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Affirmative Race Law’

In response to:

Justice for Blacks? from the March 5, 1998 issue

To the Editors:

In Nicholas Lemann’s review of three books on race and crime [NYR, March 5] he makes passing reference to my new book, The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment, and Other Macroaggressions (NYUPress, 1998). Two points of clarification are necessary.

First the article cites a nonexistent page 218 in my book. The book itself is only 203 pages.

Second, Lemann incorrectly characterizes my discussion of affirmative race law as “a vaguely defined policy.” Affirmative race law is not a policy. Rather, it is a description of laws which acknowledge and sanction racial harms. A law that punishes someone who perpetuates a racial hoax is an example of an affirmative race law. I devote an entire chapter to the more than sixty-five reported racial hoaxes cases—including the three that Lemann references in his review (Susan Smith, Charles Stuart, and Tawana Brawley).

Katheryn K. Russell, J.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland

Nicholas Lemann replies:

I reviewed Katheryn Russell’s book from a typescript sent around by her publisher. The page number in my citation was from the typescript. On affirmative race law, I don’t see why it’s not a policy—doesn’t that word precisely denote a group of laws aimed at a single purpose? The reason I said it was vaguely defined is that Russell endorses it but does not, beyond giving a few examples, say exactly what it would entail.

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