Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the long-time chairman of the African-American Studies department at Harvard University says he believes it’s time to rethink race-based Affirmative Action.
During an interview on MSNBC Gates suggested that we replace race-based affirmative action with class-based affirmative action, considering students’ income levels as a factor in college admissions, rather than their skin color.
The beauty of taking economic circumstances into consideration, rather than mere skin color, is that those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds (including members of ethnic minority groups) would continue to get extra consideration in the admissions process. That’s entirely fair, considering the fact that equally intelligent students from low income backgrounds often have fewer resources, lower quality schools, and fewer academic opportunities than wealthier counterparts.
You don’t have to resort to racial discrimination if you simply want to help the disadvantaged, regardless of color.
Gates was the professor who famously held the “Beer Summit” on the White House lawn with president Obama and a Boston-area police officer. He also has a long-running series on PBS, and several bestselling books. Gates is one of the most visible African Americans in the academic world, and he comes out of the mainstream liberal/Democratic fold. Therefore his comments are sure to provoke further debate on this issue, even among those who normally consider themselves proponents of racial quotas.
Furthermore, if attitudes of someone like Gates are changing, it gives one hope that perhaps a new era of colorblind college admissions is within reach.
As Justice Clarence Thomas has written, “Every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens or benefits, it demeans us all.”
Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, called Gates’s remarks “encouraging” in a blog post at National Review Online.
Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.