Poor blacks get nothing from affirmative action
Affirmative action in college admissions has failed to help disadvantaged black students, writes Bertrand Cooper in The Atlantic. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules against racial preferences, low-income students will lose nothing.
In 2020, 15 percent of Harvard's incoming class was black, equal to the percentage of young blacks in the U.S. population, he writes. But many came from high-earning immigrant or biracial families.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., a director of the university’s African American–studies center, "estimated that as many as two-thirds of Harvard’s Black students in the early 2000s were the fortunate sons and daughters of Black immigrants or, to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples," writes Cooper.
Looking more broadly, he estimates that 85 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded to blacks go to those raised in the middle and upper classes.
Cooper is the son of a black father, who spent years in prison, and a white mother, who went missing. He ended up in foster care. Cooper aced the SATs, but had no idea how to get financial aid. The guidance counselor didn't help. He "slogged through an associate’s, a bachelor’s, and eventually a master’s degree, accruing substantial loans despite eligibility for grants that could have paid for my entire undergraduate education."
Since 2018, I have used what I learned (albeit too late) to help my foster sister navigate college and the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which must be renewed every year (including resubmitting community testimony on official letterhead). On more than one occasion, she has been selected for “additional verification,” one of several variations of bureaucratic rigmarole that can result in the delay of aid long enough to force lower-income students to miss a semester if they cannot afford to pay tuition out of pocket.
As a result of these barriers, "just 14 percent of low-income students obtained a bachelor’s or higher degree within eight years of high-school graduation," Cooper writes. It's lower for blacks and even lower for former foster youth.
Diversity has educational benefits, everyone argued in the case of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) vs. Harvard.
“A university student body comprising a multiplicity of backgrounds, experiences, and interests vitally benefits our nation," said Seth Waxman for Harvard. "Stereotypes are broken down, prejudice is reduced, and critical thinking and problem-solving skills are improved.”
SFFA responded that Harvard could use "socioeconomic status, to achieve educationally significant diversity."
In oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor saw considering applicants' social class and family income as “subterfuges,” writes Cooper. It's "just a tedious path to the same outcome achieved by considering race alone." But socioeconomic diversity isn't just a workaround, he writes. "Even if it yielded a student body with the same degree of racial diversity, the students themselves would be very different."
Would a classroom with one Black student who was raised by parents who met while studying business at Yale benefit from the added diversity of a Black student who was raised in the Cuney Homes projects that produced George Floyd?
The wealth disparity -- and the likelihood of incarceration -- between the black upper class and the black poor is huge, writes Cooper. Class matters.
After affirmative action, he hopes for a system that treats gives disadvantaged students a better shot at upward mobility.