Myth Number 9: If we had class-based affirmative action, we wouldn’t need race-based affirmative action.
Racial and economic disadvantages in education are deeply intertwined, but that doesn’t mean the racial disadvantages can be reduced to class.
Because of residential segregation, even when a Black and a white family have the same household income, it’s very likely that the Black family’s children go to far worse schools. The “war on drugs” has led to an all-out assault on Black communities in particular. And in the current era—to quote sociologist Matt Desmond, commenting on his study of evictions in Milwaukee—“eviction is for Black women what incarceration is for Black men.” It should be obvious that these processes have a tremendous effect on children.
Moreover, the most important dimensions of class—wealth, not income—are the hardest to account for in college admissions, especially when it comes to ensuring racial justice.
One reason wealth is harder to measure is that many government programs are designed to make sure the poor—as opposed to the rich—don’t get benefits they don’t qualify for. One result is that it is generally easy to verify whether someone is officially living in poverty, but not always whether another family has been living paycheck to paycheck, while still another with the same income has valuable assets.