Belonging and Empowerment: A New 'Civil Rights' Paradigm Based on Lessons from the Past

Constitutional Commentary, Vol 25, p. 353, 2009

University of Toledo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-04

24 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2009


Despite the advances that African Americans have made in our country as a result of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, poverty stubbornly persists in communities of color throughout our country. Our current civil rights paradigm, which is rooted in the Equal Protection Clause, and prohibits intentional state discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics, simply is not working. This article suggests an alternative approach, one based not solely in equality norms but in facilitating the belonging of outsiders in our society. The subordination of people of color in our society has never been just about race. Rather, racism has been used as a means to further the economic exploitation of workers. Thus, a robust vision of rights of belonging must incorporate economic rights. In THE LOST PROMISE OF CIVIL RIGHTS, Professor Risa Goluboff details the development of civil rights law in the years leading up to Brown v. Board of Education. Goluboff reminds us of an alternative approach to civil rights, based in economic empowerment and the Thirteenth Amendment, which government lawyers pursued during and directly after the New Deal Era. Destined to be a classic of constitutional theory, THE LOST PROMISE challenges constitutional scholars to re-think our paradigm of civil rights. Based on Goluboff’s history, this review explores rights of belonging as an alternative way of looking at civil rights, which incorporates the economic rights of workers along with the quest to end race discrimination. The paradigm of belonging and empowerment will help to bring about substantive equality rooted in the principle of anti-subordination.

Keywords: constitutional law, civil rights, legal history

JEL Classification: J79, K19

Suggested Citation

Zietlow, Rebecca E., Belonging and Empowerment: A New 'Civil Rights' Paradigm Based on Lessons from the Past. Constitutional Commentary, Vol 25, p. 353, 2009, University of Toledo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-04, Available at SSRN:

Rebecca E. Zietlow (Contact Author)

University of Toledo College of Law ( email )

2801 W. Bancroft Street
Toledo, OH 43606
United States
(419) 530-2872 (Phone)
(419) 530-7911 (Fax)

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