Berkeley Law faculty focus on hairstyle policies, lending, LGBT relationships, and more.
Angela Onwuachi-Willig wants to eliminate school hairstyle policies that bar braids, twists, locs, and Afros for purportedly being distracting and unprofessional. “It sets a standard that appears neutral in its language but is actually racially discriminatory,” she says.
Onwuachi-Willig co-drafted a letter, signed by more than 120 scholars, urging the elimination of such policies. Sent to state departments of education and school board presidents, it explained how they force African-American girls to change their natural hair texture in ways that are costly, time-consuming, and physically harmful.
Her recent scholarship addresses discrimination against former prisoners in the labor market, how mythologized notions of white women influence court rulings, race-based traumas experienced after high-profile acquittals of whites who killed unarmed African Americans, and how gains for minorities are routinely framed as losses for whites.
Ian Haney López recently launched the Integrated Race & Class Narrative Project with Demos President Heather McGhee ’09. It builds on his book Dog Whistle Politics, which tracks how coded language is used in election campaigns to stoke anxiety around race and demonize ethnic minorities.
The project has raised more than $1 million to counter such tactics through race-and-class narratives asserting that racial division is used to seize power.
“Dog whistling prods whites to fear people of color, resent government for ‘coddling’ minorities and immigrants, and trust instead private enterprise,” Haney López says. “We can rebut this … by making explicit how racism oppresses people of color while serving as a weapon for a greedy few to keep the rest of us from uniting.”
Some other faculty tackling racial justice issues:
Jonathan Simon ’90 writes extensively about criminal system inequities. His new paper shows how patterns of over-incarceration and police violence—especially focused on people of color—have worsened. He calls the underlying history “more visible and its clash with American legal values less ignorable.”
Robert Bartlett and three co-authors found that African-American and Hispanic borrowers have a 5 percent higher loan rejection rate. Their research reveals that ethnic-minority borrowers pay a higher interest rate for purchases and refinance mortgages—nearly $500 million per year in extra payments.
Leti Volpp confronts racial justice from two relationships: between racialized ideas about culture and feminist theory, and between race, immigration law, and citizenship studies. Her unifying theme? “How the nation narrates itself and patrols its borders in relationship to people whose identity is considered antithetical to the nation state.”
Russell Robinson and a colleague are researching the Supreme Court’s use of social science in race and sexual orientation equal protection cases, and Loving v. Virginia’s impact on the LGBT community. They are also interviewing 100 LGBT people, most of color, on how race, gender, legal, and social barriers affected their romantic relationships.
Joy Milligan’s new class, Anti-Discrimination Law, surveys federal civil rights statutes. She studies how federal agencies addressed racial justice from the New Deal forward. “Contrary to popular myth, New Deal jurisprudence gave administrators room to design policies that inevitably accommodated and extended racial segregation,” she says.
Jeffrey Selbin’s latest paper shows how increases in security concerns, available data, and background checks limit gainful employment and other opportunities for people with criminal records. He calls for record-clearing intervention that boosts employment rates and average earnings.