William Bowen, …was a co-author of a study several years ago that found that elite colleges gave zero credit in the applications process to students from low-income families. All else equal, a poor student who scored, say, 650 on a standardized test had no better chance of being admitted than an affluent student who also scored 650 — despite all the obvious advantages that the affluent student had.
Currently there is race-based affirmative action to benefit disadvantaged races, but not class-based affirmative action to benefit disadvantaged economic classes. This is likely to change soon because the Supreme Court has been moving towards eliminating race-based affirmative action as it again signaled last month in the University of Texas case. Kevin Drum notes that class-based affirmative action will probably be the replacement and it achieves very similar goals:
In a study of elite universities, Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose concluded that class-based affirmative action would probably produce student bodies that were about 10 percent black and Latino, compared to 12 percent with purely race-based affirmative action. Taking wealth into consideration might boost that a bit more, as would policies that take account of whether a student lives in concentrated poverty, a partial proxy for racial housing discrimination.
Still, there’s no question that in practice, even well-designed class-based policies would probably represent a net loss for minority representation. But it’s a fairly modest loss, and class-based policies also have some advantages.
Even without the fact that racial affirmative action will likely soon be illegal, class-based affirmative action have some important advantages. They help poor people who are not getting much help and they deserve more help. One of the biggest problems of racial discrimination is that it results in poverty. The reason class-based affirmative action creates results that are so similar to race-based affirmative action is that racism creates adverse economic consequences. But some individuals are able to transcend the difficulties of race by ‘passing as white’ or by focusing on economic niches where their particular race is not a handicap.
The main way that we measure racism in societies is by measuring its economic consequences and it varies a lot across individuals depending on their circumstances. I have lived and worked in places where I was in the minority and I was discriminated against, but I have always had economic advantages and that greatly cushioned any difficulties that I faced. I don’t mind being called racial epithets as much if I can afford to live better than the name callers. Similarly, there is discrimination against Jews, but as long as they are not being killed or otherwise violated as is generally the case in the US, the discrimination against wealthy Jews doesn’t seem to be as onerous as it is for poor minorities. Since Jews are already about the wealthiest group in the nation, most people don’t think there is need to give them race-based affirmative action just because a lot of people are prejudiced against them. One of the effects of race-based affirmative action is that it disproportionately benefits individuals who are already pretty well off because they are much more likely to go to college anyhow. One of my college friends got a scholarship for Native Americans, but her family was rich and nobody would have guessed that she had Native American ancestry by looking at her. I never saw any sign that she had ever experienced racial discrimination and she seemed a bit embarrassed about her race-based scholarship.
Historically, race has always served as means of social control that works by dividing lower class groups. Dividing the massive lower classes makes them easier for the elites to control. Focusing on racism may serve to breed resentment and maintain class divisions which could be more counterproductive at helping minorities than helpful at this point in history. One of the huge problems of racism is that it is impossible to measure precisely. Do the Obama children face more discrimination and prejudice than poor redneck whites in Appalachia? They may face more racism, but less discrimination and prejudice, but it is impossible to know if that is worse. And there is no reason to valorize racism over classism and other forms of prejudice. Obama himself said, “My daughters should probably be treated by any [college] admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged”. Kevin Drum (op. cit.) gives more reasons:
As Richard Kahlenberg, a tireless one-man advocate for class-based policies, points out, race-based admission policies are supported by only about a quarter of the population. Conversely, class and income-based policies are supported by upwards of two-thirds of the population. That represents a far stronger foundation for keeping diversity policies thriving over the next few decades.
And there’s more. Carnevale and Rose concluded that class-based policies produce higher graduation rates than either a pure merit-based system (test scores and high school GPAs) or a traditional affirmative action program. And eliminating race-based policies would also put an end to the suspicion that continues to dog black and Latino college graduates from employers who wonder if their degrees were really fairly earned.
One of the main advantages of race-based policies is that they help create social awareness of racism and demonstrate that it is a priority. The ongoing problem of racism is denied by a significant segment of the US population. But they are hard-core racism deniers most of them are probably going to just get more resentful about race-based policies. They are much more tolerant of class-based policies that happen to achieve very similar ends.
Anti-racists need class-based ideologies like Medianism. Class-based affirmative action might actually do more to reduce the problems of racism than race-based affirmative action because class-based programs help a supermajority unite over common concerns rather than split over divisive tribal issues. Racism is real and a huge problem, but affirmative action that benefits relatively wealthy minorities is a recipe for breeding resentment in the majority that earns below the median. Perhaps other kinds of anti-racism programs could be more transformative.
One under-reported transformation of America is that, “Hispanic high school graduates surpassed whites in the rate of college enrollment!” If that trend continues, it is a sign that affirmative action for Hispanics should be curtailed before the rest of the nation gets resentful. Switching to class-based affirmative action would be one way to make the adjustment.