Mark Golub: Associate Professor of Politics

photo image of assistant professor Mark Golub

If you want to ruffle feathers, question a longstanding maxim. If you want to shake down an entire ideology that spans both time and political divides, have the maxim be about race, and argue that even the best of intentions—coming from both sides of the political spectrum—have actually done more harm than good. In his new book, Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional? (Oxford University Press, 2018), Associate Professor of Politics Mark Golub argues that equal protection law, as understood by both the political left and the political right, has led to the proliferation of racial inequality in the United States.

It should come as no surprise that liberals and conservatives have taken different paths to promote what they see as equal protection. Traditionally, conservatives advance “color-blindness”—the rejection of treating people differently based on race. For example, they see the policy of affirmative action as tantamount to reverse discrimination. Liberals, on the other hand, view race-conscious policies as necessary to rectify the wrongs of generations of systemic oppression of people of color. They see it as constitutionally permissible to classify individuals on the basis of race if the purpose of those classifications is to remedy past racism (as with affirmative action).

Though seemingly at odds, these viewpoints share the assumption that color-blindness is an absence or rejection of race. However, Golub argues, “the color-blind rule in itself requires a heightened awareness of race. It is, in fact, very effective at mobilizing white racial identity.” Seen this way, he explains, “both positions end up in this very strange place—of treating racial equality as a violation of white rights.”

“Color-blindness ignores how the benefits of whiteness are built into ordinary structures of society, such as credentialing, admissions, etc., but we largely allow ourselves not to see this,” says Golub. “In their own way, both liberals and conservatives ignore the benefits of whiteness and structural racism.”

Breaking with the tradition of his genre, Golub does not offer a cut-and-dried solution to the problem; as he sees it, any serious efforts to achieve racial equality—which would require a redistribution of power and resources away from the dominant racial group—will be experienced by whites and framed in law as a kind of injury, or a violation of rights. Rather, he envisions that a fundamental paradigm shift in American law and politics must occur alongside potential global, anticolonial, or transnational movements against racial capitalism. It’s “not the achievement of American values,” writes Golub, “but a decisive break from them” that will lead to true racial democracy.

What’s on Professor Golub’s mind?

1. When I think about race, which I do—a lot—I’ve been thinking about hope and despair. I mean, right now it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason for hope. And it can also be politically immobilizing to think about America as fundamentally anti-black. So where does that leave us? But then I think about the political uses of despair. I wonder what new possibilities it might open up.

2. How we are living in the golden age of children’s literature. My daughter’s getting too old for them now, but I still love Ivy and Bean.

3. If you look at the ingredients list, why is basically everything made out of sugar?

4. I’m also starting to think more about the possibility of political organizing within prisons. That maybe prisons are places where we can see this kind of activism—that wouldn’t just enact change for the incarcerated but also for communities targeted by the police and prison industrial complex.

5. Friendship.


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