Discrimination by Default

How Racism Becomes Routine

187 pages

April, 2008

ISBN: 9780814794470



Also available in


American StudiesHistory

Part of the Critical America series


Lu-in Wang is Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She is the author of Hate Crimes Law.

All books by Lu-in Wang

Much as we “select” computer settings by default—reflexively, without thinking, and sometimes without realizing there are other options—we often discriminate by default as well. And just as default computer settings tend to become locked in or entrenched as the standard, discrimination by default creates a situation in which disparate outcomes are expected, accepted, and taken for granted. The killing of Amadou Diallo, racial disparities in medical care, the dominance of Whites and men in certain professions, and even the uneven media attention paid to crimes depending on their victims’ race and class, all might be cases of discrimination by, or as, default.

Wang contends that, today, most discrimination occurs by default and not design, making legal prohibitions that focus on those who discriminate out of ill will inadequate to redress the largest share of modern discrimination. She draws on social psychology to detail three ways in which unconscious assumptions can lead to discrimination, showing how they play out in a range of everyday settings. Wang then demonstrates how these dynamics interact in medical care to produce an invisible, self-fulfilling, and self-perpetuating prophecy of racial disparity. She goes on to suggest ways in which institutions and individuals might recognize, interrupt, and override the discriminatory default.


  • “It is worth noting that one of the many positive things that this book has to recommend for itself is a very clear writing style that makes complex legal and social science concepts accessible to a wide array of audiences.”

    The Law and Politics Book Review

  • “It’s law-focused and part of an academic series, but its style and subject matter make it relevant to a broad audience.”

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • “A must read for students of bias, racism, discrimination, and privilege. Lu-in Wang employs readable prose and compelling examples to elucidate these complex issues. Her cutting-edge exposition, especially in the context of health care, offers the reader a deeper understanding of the unseen forces that govern daily life.”

    —Stephanie M. Wildman, professor of law and director, Santa Clara University School of Law Center for Social Justice

  • “Does a powerful job of explaining why and how discrimination still plays such a strong role in our society. Like all of the best legal scholarship, this insightful book uses an unexpected, fresh conception to explore an age-old, stubborn problem. The result is a new understanding of both our legal structure and the society in which we live. A strong, helpful contribution to the debate on discrimination, its causes, and the damage it does.”

    —David A. Harris, E.N. Balk Professor of Law and Values, University of Toledo College of Law

  • “[The book is] law-focused and part of an academic series, but its style and subject matter make it relevant to a broad audience.”

    Emporia Gazette