Article Title

Racial Exhaustion

Publication Title

Washington University Law Review


This article examines historical and contemporary race discourse contained in political and juridicial sources in order to illustrate how opponents to racial egalitarian measures have frequently contested such policies on the grounds that they are redundant, unnecessary, or too burdensome or taxing. Racial exhaustion rhetoric has operated a persistent discursive instrument utilized to contest claims of racial injustice and to resist the enactment of racial egalitarian legislation. Racial exhaustion rhetoric has enjoyed particular force during and immediately following periods of mass political mobilization by antiracist social movements and institutional political actors, and it retains potency in contemporary racial discourse. Although this Article conducts a cross-historical analysis of debates over racial justice policy, it does not rest on the idea that racial discourse has retained a static quality over time. Indeed, innumerable historical factors have contributed both to the evolution of racial status and to the content of race-equality discourse. Despite the contingent nature of language and identity, however, opponents to racial equality measures have historically discounted the ongoing relevance of race and have depicted demands for civil rights remedies as vexatious and injurious to whites. The pervasive deployment of this narrative has important implications for participants in antiracist social movements, civil rights scholars and attorneys, and judicial scholars who wish to understand the impact of political rhetoric upon doctrine.