Hastings Law Journal


Backlash against black civil rights gains and recent public debates over the determinants of black poverty have fueled an advocacy for class-conscious social policies. Professor Russell examines the advocacy for class-conscious policy initiatives, and argues against the use of class as a basis for making social policy. First, Professor Russell rejects a notion of class that focuses on wealth and income characteristics. Professor Russell maintains that class is better analyzed in terms of relations unfolding over a period of time and oriented by individualistic democratic capitalism and race. Individualistic democratic capitalism emphasizes opportunity and relative equality for the individual, but drawing on racial formation theory, Professor Russell demonstrates that race is not only decisive of opportunity and equality, race determines for which individuals these principles will become a reality, and is thus determinative of a hierarchical arrangement of individuals according to racial identity that cannot be explained by mere reference to wealth and income.

But even with this reconceptualization of class as a relational construct, Professor Russell argues that class-conscious policy initiatives will not redress maldistributions of status and power. Professor Russell focuses on the debate surrounding the black "underclass," and demonstrates a pernicious use of the class paradigm to subordinate and disempower racial minorities, in this case African-Americans. Professor Russell concludes by exploring ways to counteract these developments.

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