Why class-based affirmative action won’t work

affirmative action maynard quoteThe lead on a June 17 article in The New York Times’ June 17 is spot-on: “Affirmative action as we know it is probably doomed.”

But I’d bet the value of the black-white wealth gap that class-based alternatives mentioned in this piece won’t work.

Let’s remember: Affirmative action exists because of systemic, institutional racism and sexism.

It is an effort – half-hearted at best, with dubious results – to correct in the present the inequalities perpetuated by the past – which as Faulker famously said, isn’t dead, nor is it even past.

Writes David Leonhardt:

Proponents of a new kind of affirmative action prefer an approach that focuses on wealth, neighborhood and family structure, as well as parents’ income, education and other factors.

But the racial disparities aren’t a result of where people of color live, or the dollars in their bank accounts or whether their parents are married. The disparities exist and persist because of racism.

These other factors are unknowable at first glance. Donald Sterling (and Paula Deen and Cliven Bundy) have taught most decent people what not to say, but people act on racial biases that they don’t even realize they have. (Do some reading on implicit bias to see what I mean. Terrifying stuff, particularly re doctors.)

This foolish insistence that race doesn’t matter and racism doesn’t persist is… exhausting. (Spend some time with  “The Case for Reparations” by the prophet of our times, Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

Leonhardt seems to understand that. He continues:

The biggest downside to these class-based approaches is that they don’t acknowledge the role that race plays in American society. If you somehow found otherwise identical white and black students — living in the same neighborhood, with the same income, wealth and structure — the black student would still probably have to do more just to keep up. Racism is not dead, as social-science research makes clear.

 

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