The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

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Basic Books, 1997 - Political Science - 350 pages
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When President Clinton announced the results of his review of affirmative action programs in July of 1995, he appeared to come down squarely in the middle. "Mend it, " he said, "but don't end it." Clinton's position mirrored that of the American electorate, as polls showed that a majority of Americans were dissatisfied with current affirmative action policies but opposed ending preferences altogether. The question remained, though: Precisely how should affirmative action be mended?

"The Remedy" provides an original and compelling answer. Affirmative action grew out of the 1960s quest for equal opportunity under the law, and Richard D. Kahlenberg argues in this provocative and paradigm-shifting book that we must pick up the lost thread that once united whites and blacks in the fight for social justice. Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., recognized that the fundamental divide in American society is not between black and white, but between rich and poor, and Kahlenberg builds on their political philosophy to propose that affirmative action be based on class, not race.

In a sweeping and damning analysis, Kahlenberg examines how the rational for affirmative action has moved inexorably away from its original commitment to remedy past discrimination and instead has become a means to achieve racial diversity, even if that means giving preference to upper-middle-class blacks over poor whites. Such perverse outcomes, he shows, have undermined the moral legitimacy of affirmative action, which is supposed to benefit the truly disadvantaged, not the well-to-do. If Bill Cosby's kids are given preferences in college admissions and employment opportunities while coal miner's kidsare shut out, then something has gone very wrong.

But Kahlenberg goes beyond simple criticism to outline how a class-based system of affirmative action would work, and why the objections often raised turn out to be red herrings. Moreover, he pays particular attention to the impact of such a policy on the African-American community, showing that because blacks are disproportionately poor, they would still continue to reap a disproportionate share of the benefits, but without engendering resentment or feelings of injustice within the white community.

The problem of race is not going to disappear anytime soon, but "The Remedy" provides a way to cut the Gordian knot over affirmative action without sacrificing or compromising American ideals.

 

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The remedy: class, race, and affirmative action

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Kahlenberg, a former law professor and author of Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School (LJ 1/92), argues that affirmative action "should be revamped so that preferences in education, in ... Read full review

Contents

Affirmative Action Gone Astray
16
A Report Card on Affirmative Action Today
42
GlassBased Affirmative Action
83
The Mechanics of ClassBased Affirmative Action
121
Six Myths About ClassBased Preferences
153
Part 3
166
Picking Up the Lost Thread
183
Notes
211
22
224
Index
339
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About the author (1997)

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a fellow of the Center for National Policy, has been a visiting associate professor of law at George Washington University and a legislative assistant to Senator Charles S. Robb of Virginia.

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