“Race-Conscious Affirmative Action” Creates “Racial ‌Animosity”

(p. A1) Since picking up a memoir of Robert F. Kennedy at a garage sale his senior year of high school, Mr. Kahlenberg, 59, has cast himself as a liberal champion of the working class. ‌ For three decades, his work, largely at a progressive think tank, has used empirical research and historical narrative to argue that the working class has been left behind.

That same research led him to a conclusion that has proved highly (p. A17) unpopular within his political circle: that affirmative action is best framed not as a race issue, but as a class issue.

In books, ‌articles and academic papers, Mr. Kahlenberg has spent decades‌ ‌arguing for a different vision of diversity, one based in his 1960s idealism. He believes that had they lived, Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have pursued a multiracial coalition of poor and working class people, a Poor People’s ‌Campaign that worked together toward the same goal of economic advancement in education, employment and housing. ‌ ‌

Race-conscious affirmative action, while it may be well intentioned,‌ ‌does just the opposite, he says — aligning with the interests of wealthy students‌ and creating racial ‌animosity.

With class-conscious affirmative action, “Will there be people in Scarsdale who are annoyed that working-class people are getting a break? Probably,” he said in an interview. “But the vast majority of Americans support the idea, and you see it across the political spectrum.”

His advocacy has brought him to an uncomfortable place. The Supreme Court is widely expected to strike down race-conscious affirmative action this year in cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. He has joined forces with the plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, run by a conservative activist; the group has paid him as an expert witness and relied on his research to support the idea that there is a constitutional “race-neutral alternative” to the status quo.

That alliance has cost him his position as a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, the liberal-leaning think tank where he had found a home for 24 years, according to friends and colleagues.

. . .

Mr. Kahlenberg studied government and went on to Harvard Law School, where he wrote a paper about class-based affirmative action, advised by Alan Dershowitz, his professor, known for defending unpopular causes and clients.

The paper inspired him to write his influential 1996 book, “The Remedy,” which developed his theory that affirmative action had set back race relations by becoming a source of racial antagonism.

“If you want working-class white people to vote their race, there’s probably no better way to do it than to give explicitly racial preferences in deciding who gets ahead in life,” he said. “If you want working-class whites to vote their class, you would try to remind them that they have a lot in common with working-class Black and Hispanic people.”

For the full story, see:

Anemona Hartocollis. “Acolyte of the Left Aims to Kill Race-Based College Admission.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 6, 2023): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 3, 2023, and has the title “The Liberal Maverick Fighting Race-Based Affirmative Action.”)

Kahlenberg’s “influential” book mentioned above is:

Kahlenberg, Richard D. The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

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