Over the last two weeks, I’ve written a series of posts about affirmative action initiated by the fight over SCA5, a bill that would have amended the California constitution to repeal Prop 209 for public education and restore narrow considerations of race to the college admissions process as part of holistic review of qualified applicants. SCA5 was withdrawn after backlash from Asian American voters, but the fight over the morality of race-based affirmative action rages on — particularly in the comments section of my posts, where I’ve been privileged to host several forums to encourage further discussion on this subject.
One significant point of contention is the use of race vs. class in affirmative action. Whereas some SCA5 opponents have lobbed radically non-factual charges against race-based affirmative action, others are more moderate in their counter arguments; they assert that whereas use of race-based information is discriminatory, class-based affirmative action is a reasonable alternative.
And, indeed, the fight over race vs. class-based affirmative action has persisted in liberal circles for years; most recently, support of class-based affirmative action was cited as part of Tanner Colby’s diatribe against race-based affirmative action in Slate.
The focus on class-based affirmative action is appealing to some liberals precisely because it rejects the unseemly conversations of race that can force a conversation on White privilege. Instead, it blames minority underachievement on classism, not racism, and leaves liberals comfortably in support of increased state spending on social services. Tacitly, they argue, if poor minorities can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps after we address the impacts of their poverty, their failures must then be their fault. In short, arguments in support of class-based affirmative action is viewed as a panacea for social iniquity, with a concurrent, explicit denial of any further impact of institutional racism on underrepresented minority students.
Ironically, the UC system under Prop 209 provides the perfect counter-argument to these charges. California’s public education system, with its late-90’s rejection of race-based admissions, provide the ideal demonstration of the inadequacies of purportedly “colour-blind” admissions policies that engage in class-based affirmative action in the absence of racial consideration.
Or, as Scot Nakagawa points out, post-Prop 209 college admissions in the UC system demonstrate that “in a racially inequitable society, color blind solutions end up reflecting that inequitable context and often even contributes to its perpetuation.”