The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action


In this provocative and paradigm-shifting book, Richard D. Kahlenberg argues that affirmative action programs ought to be based not on race but on class. America's exclusive focus on race in determining how to allocate economic and educational opportunities has served only to undermine the moral legitimacy of affirmative action, the results clearly visible in the growing public sentiment to abolish such programs. Kahlenberg shows that it is time to return to affirmative action's roots, so that it works to the benefit of the truly disadvantaged, regardless of race. In a sweeping and damning analysis, Kahlenberg examines how the rationale 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. He outlines how a class-based system of affirmative action would work, why all Americans should embrace it, and how the African-American community in particular would continue to reap the benefits it needs without engendering resentment among whites.


When The Remedy went to press in early 1996, it made a moral, legal, and political argument for basing affirmative action preferences on class disadvantage rather than on race or gender. a year later, the moral case remains unchanged, but the political and legal cases are substantially stronger. As support for race- and gender-based programs has continued to erode, the need to look to alternatives, like class-based affirmative action, has become more pressing.

Indeed, the events of 1996-97 have boosted the prospects of class-based affirmative action on both the left and the right. As affirmative action programs fell under attack, from California to Texas to Colorado, Louisiana, and New Jersey, liberals began quietly to explore new alternatives to expanding opportunity. As race and gender preferences grew increasingly unpopular, some liberals realized they needed to propose alternative programs if they were to achieve 51 percent support.

For a different set of reasons, the threat to race- and gender- based affirmative action prompted many prominent conservatives to embrace openly need-based remedies as a logical alternative. Cognizant that many Americans might balk at a cold-turkey abolition of affirmative action, these conservatives committed themselves to a program that would not naturally be part of their agenda.

Attacks on affirmative action

Among the varied assaults on affirmative action programs, the most successful was passage in November 1996 of the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), to eliminate publicly-sponsored . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.