Over on Political Animal, the former Calpundit suggests compromising with the right by replacing race-based affirmative action with income-based affirmative action.
Kevin means well, but I see two immediate problems with this proposal. First, racism against middle-class blacks, latinas and American Indians happens, and shouldn’t be ignored as if it were acceptable.
Second, racism against lower-class blacks, latinas and American Indians happens, and shouldn’t be ignored. Income-based affirmative action would benefit low-income whites who are, objectively, much wealthier than the minorities they’d be beating out for those income-based AA slots.
Why? Because looking at income – even if we concentrate only on low-income folks – vastly understates how much poorer minorities are than whites. Low-income white families are simply much wealthier, on average, than low-income minority families. I wrote a couple of detailed posts about this in 2003 (here and here); this table from one of those posts illustrates what I mean:
Because low-income white families have far more wealth and (on average) live in nicer neighborhoods with better schools, compared to low-income (or even middle class, sometimes) minorities, they’re probably better positioned to take advantage of low-income AA programs. That, combined with their greater numbers, will mean that most low-income minorities – despite being objectively poorer – would wind up being shut out of income-based AA.
(It’s not a simple thing to just make it wealth-based AA, instead. Income can be verified just by looking at last year’s income tax forms – but there’s no such easy way for college admission programs to verify wealth.)
Not that I’m against income-based affirmative action. But while income-based affirmative action would be a good thing on its own, it’s no substitute for race-based affirmative action, and it shouldn’t be proposed as one.