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October 02 , 2010

Rights Gone Wrong

How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality


A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
Since the 1960s, ideas developed during the civil rights movement have been astonishingly successful in fighting overt discrimina­tion and prejudice. But how successful are they at combating the whole spectrum of social injustice-including conditions that aren't directly caused by bigotry? How do they stand up to segregation, for instance-a legacy of racism, but not the direct result of ongoing discrimina­tion? It's tempting to believe that civil rights litigation can combat these social ills as efficiently as it has fought blatant discrimination.

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In Rights Gone Wrong, Richard Thompson Ford, author of the New York Times Notable Book The Race Card, argues that this is seldom the case. Civil rights do too much and not enough: opportunists use them to get a competitive edge in schools and job markets, while special-interest groups use them to demand special privileges. Extremists on both the left and the right have hijacked civil rights for personal advantage. Worst of all, their theatrics have drawn attention away from more seri­ous social injustices.

Ford, a professor of law at Stanford University, shows us the many ways in which civil rights can go terribly wrong. He examines newsworthy lawsuits with shrewdness and humor, proving that the distinction between civil rights and personal entitlements is often anything but clear. Finally, he reveals how many of today's social injustices actually can't be remedied by civil rights law, and demands more creative and nuanced solutions. In order to live up to the legacy of the civil rights movement, we must renew our commitment to civil rights, and move beyond them.

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