Home » Commentary » Let’s Apply Affirmative Action Based on Present-Day Segregation, Not Race

Let’s Apply Affirmative Action Based on Present-Day Segregation, Not Race

Sheryll Cashin, TheRoot.com – Despite suggestions to the contrary, Place, Not Race is about finding the best ways for affirmative action programs in admissions to aid students who still face segregation.

In his recent case for reparations, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates offers this startling fact: “Black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.”

It underpins one of his main arguments: that black folks uniquely were victims of intentional, government-sponsored racial segregation that endures and must be compensated for if America is to overcome its original sin of racial hierarchy and oppression. I agree with him about the history and profound impacts of segregation, particularly the inflicted damage of concentrated neighborhood poverty—again, a government creation born of racial discrimination. In that light, then, it’s odd that commentators like the American Prospect’s Richard Rothstein and The Root’s Blair L.M. Kelley suggest that I’m abandoning middle-class African Americans, since my proposed reforms to affirmative action are designed to counter precisely the structural disadvantages that most black Americans face.

Only about 30 percent of black children live in a middle-class neighborhood, defined as one where more than half of residents are not considered poor. Proximity to poverty is a common, lived experience for African-American families of varying incomes. But if universities were to follow my proposal—as I’ve outlined in Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America—of giving special consideration to any high achiever who lives in a neighborhood or attends a school where 20 percent or more of their peers are poor, this would help the vast majority of black and Latino children who currently suffer the disadvantages of segregation. Among those disadvantages are less-experienced teachers, high teacher turnover, inadequate facilities and learning materials, and fewer high-achieving peers who raise expectations and model the habits of success.

I also argue that any high achiever who comes from low family wealth deserves affirmative action, precisely for reasons Coates identifies: For African Americans, low family wealth is a direct legacy of virulent racial discrimination, particularly in housing. I also argue that standardized tests should be optional or not used at all; that financial aid should return to being based solely upon need, not so-called merit; that legacy preferences should be scrapped; and that institutions that are serious about diversity should work with partner organizations like the Posse Foundation and Questbridge, which are astute at finding disadvantaged achievers who are prepared to succeed at elite institutions. Read the full story at TheRoot.com

Sheryll Cashin is a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center and author of Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America. Follow her on Twitter.

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