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The False Choice Between Race and Class and Other Affirmative Action Myths

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date



affirmative action, race-neutral alternatives


In a 2011 discussion among progressive law professors about the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court would grant certiorari in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, one professor opined that “working class whites are the problem”—the threat to affirmative action—because they keep standing as plaintiffs in cases like Fisher as well as Gratz, Grutter, and Hopwood before it. In fact, the professor was wrong in two regards. First, she was wrong on the facts: None of the plaintiffs in these germinal affirmative action cases self-identified as low-income, nor did the courts so identify them.

The professor was also wrong on the more important, big picture point. She had bought into the myth that this Article dispels, the widely held belief that we must choose between using affirmative action to support racial and ethnic minorities on the one hand or to achieve socioeconomic diversity on the other. In fact, we need not choose between the two, and we should aspire to diversify higher education— including its most elite sector—with low-income students of all colors.