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The Network Economic Effects of Whiteness

Brant T. Lee, University of Akron

Abstract

In this Essay I demonstrate that a network economic analysis of race provides an important and intuitive explanation of racial inequality. In short, Whiteness is Microsoft's Windows operating system, or the QWERTY keyboard, or the standard (non-metric) measurement system, and it is difficult to dislodge for many of the same reasons. Network effects explain how (1) the establishment of a dominant market standard can be contingent on historical context, and it is not necessarily derived from superior intrinsic merit, and (2) a dominant standard exhibits strong self-reinforcing characteristics that can maintain the dominance of the standard in perpetuity, even in the absence of any explicit or conscious determination to maintain it. All of these factors are present with regard to the economic and cultural dominance of Whiteness in the United States. This insight casts new light on mainstream explanations of racial inequality, supporting the critique that (1) current racial inequality is not the result of unequal “merit,” but is the legacy of history, and (2) no racist intent or conspiracy is required for this inequality to continue. Rather, specific intent and determination is required to dislodge it.

Suggested Citation

Brant T. Lee, The Network Economic Effects of Whiteness, 53 American University Law Review 1259 (2004).