Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional?

Here is a rough draft of a book review I recently completed. I hope you all enjoy.

Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional?


Mark Golub, Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018: 232 pp. Hardback, $65.00. ISBN: 9780190683603.


Review by: Patrick Salmons, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia


Race is a primary factor in the United States short legal, political, and social history. It is race that has found its way into the minds of citizens, influencing and shaping their thoughts and beliefs through the cracking of a gavel in a courtroom. Mark Golub reflects on these challenges in his work, Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional?, as he traces the argument of “colorblind constitutionalism” back to Justice Harlan’s famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to current debates on affirmative action. This leads to a furthered discussion of the many Supreme Court cases that emphasize a hierarchy of racial non-existence, where a protection of whiteness pervades as the illicit mechanism of the Supreme Court’s decision making, rather than an equal racial society, under the problematic color-blind doctrine.

Golub’s six chapters provide insight into the constitutional maneuvers made by the Court in Plessy that transitions to Brown v. Board of Education (1954). He structures his argument to demonstrate a description of American politics and social relations as “marked by near-universal acceptance of antiracist norms…structured by relationships of racial domination and subordination” (Golub 2018, x). Golub is interested in upending the debates of “color-blind constitutionalism” and “color-conscious constitutionalism”. Where color-blindness is essentially a forgetfulness of the draconian laws of the past, and creates racial hierarchy that color-conscious policy aims to eliminate with a confrontation of “historical and present racial injustices” (Golub 2018, 5). The worry for Golub, and readers as well, is that color-conscious policy actually has not taken into account color-blind doctrine as race-conscious due to the prohibition against racial classifications. The goal then for Golub is to demonstrate a need for racial awareness in the face of racial hierarchy in order to transform it (Golub 2018, 6). As Golub states on page 24, “My concern with color-blind constitutionalism is not that it prevents the adoption of necessary or valuable race-conscious remedies for existing inequality, but that it mobilizes its own form of white identity politics, which then is mistaken for an absence of race” (Golub 2018). This work is intriguing because it engages with race not just at a social level, but at a political and legal one. This work situates itself nicely in between race theory and legal jurisprudence, in an attempt to rid of the redemption narratives told by courts and advocates of color-blind and color-conscious, Golub wants to position his argument away from this dichotomy in order to have a discussion of “race that moves beyond color-blindness and color-consciousness” rhetoric (Golub 2018, 27). How he does such a thing is the feat of this work, by enabling discussions of Justice Harlan’s famous dissent in Plessy, “Our Constitution is color-blind”, to further engrain the color-blind logic today, in hopes of demonstrating that these principles of America’s redeemed and redeemable past only further racial supremacy “in the form of enforceable white rights” (Golub 2018, 168). Thus, racial equality is not a constitutional problem, but rather it should be the premise of what a constitution should be. In order to do such a thing we need “a decisive break from them (American values), and a re-founding upon principles of racial democracy” (Golub 2018, 168, my addition).

His work nicely situates this plea as an ongoing escape from the requiem of slavery and Jim Crow, away from debates of color-blind and color-conscious constitutionalism. A work that wrestles with legal jurisprudence, racial transcendence, national redemption throughout six chapters in both a legally and social manner. Chapter one illustrates the problems of color-blind constitutionalism and sets up the argument for the rest of the book. Focusing primarily on policies engaged in group disadvantage under color-blind legal code through the lenses of three understandings: anti-classification, antidiscrimination, and anti-subordination (Golub 2018, 7).  Through this Golub argues that liberals view equal protection as anti-discriminatory, placing race-consciousness as its prime belief, where harm is done by the injuries done by racial classification. Anti-classification is the conservative mantra that argues that race should not be acknowledged, this leads to practitioners of critical race theory (CRT) explain why these general prohibitions “against discriminatory treatment on the basis of race- even if it were rigorously enforced- will fail to confront the kinds of subordinating racial practices typical of our society”(Golub 2018, 12). Thus, the first chapter is an indication of color-blind constitutionalism as a protection of white rights as opposed to minority rights. Race is prohibited, and whiteness is the legal precedent that is enforced legitimately making “racial equality to be seen as a violation of white rights” (Golub 2018, 20).  The concern with color-blind constitutionalism is that it advances this as an absence of race, and a normative framework of law formulated by whiteness.

Chapter two identifies the problematic legal structure of redemption narratives within color-blind constitutionalism, ultimately leading to a discussion of society becoming less conscious about race even through adopting a racial-conscious approach. This is in part due to the structure of redemption in law as appealing to a transcendence beyond race. The impossibility lies in the legal doctrine of color-blindness, as “what supplies much of color-blindness’s appeal, is the belief that government classifications by race will introduce or intensify racial consciousness, thus undermining the redemptive dream of moving “beyond” race”( Golub 2018, 58). Moreover, the narrative authored by Justice Harlan in Plessy v. Ferguson assures that colorblind doctrine makes its impact by not discussing race. The counterintuitive nature of this discussion is what becomes alarming for the reader, as one begins to grapple with the process of how policy is created and whether the constitution is flawed by this resistance to protect minorities and protect white rights. Racial priority is only given to white citizens according to Golub, is this not inherently racist? Golub suggests we must move on from Plessy, Brown, and other decisions that adhere to these colorblind tendencies. Chapter three situates itself within the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling in an attempt to illuminate how powerful law is at producing racial institutions while at the same time demonstrating the racial indeterminacy evident in the case. The discussion of Plessy, the man, is of concern as well. As illustrated, Plessy was more about passing as white, as opposed to gaining a legal recognition of racial discrimination, race was treated as a property, and whiteness was the only acceptable property (Golub 2018, 77).  Plessy was able to define how the law constituted race, “but also the case informs contemporary thinking about racialized identity and legal rights” (Golub 2018, 93).

This leads to chapter four and Golub’s discussion of the slow transition, legally, of southern white supremacy to resist integration. Ultimately, this chapter supplies more evidence of color-blind constitutionalism creating the very principles the court labored to avoid. Brown v. Board was done in a manner that promoted white hierarchy and a support of white rights in terms of segregation and color-blind doctrine. Again, Golub demonstrates his theoretical legal knowledge by demonstrating how the Court used the law to establish “white political interests as enforceable legal rights” through conservative leanings and non-identifiable discrimination. Chapter five provides the insight into today’s legal climate. Golub argues that throughout history race has been forgotten, and affirmative action provides a deviation from race-neutral color-blindness. Thus, affirmative action provides evidence that color-blind constitutionalism is racially conscious. But also, through the Civil Rights Cases, judicial liberalism holds affirmative action to be necessary in a racially inequitable society. This is necessary however, it leads to one of the more poignant revelations of the book, in which affirmative action does dismiss the “underlying  narrative of “special favorites” and “mere citizens”” issued by former Justice Bradley (Golub 2018, 133). Consequently, while affirmative action critics are met with the fact that “special protections” are necessary, there is a failure to develop a counterpoint to the claims of reverse-discrimination which creates a formidable, if not insurmountable, white judicial solitude (Golub 2018, 133).  Through numerous court cases such as Ricci v. DeStefano and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, all provide chilling evidence of Justice Harlan’s famous dissent. Race-neutral is the new manifestation of the Court, dismissing color-blindness as a failure rather than racial dominance. Moreover, recent court decisions have moved away from equality per se to a more nuanced protection of white rights under these color-conscious policies. The question the reader is moved to confront, is whether this racial equality is constitutional? This poignant chapter reveals the troubling, conservative, and suspect nature of judicial precedent in the Court, while also critiquing those who support affirmative action and racial conscious doctrine.

Golub provides a legal, and theoretically, rich argument that operates like a kaleidoscope, where the foundations are aligned in a symmetrical outline of white hierarchical structures. Golub’s work deserves to be read in this era, as it outlines an everlasting problem that is always in the background of Court rulings and leanings of the Justice’s. Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional? is a brilliant thought-provoking book that thoughtfully engages with landmark Supreme Court cases, as well as post- Civil Rights cases. This very detailed case analysis provides the reader with a pondering reflection of our country and our whiteness. This book is ideal for those interested in critical race theory, civil law, constitutional law, political science, American history, and judicial history. Ultimately, this book is a must for those interested in current domestic problems in the United States and would provide a graduate class with riveting discussions of legal perceptions and domination through white legal immunity. How fitting are the last lines of this work which call to “end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world” (Golub 2018, quoting James Baldwin, 168).



Diversity in the classroom: Bigotry and why Race matters

This week’s readings were up my alley. I research the specific effects of racism, classism, and so on, as well as its affecting nature of everyday experiences. I think that Vendantamis somewhat correct, but he is also missing the picture. I have not read his work, but from the snippet, yes at times we make assumptions based on gender and race. But how and why seemingly is not in his discussion. Think how. What institutions are place, mechanisma are in place that create a requiem for the past, present and future.

Diversity and race is important! They matter, and they always will, not just because of racism, which I think needs to be combatted in many ways institutionally, but because it provides an identity a personhood. Race matters and it should matter in a positive manner, meaning diversity, acceptance, understanding, and equity. It is simplistic to say race should not matter, I believe that is the biggest part of the problem. “We need to be colorblind” something our country has said for about a century, yet equality did not exist then and does not exist now. I am reviewing a book that discusses this very issue. It is entitled ” Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional? by Mark Golub, which tackles these problems. I have not read it, but I am looking forward to writing the review, and hopefully blog it here.

Overall, racism is a problem, and as a white male it can be difficult to talk about these problems, but at least attempting to talk and discuss these problems with others is a step. Listening, and encouraging these difficult concepts in the classroom can be messy, but having a stable position and knowing when to cut off the conversation is very important. We shouldn’t be on autopilot, but I don’t think we are on autopilot, we are in control and accountable at all times. There needs to be a place for responsibility, where do we start?

Curious Curiousity: A Curious Change

You may be thinking, “Wow, this guy likes alliteration!”, and you would be right! Curiousity in a classroom environment is a tricky thing to accomplish, and even harder to try and implement. I think Campbell has it right and wrong in some aspects. Sure the students should be engaged with alternative information, and they should not be under a uniform assessment. But these assessments provide a teacher with a base for their own teaching prowress.

I think these readings go in line with last week, in that alot of these things can be said but it is hard if the teacher does not even know who they are as an academic. So while giving a lecture, tests, powerpoints, readings, and modules may not be the way of the future. They can be a way for the teacher to find themselves in this profession. I think that is the biggest thing, find yourself then get creative. Implement new ideas when you are comfortable doing so. Teaching and talking about teaching are two different things.

Finding your voice in teaching: Discovering your vocabulary

This week’s reading dealt with finding one’s teaching voice, and the story Sarah Deel gave resonates with me and my teaching. I too am shy and generally nervous about my teaching quality. I wonder if I am getting through, and if not I must be failing them. I also modeled myself after my favorite professors, largely teaching from a power point and asking the class if they understood, and encouraging all questions. I have fun with this, but then the dreaded question of death comes out of left field, and it genuinely shocks you. A loss of words, a loss of respect? This was and still is my fear teaching. Am I qualified to be their teacher, sure I have read the material I know it. Hell I have written a paper or too on it. But the little things trip me up, the details how we got there is hard for me to explain. I know this, so I research the things I am not comfortable with and at times I struggle with the material although it usually comes to me on the second reading of a term. I struggle with  imposter syndrome. I believe  teaching is a big hindrance to me because of the type of person I am. I worry a lot!

I teach them what I know I correct myself when I make mistakes, and I always try to come prepared to my class, yet I always do feel behind. I believe I am a good teacher, but I also believe I get in my own way. I give them a lot of information every class, I teach until I can barely speak, I incorporate videos, I explain the terms the best I can. I am no expert, but I think I am finding my voice in the class. I know the students respect me, (I think)I joke with them but I also have a professional relationship with my students. It is hard to explain that despite all my perceived struggles in teaching, previous students told me they learned so much from my class. They have never thought about the impact of political economy, or why it matters and what it means. I think I have found my voice I just need to convince myself of that.

Are grades problematic? The grade polemic?

Grades are tricky. Students always ask what should I know for the exam, and I have to answer in some manner. But I always answer with the same response, the big ideas, the concepts you wrestled with as the course came to fruition. Thinking about what you actually learned is a revealing process, because what if I learned nothing at all then what? I believe that is the fear of grades, that they provide evidence of what you do not know, when in fact they provide evidence of my failure as an instructor in not simplifying the material in a way in which the student can understand. With this said grades are important to a point, they provide evidence of what one knows. Although, the inverse is true an A in a class does not indicate they know the information, merely they know what the professor wanted them to know and they will probably forget a large sum of that information they learned. Again grades are tricky, and what professors should encourage is outside learning and conversations about the material. This way students can engage with the material they struggle with, what they do not know, and perhaps gain an acumen for the material. The grade matters in terms of a degree,  and the rubric for a specialty is garnered at this level. So it matters, but the pursuit of knowledge should matter more. As Mark Twain once said,  “I will never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Encouraging outside learning and specialty is perhaps the best way out of the grade trap.

Can “we” practice change in education?

The readings this week echo concerns of creativity and the lack of skills from current models of education. In some ways I agree, in others I am not as convinced. The Langer section on learning has merit in terms of methods of learning and teaching creatively, yet there is something to knowing the basics of a discipline that help a student in the long run. I agree that being able to interpret and apply knowledge is the most important outcome of education, but if certain traits are not developed early on it may be hard for a student to find a discipline worth pursuing or that they can pursue. For instance, if one wants to work in philosophy they probably need to know Aristotle, Nietzsche, Foucault, and so on. Memorization is a valuable tool that cannot be discounted in any discipline,  different tools are needed for different disciplines.

I agree with the need to diversify, and create new paths to the same knowledge, but I still believe having a set base for a discipline is not a bad thing in its formation. Changing up how we learn that set base is up in the air for me, I think it is better to know how to apply it rather than blindly picking the theorist it belongs to. For instance, I teach global econ and world politics, and I provide my students with the proper background information on how the economy has developed the way it has, and historically that narrative can change with new discoveries but it is a narrative. The terminology and economic policies implemented by the countries in question is where students can get creative, and I encourage it. How we look at economic growth and public policy can change day by day due to our current state of information. The question then becomes what do we do we economically, and how do we account for the political actors with the power to make such decisions?

Many times the answers are not simple, but rather convoluted and at time esoteric, thus having a background of historical facts and terminology helps the students apply their knowledge. I agree methods should be flexible and open for change with an emphasis on application. However, I also think that older methods of education are extremely effective for both memorization and application. Overall, I do not disagree with the points Langer,  and Thomas and Brown, but I am hesitant in embracing their arguments.

Cultivating learners

This weeks readings were interesting because they presented learning more as something that is grown through multiple methods rather than through a static method such as lectures. I think of this as if we are farmers growing crops, we need to cycle the crops so that the soil remains fertile. If we continually try to grow the same crop using the same methods in the same place, eventually it will not work anymore because of the deterioration of the soil. I am not a farmer but I do know that creativity fosters more opportunity for yourself and others. Education needs to be accessible to everyone that wants it, however, I think everyone should not go to college because it is “expected”.

This, in my opinion, is wrong and robs from the cultivation of creative minds by placing individuals in preconceived constructs of society. If we tell people they have to go to college in order to succeed, what message are we sending? “Be creative, but you have to suffer in college for four years while you fall into debt, whether you like it or not.” I do not like that narrative, and I think that individuals that want to go to college should be able to without massive debt perspectives, but not because it is expected. Teachers, instructors, parents, and everyone else should be creative in everything they set out to do, and that will help all aspects of life for all in involved. Creative thinking is about thinking outside of the box, providing resources to help grow intellectually, but in order to do that we cannot place others in the categories we criticize. Maybe I am hypocritical, but I chose college because I wanted to get a job doing something in politics, but say I wanted to make stuff, why do I need a degree when I can get the skills I need through practice? The degree offers some safety, but after college people seemingly cannot find jobs because those that skipped college or got an associates degree are years ahead in the field. Call me skeptical, but I think teaching creatively is good, albeit hypocritical.


Patrick Salmons

Education and the goal of learning? Is it really connected?

Complacency. This one word describes my academic journey so far. An education with a B.A, an M.A.,working on a P.h.D would not seem as a product of complacency, yet in my view it is. These pieces of paper cannot define my education. They do provide an understanding that I completed the requirements for the degree, but what else do these degrees describe about academia? Pedagogy is seemingly bureaucratic in the way it shapes and molds individuals becoming what is required. There is a need for structure, yes, but the vociferous claims of these patterns do not always develop strong well rounded minds, rather there is a breeding of dissonance and heartbreak at your own failures. This is a rather anecdotal understanding of pedagogy and higher education, but it is true of at least me, and perhaps others. Data cannot present the wider whole of an argument such as this. But, the article  by Gardner Campbell, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning”, provides insight into how one can get out of this funk (if that is the proper terminology). I tend to agree with Campbell on some grounds when he states, “Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing—in all its gloriously messy varieties—provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond “schooling.”” Although, there is a bigger question, that I think Campbell tends to ignore, that is how do you change these processes and should we? There is meaning behind the system of learning we have today, it works toward its on purpose; graduation and job production. But where does that leave the individual in all this? Perhaps they have an education, one that requires a rigid work ethic, and understanding of key concepts. An education that neglects rather than molds certain aspects of the student in question.

These decisions belong to the student, and if it becomes a part of the pedagogical practices that create problems, will this not be more of the same. Connected, or networked, learning requires outside engagement with the practices not only of the class, but with others and yourself. As Dr. Welsh discusses in his video, it is about the ability to learn in ones own way with others. Blogging, twitter, Facebook, college, all are connected, but what is taken out of these connections is wholly up to the student. Blogging, twitter, and class discussion can encourage creativity and help one’s own personal goals. Hitchcock’s assumptions of blogging and twitter is correct, in that it creates a place of reflection an area of learning that is not addressed in a classroom. Connected learning is empowering because it presents an opportunity outside of the classroom, and it helps synthesize what actually matters in an education.  My field requires rigorous practice in reading and writing, and blogging, as well as twitter, help in articulating thoughts with others. Public connections and collaborations help with education and understanding of the internet as well as our own personal obstacles. Connection and collaboration helps more than a crippling grade ever could, because with the grade you learn how not to write, with a connected writing experience others demonstrate how to write better.

Moreover, networked learning provides practice in skills that are not taught, but are rather learned. Talk to any professor and they will say it takes practice.


Patrick Salmons