This essay reflects on Philando Castile and the work he did to support the children who passed through his school cafeteria. By regularly paying off their school lunch debt, Mr. Castile voluntarily assumed a vital caretaking role that the state refused to accept: namely, supporting food-insecure children and education through debt-free lunch. He kept children safe in this regard, even up to the moment that the state violently stole his life on July 6, 2016. Even as his death is a marker of the continuing, racialized excesses of American policing, Mr. Castile’s life in service to hungry schoolchildren reveals the sometime perversity of the public-private American social provision policy that continues to impose the burdens of financial insecurity on individuals least able to bear them.
More than a response to a temporary health crisis, the pandemic pods that emerged in the wake of COVID-19’s onset are an illustration of larger problems in American education. Grounded in a broader social architecture of risk in education and contextualized against neoliberal policies inside and outside of education, the rise of pandemic pods was both predictable and inevitable. Needed are interventions that both undercut the inherent inequality of pandemic pods in the short term and reorient the political economy of education such that education stability and equality can be secured in the long term.
From disparities in healthcare quality and coverage to housing and employment insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities in American society. But critically, the pandemic has also exacerbated these inequalities, particularly those that exist within the family. As work and school activities have shifted from schools and other public sites to the home, and employment has become more precarious, more and more Americans have found themselves struggling to reconcile the demands of the workplace with household responsibilities and their new roles shepherding children through the travails of remote education.
Much has been made of the pandemic’s particular effects on professional women, who have disproportionately assumed the twin burdens of work and caregiving during these extraordinary times. These burdens, coupled with the collapse of service industries in which women are disproportionately employed, have prompted women to leave the workforce in record numbers. The consequences of this exodus of women from the workforce cannot be understated. Indeed, some argue that this “she-cession” will erase decades of hard-won progress for working women, while also exacerbating race and class inequalities.
But speaking of these dynamics solely in the register of economic disruption, gender inequality, and work-family conflict overlooks a crucial player in this landscape: the state. As this Essay argues, not only has the pandemic revealed endemic inequality, it has also highlighted the state’s thin support for caregiving and family responsibilities, as well as the underlying presumption that the family will serve as a means of privatizing care and dependency. It is only in recentering the state, and being clear-eyed about its conscription of the family (and those within it) in the discharge of public functions, that we can be clear-eyed about the inequalities that are produced—and exacerbated—by the privatization of care.
The killing of George Floyd prompted a racial reckoning that quickly extended beyond the issue of police violence, prompting people of all backgrounds to confront the depth and breadth of racial inequality in American society. Education is central to either undermining or sustaining racial hierarchy. For much of American history, Blacks were either denied education or provided a segregated education inferior to that available to whites. The demise of de jure segregation fueled hopes that the expansion of educational opportunity would diminish racial inequalities.
Yet, while the promise of education remains undeniable, some aspects of schooling predictably exacerbate racial disparities. This Essay highlights a paradox at the intersection of education and racial justice: selective schools’ laudable embrace of the principle of academic achievement now constitutes an impediment to educational opportunity for Black Americans in both secondary and higher education alike. When schools evaluate applicants on the basis of their prior academic achievement, the educational system becomes stratified on the basis of student achievement. Achievement segregation disadvantages Black Americans. When racial segregation results from achievement segregation, it may be especially difficult to dislodge, given the importance attached to the idea of academic achievement as a desirable basis for choosing among applicants. Nonetheless, this Essay unsettles the justifications that sustain achievement segregation. Doing so is essential to creating educational settings that are more racially equitable.
For nearly a century, the American Bar Association (ABA) has overseen the standards governing accredited law schools, which in turn constitute the primary pathway to the practice of law in the United States. ABA Standard 503 requires that all such schools use a “valid and reliable” examination to assess candidates for admission. Currently, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the only examination that the ABA has officially recognized as satisfying the standard. However, the LSAT—now approaching its eightieth year—has strayed far from the purposes it was originally designed to serve. Once a simple tool to aid in the assessment of diverse applicants, it has in recent decades become a significant barrier to entry with disparate negative impacts on women, racial minorities, individuals of low socioeconomic status, and, perhaps most egregiously, those with disabilities. This Note argues that Standard 503 should be rescinded. Such a step is necessary both to stimulate innovation in law school admissions and to fulfill the ABA’s mandate of promoting diversity in the legal profession and serving the larger public good.
Racial disparities in maternal mortality have recently become a popular topic, with a host of media outlets devoting time and space to covering the appalling state of black maternal health in the country. Congress responded to this increased societal awareness by passing the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act at the tail end of 2018. The law provides states twelve million dollars annually, for five years, to fund maternal mortality review commissions—interdisciplinary collections of experts that evaluate and investigate the causes of every maternal death in a jurisdiction. Fascinatingly, although activists, journalists, politicians, scholars, and other commentators understand that the maternal health tragedy in the United States is a racial tragedy, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act completely ignores race. Indeed, the term “race” does not appear anywhere in the text of the statute. The irony is striking: An effort to address a phenomenon that has become salient because of its racial nature ignores race entirely.
The racial irony embodied by the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act serves as an invitation to investigate not only the Act itself, but the national conversation that is currently taking place about racial disparities in maternal deaths. Indeed, in important respects, if the general discourse that surrounds racial disparities in maternal mortality is impoverished, then we should expect that the solutions that observers propose will be impoverished as well. This is precisely what this Article discovers. The analysis proceeds in four Parts.
Part I provides an overview of racial disparities in maternal mortality, identifying the various elements that have made pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period much more dangerous for black women than their white counterparts in the United States. Part II then offers critiques of the national conversation around racial disparities in maternal mortality and warns of both the marginalizing effects it may have on black women and the possibility that it will lead to blaming black women for dying on the path to motherhood.
Part III describes the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act in some detail. Part IV follows with a critique of the Act, identifying three deficiencies. First, it notes the racial erasure contained in the Act—the fact that the Act nowhere mentions the racial dimensions of the nation’s maternal health debacle. It then observes the predicament created by the fact that erasing race likely was essential to the very passage of the Act. Second, it notes that because the Act does not direct the state maternal mortality review commissions to investigate the structural and institutional forces that produce excess maternal deaths in the United States, it leaves space for maternal mortality review commissions to simply blame the dead for dying. Third, it notes that the Act does no more than fund the gathering of more data about pregnancy-related deaths. However, it observes that there is a strong argument to be made that we do not need more data. We already know why women are dying, and we already know how to save them. In this way, the tragedy of maternal mortality in the United States is not a problem of information; it is a problem of political will. To the extent that Congress chose to intervene in the maternal health debacle not with policy changes, but rather with an attestation that we need more information, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act demonstrates that we still lack the political will to make the concrete changes that will make pregnancy and childbirth safe.
Although civil rights advocates have largely supported hate crimes laws over the last four decades, growing concern over mass incarceration is now leading some to question the focus on enhancing prison sentences. This Essay explores two alternatives to the traditional sentence enhancement model that might retain the expressive message of hate crimes laws—to convey society’s particular condemnation of crimes of bias—while relying less heavily on police and prisons: the reformation of victim compensation programs to help victims and targeted communities and the application of restorative justice processes to hate crimes. Each of these alternatives presents complications, but both offer sufficient potential to justify further exploration.