By Patrick Appel
Coates puts it well:
For blacks, Jim Crow America meant, not simply white people not wanting to be around them, it meant a concerted effort to restrict the creation of wealth. Redlining wasn't just offering a racial preference to whites (indeed it actually punished whites for living around black people) it was a government-conceived and sponsored effort to devalue the homes of black people, thus draining what little wealth there was in the communities. When post-slavery Southern and Midwestern blacks--following Booker T's conservative line--created wealth by working the land, and building their own businesses, white terrorists violently undermined their efforts at every turn while the government refused to do its most basic job--protecting its citizens. The spectacle of lynching is horrifying--but its actual effects, dissuading black people from competing with whites--were (are) devastating. Indeed couple that with housing discrimination, job discrimination, the defunding of segregated schools and you see a comprehensive effort to render black people a servile class.
Addressing racial inequality in the same breath as economic inequality seems natural to me. Conservatives often chastize liberals (often rightly) for social engineering, but it's hard to deny that the root of racial inequality was a massive system of social engineering itself, meant to economically advantage whites. Though the most malicious elements of that system have been dismantled, inequalitites persist generation to generation partially because of prior meddling. These long-term effects are what make social engineering so dangerous in the first place.
A few years ago, my parents were going through a property dispute and had to dig out the deed of my childhood house, part of a California development constructed in the '40s. Unbeknownst to us, the original deed stipulated that blacks couldn't buy the house. While this law is now null, the neighborhood remains exceedingly white partially because of these former restrictions. The segregation of the neighborhood undoubtedly drove up property values, and through there is no longer a racial barrier to owning a house in such neighborhoods, the economic barriers (created in part by former racial barriers) help to maintain inequality and de facto segregation.
For these reasons such as these, I have been fairly sympathetic to affirmative action in the past, though I found the writing of Richard Rodriquez, a beneficially of AA, a strong tonic:
There was a point in my life when affirmative action would have meant something to me when my family was working-class, and we were struggling. But very early in life I became part of the majority culture and now don't think of myself as a minority. Yet the university said I was one. Anybody who has met a real minority in the economic sense, not the numerical sense would understand how ridiculous it is to describe a young man who is already at the university, already well into his studies in Italian and English Renaissance literature, as a minority. Affirmative action ignores our society's real minorities members of the disadvantaged classes, no matter what their race. We have this ludicrous bureaucratic sense that certain racial groups, regardless of class, are minorities. So what happens is those "minorities" at the very top of the ladder get chosen for everything.