Vanderbilt Law School Background Image

VLS Community Book Club on Racial Justice and Civil Rights

Open to all members of the VLS community, the Book Club on Racial Justice and Civil Rights guides investigation into thought-provoking works to analyze their ideas and perspectives with a goal of developing greater depth of understanding on themes of racial justice and civil rights. Facilitated by a member of our faculty, each book club meeting encourages open and wide-ranging conversation on the themes raised in each work, connecting them to our own thinking, experiences and areas of study and research.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Community, along with the George Barrett Social Justice Program welcome members of the law school community to these discussions, even if they have not fully read the assigned book. For the academic year 2020–21, the book club will hold all meetings virtually.

Fall Semester 2020

Book cover for Fatal Invention by Dorothy E. RobertsFatal Invention by Dorothy E. Roberts (The New Press, 2012)

October 23, 2020, 12:00 p.m.

This groundbreaking book by the acclaimed Dorothy Roberts examines how the myth of the biological concept of race—revived by purportedly cutting-edge science, race-specific drugs, genetic testing, and DNA databases—continues to undermine a just society and promote inequality in a supposedly “post-racial” era. Named one of the ten best black nonfiction books 2011 by, Fatal Invention offers a timely and “provocative analysis” (Nature) of race, science, and politics by one of the nation’s leading legal scholars and social critics. 

Discussion led by Yesha Yadav and Sara Mayeux


Spring Semester 2021

Book cover for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel WilkersonCaste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (Penguin Random House, 2020)

January 22, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people's lives and behavior and the nation's fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball's Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day.

Join the discussion with Yesha Yadav and Jessica Clarke


Book cover for Chokehold by Paul ButlerChoke Hold by Paul Butler (The New Press, 2018)

February 19, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

Cops, politicians, and ordinary people are afraid of black men. The result is the Choke Hold: laws and practices that treat every African American man like a thug. In this explosive new book, an African American former federal prosecutor shows that the system is working exactly the way it's supposed to. Black men are always under watch, and police violence is widespread—all with the support of judges and politicians. In his no-holds-barred style, Butler, whose scholarship has been featured on 60 Minutes, uses new data to demonstrate that white men commit the majority of violent crime in the United States.

Join the discussion with Yesha Yadav and Terry Maroney


Book cover for Representing the Race by Kenneth MackRepresenting the Race by Kenneth Mack (Harvard University Press, 2014)

March 19, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

Representing the Race tells the story of an enduring paradox of American race relations through the prism of a collective biography of African American lawyers who worked in the era of segregation. Practicing the law and seeking justice for diverse clients, they confronted a tension between their racial identity as black men and women and their professional identity as lawyers. Both blacks and whites demanded that these attorneys stand apart from their racial community as members of the legal fraternity. Yet, at the same time, they were expected to be "authentic"—that is, in sympathy with the black masses. This conundrum, as Kenneth W. Mack shows, continues to reverberate through American politics today.

Join the discussion with Yesha Yadav and Daniel Sharfstein