Friday, January 26, 2007

Race, Income, and Affirmative Action

This New York Times article, on colleges struggling to overcome bans on racial preferences seems to be a nice segway to this New York Observer review of The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, a new book by University of Illinois at Chicago English professor Walter Benn Michaels.

It's interesting to see the two liberal takes at odd with each other- The Times on one hand, prays to the altar of diversity. The article does touch on long-term solutions to racial inequalities, such as ensuring better pre-college education, but in the end, the God of diversity is not to be questioned. Mr. Michael's on the other hand, warns that the focus on diversity and group identities has come at the expense of the poor. While I do have a problem with some of Mr. Michael's reasoning (more on this below), his general theme- as reflected in the title of his book- shines through in the context of affirmative action.

Modern affirmative action has become a means for wealthy and middle class minorities and women to get ahead, which is the root of my problem with the concept. There are problems with our education system that play themselves out with overtly racial overtones- this can't be denied. Living in Connecticut one only need to look at the school systems of Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven (all predominately black) and compare them to the school systems of the surrounding white suburbs. The real problem though is not race, but poverty. Poor kids go to inferior schools and then have trouble getting into (and paying for) college. Affirmative action based on income would achieve some of the results desired by diversity advocates and better provide opportunities for poor kids - but for whatever reason we're stuck with a system that values the color of your skin more than your background and the circumstances of your life that may make you unique.

I'd agree with Mr. Michaels if he asked, "why continue to focus on race when it the problems of poverty which are more pressing?" But here's where I lose both Mr. Michaels and his reviewer:

In reality, of course, the whole notion of encouraging economic diversity is farcical: A sane view of social justice involves decreasing the number of poor people, and hence reducing economic diversity. “Indeed,” Mr. Michaels writes, “since economic diversity is just another name for economic inequality, it’s hard to see why we would want to promote it.”

The idea of ending economic inequality is ... well ... Marxism. If we're going to have a free market and a free country there is going to be economic inequality. So, a celebration of economic diversity is really a celebration of freedom. Even poverty, as I've discussed before, is a very relative measure. If everyone in the third world lived as the bottom 20% of American income earners live today, would we call them poor? I'm all for eliminating government barriers that make those at the bottom of the income ladder worse off, but I'm not about to dive off the deep end into a sea of Marxist nonsense.


Blogger A Fan For All Seasons said...

Currently, I am taking a class at the University of Connecticut entitled "White Racism". The Lonely Lib asked what I'd be learning in that class, and he has actually touched on one issue that has come up.

"The real problem though is not race, but poverty. Poor kids go to inferior schools and then have trouble getting into (and paying for) college."

In class, we were taught that this sort of reasoning is the basis of a "white racism" class. It's not about individual acts of racism, but covert, institutionalized privalegs "whites" recieve. White is not about color in this class, but about status. For example, when the Irish immigrated to America, they weren't "white", but now they are. Anyway, back to the issue at hand.

This class argues that race is the problem behind poverty. The reason school systems in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are in such poor condition is because of "white flight" and "red lining". A neighbor in Hartford may have started out as white, with varied income. As members of a different race or ethnicity moved in, whether it were blacks, latinos or even Italians, the prominent white members of the neighborhood would move out (white flight). This would, in turn, lead to property values declining, and an even greater increase in non-whites moving in. The prominent white members of society would then "red-line" neighborhoods, which would lead to re-districting and less funding for non-white neighborhoods.

I have been known to space-out during class, but I think this is the gyst of it all. Whether you want to believe it or not, there is at least a little truth to this.

After a family trip to New York this summer, we dropped my sister off at the botanical gardens in the Bronx. While in the process of getting lost and finding the highway, we drove through pre-dominantly black/latino neighborhoods, which made my dad (born and raised in Yonkers) think back to a time when these Bronx neighborhoods were Italian and Jewish, and in much, much better shape. You could probably hear stories like this in every city in America, (even West Hartford, think Elmwood).

I just wanted to show you a differing view, and what I'm learning.

1:45 AM  

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