Courts interpreting Title VII have long treated race and ethnicity as biological, morphological concepts and discrimination as a reaction to a set of biologically fixed traits. Meanwhile, they have rejected claims concerning discrimination based on voluntarily chosen physical traits or “performed” behaviors and that communicate racial or ethnic identity. Yet race and ethnicity are effectively produced—that is, they do not exist until one is socially acknowledged as possessing socially coded racial or ethnic markers, whether they are fixed physical features, voluntary appearance choices, or behaviors. This Article argues that it is error to distinguish between Title VII cases concerning morphological as opposed to voluntary racially or ethnically marked features, as the discriminator’s motives and the effects of her behavior are the same. Moreover, the morphological model of race/ethnicity is fundamentally contradicted by contemporary biological and sociological studies on race, discrimination studies, and identity performance theories, which indicate that individuals actively work to “perform” racial and ethnic status regardless of, and sometimes in spite of their morphological traits. Drawing on these studies, this Article shows that courts must hear discrimination claims based on voluntary features if they are to provide a more credible analysis of modern forms of discrimination.
Camille Gear Rich
In recent years, antidiscrimination scholars have focused on the productive possibilities of the “universal turn,” a strategy that calls on attorneys to convert particularist claims, like race discrimination claims, into broader universalist claims that secure basic dignity, liberty, and fairness rights for all. Scholars have urged litigators to employ universalist strategies in constitutional and voting rights cases, as well as in employment litigation. Thus far, however, arguments made in favor of universalism have largely been abstract and theoretical and therefore have failed to fully consider the second-order effects of universalist strategies on the ground. In this Article, we challenge the prevailing arguments in favor of universalism by exploring the market consequences as lawyers shift from particularist Title VII race discrimination claims to universalist Fair Labor Standards Act claims. Drawing on a review of case filing statistics and an inductive, purposeful sample of attorney interviews, we describe a phenomenon we call “post-racial hydraulics,” which are a set of non-ideological, economic, and pragmatism-based drivers produced by the trend toward universalism. Post-racial hydraulics must be understood as key but previously unexplored factors in racial formation. Left unchecked, these non-ideological drivers will have substantive ideological effects, as they threaten to fundamentally reshape the employment litigation market and alter our understanding of race discrimination.