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Exploring Race in America

How do you feel about class-based notions of affirmative action as a supplement to race-based affirmative action programs?

As a supplement they are good. We have problems with class that we should address that we haven’t addressed. The problem is that sometimes people assume that class can be a substitute for race. It can’t be for the simple reason that there are many more poor people who are white than poor people who are black. It doesn’t matter how you define poor people because African Americans are a racial minority, even though they are disproportionately represented among the poor. In numbers, most poor people are white. Now there’s nothing wrong with helping them; I think we should help them. It’s just that we should recognize that helping them is very different from addressing racial discrimination. It’s a different proposition.

In your book you say that integration and pluralism are “mutually incompatible.” Should we replace integration as our goal and if so, what should our new goal be?

We should consider all of these different goals. One of the great things about the United States is that we can quite often strive for different goals. Here’s an example. We think that liberty is good, we thing that equality is good; we think they’re both good. Well, as many people have pointed out, they conflict. If you let everyone do anything they want and leave people alone, that probably is going to generate inequality. On the other hand, if you want equality you have to do some things that people don’t want you to do because you don’t get equality otherwise. So those are incompatible. Likewise, if we want to have institutions that are racially integrated, i.e. racially mixed, it becomes harder to maintain institutions that have distinctive identities. It’s not impossible, but it becomes harder. One of the ways institutions achieve a distinct identity is by excluding some people or by not having people of all backgrounds.

You also say that mixed-race children “transcend assimilation and multiculturalism.” Is that the ideal for which we should all be striving?

Yellow is a book of questions. It’s not a book of answers. I’m not a preacher; I’m just a law professor. I don’t identify the goals that I think society should have. I try to sketch out the different problems there are in pursuing these goals. So, I’m not sure. I have a very modest goal. My goal is to start dialogue and to get people talking and that’s it. That’s my only goal -- talking as equals.