Article: Class-Based Affirmative Action, or the Lies That We Tell About the Insignificance of Race

Article: Khiara M. Bridges, Class-Based Affirmative Action, or the Lies That We Tell About the Insignificance of Race, 96 Boston L. Rev. 55 (2016).

This Article conducts a critique of class-based affirmative action, identifying and problematizing the narrative that it tells about racial progress. The Article argues that class-based affirmative action denies that race is a significant feature of American life. It denies that individuals—and groups—continue to be advantaged and disadvantaged on account of race. It denies that there is such a thing called race privilege that materially impacts people’s worlds. Moreover, this Article suggests that at least part of the reason why class-based affirmative action has been embraced by those who oppose race-based affirmative action is precisely because it denies that race matters, has mattered, and probably will continue to matter unless we make conscious efforts to make race matter less.

The Article proceeds in two Parts. Part I locates class-based affirmative action doctrinally. Specifically, this Part identifies class-based affirmative action as the heir of the “suspect class” to “suspect classification” shift—a shift that tells its own lie about race. The substance of this lie is that those who exist at the top of racial hierarchies are as vulnerable to denigration, stigmatization, and subordination on account of race as are those who exist at the bottom of racial hierarchies. Part II goes on to demonstrate that class-based affirmative action suffers from the same infirmities from which race-based affirmative action is charged to suffer. It argues that the reason why proponents of class-based affirmative action are sanguine about these infirmities when they are present in class-based programs, but loathe them when they are present in race-based programs, is because their opposition to race-based affirmative action is not due to these infirmities. Rather, it is due to their disdain of the work that race-based affirmative action performs. That is, race-based programs function to assert, loudly, that race still matters and does so in powerful ways. Many proponents of class-based affirmative action resist this function.

Moreover, class-based affirmative action functions to assert that we, as a society, have entered a post-racial future. That is, class-based affirmative action tells a lie about the insignificance of race. Many proponents of class-based programs likely find these programs attractive and comforting for that very reason. The importance of this Article is that it uncovers the narrative work that class-based affirmative action performs, and it argues that those who are interested in racial justice ought to resist these programs because of their dangerous discursive effects.

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