 MICH. L. REV. 953 (1993); and Trina Grillo & Stephanie M. Wildman, Obscuring the

Importance of Race: The Implications of Making Comparisons Between Racism and Sexism (or Other-Isms), 1991

DUKE L.J. 397 (1991). Professor Wildman was the first director of Boalt’s CSJ. She now teaches at the University of

Santa Clara School of Law where she directs its Center for Social Justice and Public Service.

5 See Angela Harris, Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory, 42 STAN. L. REV. 582, 604 (1990).

6 See e.g., IAN F. HANEY LÓPEZ,WHITE BY LAW (1996).

7 Id. at 160-64.

8 See Neil Gotanda, A Critique of “Our Constitution is Colorblind”, 44 STAN. L. REV. 1 (1991).

9 See Eric K. Yamamoto, Critical Race Praxis: Race Theory and Political Lawyering Practice in Post-Civil Rights

America, 95 MICH. L. REV. 821 (1997); and Eric Yamamoto, Rethinking Alliances: Agency, Responsibility and

Interracial Justice, 3 ASIAN PAC. AM. L.J. 33 (1995).



The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) of the National Lawyer's Guild (NLG) is an alliance of law

students, legal workers, attorneys and other people of color within the NLG community. The necessity of

such an organization is borne from the historical context of the capitalist United States where economic

prowess is dependent on the furthered and continued subjugation of people of color, women, the poor,

queers and other oppressed people. We are dedicated to fostering and supporting the growth and

empowerment of all people of color, particularly within the organization of the NLG. We believe that

meaningful social change and actual justice can only be attained when people of color and all other

beleaguered communities are more than mere afterthoughts. Equality must be woven throughout the fabric

of the organization. We seek to further educate ourselves and inform the larger NLG community about the

issues that affect us and investigate the relationship of these issues to social justice. We strongly believe

that this work cannot be done unaided, and we encourage support from our allies throughout the NLG in

furtherance of our goals. We wish to provide all people of color opportunities in support of these goals, and

when such opportunities are not available, to work with our associates and allies to create them. We seek to

unite ourselves, represent our communities, achieve our potential, and function as a powerful force within

the NLG, our chapters, schools, communities, the United States of America and the global population.

The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) of the NLG has a multi-point strategy that we shall use to

advance our mission:

1. Elect students of color and people of color into leadership positions within the NLG

2. Demand that white and privileged Guild members take accountability for their racism and other

oppressive behaviors by joining us in examining and effectively changing the culture of the NLG.

Together we believe that we can accomplish this goal by:

a. Meeting as people of color regularly to deal with oppression and other issues we uniquely

experience as people of color

b. Encouraging all members who are not of this caucus to regularly attend meetings of the Anti-

Racism Committee, or preferably, to join such committees.

c. Institutionalize an anti-racist agenda by creating policies in favor of and beneficial to

eliminating racism and other oppressions. (e.g. making anti-racism an active and prioritized

component of the National Convention)

3. Alter the focus of the NLG by learning how to be accountable to the communities that it seeks to support

and protect.


Membership is open to all members of the NLG community who self-identify as people of color. There will

be no arbitrary exclusion from membership on the basis of sexuality, religion, gender, gender presentation or

identity, sexual orientation, disability or age. All other members of the NLG are invited to work with and

support TUPOCC as allies in the pursuit of true justice.



TUPOCC Alabama Manifesto

Marc-Tizoc Gonzalez, “Critical Concepts of Race Privilege”

Andrea Smith, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing” in Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology (Incite! Women of Color Against Violence eds., South End Press 2006)

Julie A. Su and Eric K. Yamamoto, “Critical Coalitions: Theory and Praxis” in Crossroads, Directions and a New Critical Race Theory (Francisco Valdes, Jerome McCristal Culp, and Angela P. Harris eds., Temple University Press 2002)

Francisco Valdes, “Outsider Scholars, Critical Race Theory, and 'Outcrit' Perspectivity: Postsubordination Vision as Jurisprudential Method” in Crossroads, Directions and a New Critical Race Theory (Francisco Valdes, Jerome McCristal Culp, and Angela P. Harris eds., Temple University Press 2002) [redacted]

Mari Matsuda, “Chapter 7: Standing Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy” from Where is Your Body (Beacon Press, 1996)


We thought we'd make available to you this list of the other articles we considered for discussion; and for your convenience, we grouped them by theme. It by no means represents a definitive reading list on the themes listed.

Racial Formation/Theories of Race

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the U.S. (1986)

Ian Haney López, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (NYU Press 1996)

Ian Haney Lopez, "The Social Construction of Race" 29 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 1 (1994)

Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” 106 Harv. L. Rev. 1709 (1993)

Devon W. Carbado and Mitu Gulati, “The Fifth Black Woman”, 11 J. Contemp. Legal Issues 701 (2001)

Devon W. Carbado and Mitu Gulati, “Working Identity”, 85 Cornell L. Rev. 1259 (2000)

Intersectionality, Multidimensional Analysis, Coalitions

Lisa Kahaleole Hall, "Compromising Positions" in Beyond a Dream Deferred: Multicultural Education and the Politics of Excellence (Becky W Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi eds., 1993)

Herb Green, "Turning the Myths of Black Masculinity Inside/Out" in Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity (Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi eds., 1996)

Kimberle Crenshaw, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics" 1989 U. Chi. Legal F. 139 (1989)

Adrien Wing, "Brief Reflections towards a Multiplicative Theory and Praxis of Being, in Critical Race Feminism: A Reader 27 (Adrien Wing ed., NYU Press, 1997)

Francisco Valdes, Queers, Sissies, Dykes and Tomboys: Deconstructing the Conflation of "Sex," "Gender" and "Sexual Orientation" in Euro-American Law and Society, 83 Cal. L. Rev. 1 (1995)

Francisco Valdes, "Legal Reform and Social Justice: An Introduction to LatCrit Theory, Praxis and Community" (2003), available at

Role of Lawyers, Legal Activists, and Academics

Sumi Cho & Robert Westley, “Historicizing Critical Race Theory’s Cutting Edge: Key Movements that Performed the Theory”, in Crossroads, Directions and a New Critical Race Theory 32 (Francisco Valdes, et al. eds., 2002)

Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller & Kendall Thomas, Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement (New Press 1996)

Mari Matsuda, "Looking to the Bottom: Critical Legal Studies and Reparations" 22 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 323 (1987)

Richard Delgado, "The Imperial Scholar: Reflections on a Review of Civil Rights Literature" 132 U. Pa. L. Rev. 561 (1984)

Derrick A. Bell, Jr., "Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation" 85 Yale L. J. 470 (1976)