"Truer U.S. History: Race, Borders, and Status Manipulation"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
Yale Law Journal
Publication Type
Book Review

In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr “storms the citadel” of U.S. history in a gripping retelling that places empire and its hiding at the heart of the American experiment. Aware that further absences also haunt U.S. history, he invites successors to catalog them to produce yet-truer histories of the United States. This Review takes up the invitation. It sketches out a legal history of race and borders in the United States in which indigeneity, race, slavery, and immigration join empire on center stage. Like Immerwahr’s, this history is of shameful and self-obscuring events. Unlike Immerwahr’s, it centers on the ways that law accomplished and hid the wrongs done. The crucial mechanism is “status manipulation,” a term in deliberate tension with itself. Status presents as a fixed, enduring legal classification that relates people and places to polities. By contrast, manipulation involves purposeful change. Hence, as used here, “status manipulation” combines apparent continuity and actual change as it achieves subordination from the shadows. Status is thus posed as immemorial and permanent despite always being constructed and reconstructed—an apt metaphor for a nation that has endlessly violated its ideals without rejecting them.