The Desire for Whiteness: Can Law and Economics Explain It?

Bhattacharya, Shilpi

This Essay provides a new theoretical perspective on colorism by considering it from an economic point of view. It relies on three theories of law and economics that explain racism. While critiquing these theories, it also extends them to evaluate colorism. Because these theories correlate race with skin color, applying these theories to colorism requires distinguishing colorism from racism using the "desire for whiteness" as a tool for analysis. Further, this Article provides a comparative perspective of colorism in the traditional American labor market and the Indian arranged marriage "market." It finds that: (a) these theories are able to provide some insight into why decisions in these markets are colorist; (b) the insights are incomplete and do not fully explain the complexities of colorist interactions, though they do explain some of colorism's history; (c) the Indian arranged marriage market strengthens these theories; and (d) only McAdams's status production theory is able to deliver an account of the desire for whiteness. It concludes that a legal framework relating to colorism should aim to eliminate this desire from society.

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Columbia Journal of Race and Law

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October 20, 2012