Letters of the Law
Race and the Fantasy of Colorblindness in American Law
Sora Y. Han



This book owes its existence to two events that cast the horizon of my study. Those events were two conferences: “Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex,” Berkeley, CA, in 1998; and “The Color of Violence: Incite! Women of Color against Violence,” Santa Cruz, CA, in 2000. Such collective forms of thought and movement have animated and sustained this book’s writing.

Angela Y. Davis, Gina Dent, and Devon Carbado guided the first iteration of this book as my dissertation committee. Each, in the practice of teaching and mentoring, bestowed the greatest gift a student could receive: the unfettered pursuit of questions as a way of being in this world. Angela Y. Davis, in particular, as my advisor, was and is incomparable in this respect. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cheryl Harris, David Marriott, Teresa de Lauretis, Donna Haraway, Jennifer Gonzalez, David Hoy, and Herman Gray also gifted me with this freedom. All errors and flaws in this book are my own, but if this book resonates at all, it will be because of what I learned from them while at UCLA School of Law and the Department of History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz.

Much of this book’s writing was made possible by a fellowship from Columbia Law School’s Center for Law and Culture, and the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, which I took to Berkeley Law School’s Center for the Study of Law and Society. I thank Kendall Thomas, Elizabeth Povinelli, Katherine Franke, Gary Okihiro, Robin D. G. Kelley, Leti Volpp, Angela Harris, and Jonathan Simon for their hospitality, encouragement, and support. I am especially grateful to Leti Volpp.

I also received substantial resources to continue working on this book while at UC Irvine, in my department, Criminology, Law and Society. Simon Cole, Mona Lynch, Susan Coutin, Carroll Seron, Valerie Jenness, and Elliott Currie have been especially generous colleagues and mentors. It has been a pleasure to work with graduate students across campus, including Jasmine Montgomery, Afiya Browne, James Bliss, Christopher Chamberlain, Jacob Kang-Brown, Akhila Ananth, Kate Henne, and Megan McCabe, who provided assistance at various stages of writing. A special thanks goes to Jasmine Montgomery for support across teaching, writing, and organizing; and James Bliss and Christopher Chamberlain for such careful and engaged preparation of the book manuscript. The Elsevier Foundation New Scholars Grant supported my work on the book after the arrival of my two children. And the Hellman Foundation and the University of California Center for New Racial Studies provided generous resources at the final hour to complete the manuscript.

For the past five years, the Anti-Colonial Machine—David Lloyd, Fred Moten, Nasser Hussain, Colin Dayan, Dylan Rodriguez, Atef Said, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Stefano Harney, and J. Kameron Carter—gave me something to belong to, and reinvigorated my work on this book and beyond. Our conversations are present in and between the lines on every page. I give special thanks to David Lloyd for his felicitous invitation.

Much gratitude and appreciation must go to Michelle Lipinski, Kate Wahl, and Austin Sarat at Stanford University Press. Because of their patience and foresight, the process of transforming many drafts into book form was an affirming experience in a most fundamental way. I also must thank Courtney Berger, at Duke University Press, for her patience and understanding early on and over the years. This book was immeasurably improved with reviews from both presses. I especially thank the anonymous reviewer from Stanford University Press for such a careful and critical reading. Two reviewers, Colin Dayan and Fred Moten, made themselves known to me, and responding not only to their readings, but also writing as part of our ongoing conversations, was a happy challenge.

Roshy Kheshti read the entire manuscript, multiple times, through years of revision and life changes, and amplified what mattered most. Jared Sexton, Andrea Smith, Dylan Rodriguez, Rashad Shabazz, Nicole Santos, Sirida Srisombati, Cassandra Shaylor, Anita Starosta, Sara Clarke Kaplan, Zakiyyah Jackson, and the late Adam Henry have been supportive friends and colleagues. For their invitations and editorial support on portions of this book that have appeared in prior published form, I am grateful to Renee Heberle, Patricia Clough, Craig Willse, Eunice Cho, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Mona Lynch, and Anne Richardson Oakes. Anitra Grisales provided essential editorial assistance at every stage.

Finally, this book would not have been possible without the love and support of my family. Walter and Stella Han imprinted in me the exhilaration of protest and a resonant conviction in all power to the people. Lamont Cardon embarked with me on a partnership that enriched my life beyond measure. And Nara and Namu remind me every day that there is always the chance to experience being together anew.