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 Bell Curve 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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