If we want to make a point by holding bake sales with differential pricing based on race, let’s get the prices right. It is empirically well established that blacks and Hispanic Americans pay more for goods and services, while getting less than white Americans.
As I described in a recent law review article on Proposition 209, if we take a statistically typical black high school senior from the Bay Area, here’s what the differential pricing really looks like: “It is likely that his or her (hereafter his) African American parents earn substantially less than similarly educated whites. They are less likely to be hired or promoted than similarly qualified whites and earn less even if they do hold similar jobs. Even correcting for income, they have far less wealth than whites of similar income, in significant part because … (of discriminatory government policies). If these African American parents were able to buy a home, it was probably in a minority neighborhood, where home values rise less quickly than in white neighborhoods … They were more likely to need a car to get to and from that home, because subsidized public transportation is disproportionately provided to white neighborhoods … (but) car ownership remains out of reach for more African Americans than whites in part because car dealers charge whites less than blacks for identical cars, and dealers charge a higher interest rate to blacks than they do to whites with the same credit ratings.
“(In minority neighborhoods,) there is less attention paid to … public infrastructure investments, including garbage collection, street sweeping, road and sign repair, street lights, fire fighting, water and sewer systems, libraries, parks and other services that support neighborhood development. Why? Partly because the Republican Party has written off the black vote and often works to suppress it. But it is also because there are fewer black voters per capita because so many black men (currently one in four) have been disenfranchised by our criminal justice system, in which African Americans — as compared to similarly situated whites — are more likely to be (affected, compared with whites who have) engaged in the same conduct.
“What has his experience been at school? He has probably been disciplined more than white students who engaged in the same conduct. His school probably has far fewer resources than schools serving white neighborhoods, including textbooks, classroom space … computers, library resources, academic counseling, pre-college counseling, college preparatory classes, advanced placement classes … and athletic facilities. He will probably get little or no meaningful pre-college counseling and thus will not know which classes he needs to take to qualify for UC or CSU, nor how he should be preparing for the SAT. His teachers are far less likely to have teaching experience or even permanent teaching credentials … (and) are likely to expect less of him academically than they do of otherwise similarly situated white students.
“If he has looked for a summer or part-time job … employers are less likely to offer him a job than similarly or even less qualified white applicants. In one recent study, employers actually preferred white ex-cons over equally qualified black applicants with no criminal record. If he was offered a job, the pay was probably lower and the job responsibilities less desirable than that offered to white students of the same age, experience and qualifications.
“If all of this has not left our high school senior feeling like an outsider in his own country, he merely needs to go shopping in any local mall or downtown business district. It is likely that as he enters most stores he will be regarded as a likely potential shoplifter, followed or watched by store personnel. If he stands near a white person on an elevator or at a check-out counter, he is likely to notice that white person clutching his wallet or her purse, probably unconsciously.”
When that student, despite the disadvantages he faces because of racism, nonetheless makes it to Cal, he has already paid far more than the statistically typical white student sitting next to him in class. So let’s adjust those prices to reflect the truth about racial disadvantage.
David Oppenheimer is the director of professional skills and a clinical professor of law at Berkeley Law.