Identities in the Year 2000 and Beyond

Michigan Journal of Race & Law

University of Michigan Law School

March 18 & 19, 2000


W.E.B. du Bois’ determination that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” has been the clarion call of nearly a century of commentators on race in America. His 1903 masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, like other works of the time, recognized race relations as a stark dichotomy between Black and White. Women had no recognized political identity, were denied suffrage, and, if married, were often considered mere extensions of their husbands. Latinos/as were regarded as transients in the United States, brought into the country when the need for labor was great, and deported when society chose to reserve jobs for “Americans.” Asian Pacific Americans were systematically excluded from the United States, and when admitted, were denied naturalization and property rights. Native Americans were the targets of routine atrocities, displaced from their homelands and hunted down by American soldiers. Gays and lesbians were not even acknowledged, aside from statutes that criminalized their behavior. Though issues that affect these communities are now recognized within law and society, these groups continue to face discrimination and marginalization.

The Michigan Journal of Race & Law presents a symposium, Identities in the Year 2000 and Beyond, which will explore the expansion of the color line beyond the Black-White dichotomy and the emergence, growth and integration of separate groups, identities and individuals into American society. The recognition of multi-faceted identities has not only changed societal discourse and social relations, but has vastly complicated legal and political conceptions of race, gender, alienage, national origin, sexuality and religion. Beginning with the simplified “separate but equal” approach to the color line in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), continued in the “integration” of the two races in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the law has only recently recognized the possibility of a multi-level review structure based, among other characteristics, on race, gender and national origin.

While some alternative means of defining identity have developed in the law, these investigations remain simplistic and incomplete. The courts have not developed a framework to adequately address claims based on multiple conceptions of identity. Instead, courts rely on existing doctrines, focusing on only one characteristic, such as race or sex, and avoid the intersection of various characteristics rather than confronting the need to account for multiple grounds of identity. This Symposium, by contrast, will confront multi-layered subordination, examine the intersectional nature of an individual’s identity, and explore methods for the courts to recognize multi-faceted identities and craft remedies that are specific to the individuals and the injuries they suffer.

This Symposium marks the first time that so many of the University of Michigan Law School’s student organizations have united behind a grand common vision. Our coalition includes the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, the Black Law Student Alliance, the Latino Law Student Association, the Middle Eastern Law Student Association, the Native American Law Student Association, the Outlaws, the South Asian Network of Graduate Students at Michigan, the Women Law Students Association and the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law.

There are many topics of particular importance to law students that are not addressed in the “traditional” law school curriculum; this Symposium is our attempt to address that deficiency. We are now at a critical moment in the history of the University of Michigan Law School. Our school could become the last battleground in the legal fight over affirmative action. We believe that endorsement of this Symposium will manifest a continuing commitment to a diverse academic environment that is beneficial to the students, faculty and administration of the Law School, as well as society at large.

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