Myth: Affirmative Action is like setting quotas for white guys in the NBA.
Fact: This is a parody of affirmative action, which would still let the most talented
players play ball.
The NBA analogy doesn't even apply because that is not how affirmative
action even works. All affirmative action recipients must be qualified for their jobs.
Besides, the fact that blacks overcome their social disadvantages to dominate
in the NBA is no justification for keeping them disadvantaged. The argument
that it's wrong to give whites an even greater advantage to make up for
their lack of merit is irrelevant. If blacks got an equal start in life,
they might even dominate the NBA more than they do now. The fact that they
don't is a further injustice to their merit.
This is a prize piece of rhetoric among anti-affirmative critics.
Teams in the National Basketball Association select their players based
on merit. For some reason, blacks have come to represent the vast majority
of players in the NBA, even though they form only 12 percent of the U.S.
population. If we were to impose racial quotas on the NBA to make the teams
resemble a cross-section of society, we would be throwing more talented
black players off the teams and replacing them with less talented white
players. Obviously, that would be an injustice.
However, this example is a parody of affirmative action, and is so wrong
as to be irrelevant.
If affirmative action were truly applied to the NBA, then a study would
be done to determine the percentage of qualified players from each race.
Although 75 percent of the male population is white, and 12 percent black,
the study would probably find that 90 percent of the qualified players
are black, and only 10 percent white. It would then set an affirmative
action goal of 90 percent black and 10 percent white players, and ask the
team-owners to conduct a good-faith effort to meet these goals. Penalties
would be incurred only if a racist team insisted on 100 percent black
players, and a blatant case of discrimination could be proven.
We could quit here, but it is also worthwhile to address the point
that critics of affirmative action thought they were making with this
example. And that is that it's wrong to deny top jobs to the most qualified
in the name of racial fairness.
However, the NBA example fails to make even this point.
To see why, imagine that you have been asked to preside as a judge
at a track-and-field event. Two sprinters, Joe and David, are going to
compete in a 200-meter dash. Because you are a finish-line judge,
your judging box is at the finish line, and you can't see the starting
conditions of the race very well. Now suppose the starting gun goes off,
and about 20 seconds later Joe and David come flying by. Joe wins the
race, and you declare him the winner.
However, suppose a starting-line judge then approaches you and confides
that he is suspicious of the starting line positions. Officials remeasure
the length of the sprinting lanes, and find that Joe has actually run 190
meters to David's 200 meters. Obviously, the race results should be invalidated,
because the race was unfair.
But what if the starting-line judge told you that Joe had actually
run 210 meters to David's 200 meters? In that case, it's clear that
Joe is still the faster sprinter, because he won despite his disadvantage.
Now, a few critical questions emerge here. First, are the officials
justified in keeping Joe's lane at 210 meters in all future races, even
if Joe wins every time against these odds? Of course not.
Second, are the officials justified in shortening David's lane,
trying somehow to achieve a "fairer" result? Of course not.
But what if some sports writer were to argue that shortening Joe's
lane is the same as shortening David's lane, and therefore just as unfair?
But this is completely illogical; shortening Joe's lane makes the race
equal and fair, but shortening David's makes it even more unequal and unfair.
The only fair race is one where the competitors get an equal start.
The above analogy holds for blacks in the NBA -- they win despite their
disadvantaged start in society. Does this mean society should keep them
disadvantaged? No. Does this mean that whites should be given an even greater
advantage to catch up? No. Does it mean that giving blacks a step up is
the same as giving whites a step up? No. All it means is that blacks should
be given an equal start in society.
Now, it's entirely conceivable that when blacks achieve an equal start,
they may dominate the NBA even more so than they do today. In that case,
they will have achieved the full measure of their merit. The fact that
they have only partially achieved it today is yet another injustice being
committed against them.
What constitutes an equal start? Liberals argue that blacks will have
an equal start when the average black income matches the average white
income, and the black poverty rate matches the white poverty rate. Liberals
especially believe that black children should be given the same health
care, nurturing and education as white children -- that is, in their critical
developmental years, before the ravages of poverty harden into permanent
differences in adulthood. (This, of course, leads us to the
debate.) Only then will individuals within these racial groups succeed
or fail on their own merits, and not because of some unfair social advantage.
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