No Breaks

Racial preferences and quotas, euphemistically called affirmative action, diversity and multiculturalism, have seen their day. Through several state referenda and public opinion polls, Americans are showing increasing intolerance for racial preferences. Courts have increasingly ruled against racial set asides and racial preferences in employment and college admissions. What's the civil rights establishment's typical response to the new political environment? They fight rear guard actions like mau-mauing corporate executives and calling for boycotts against companies they see as not hiring the "right" number of blacks. Since racial quotas for college admissions are in both legal and political hot water, civil rights activists seek ways around court decisions such as calling for guaranteed admission for any high school student placing in the top ten percent of his class. That criteria for college admission ignores the fact that being in the top 10 percent at one school may be equivalent to being in the bottom 10 percent at another.

Let's face it. By any measure of academic achievement, whether it's performance on tests to get into college, grade point average while in college, graduation rate, and performance on tests after college for admission to law or medical schools, blacks lag far behind the general population. The civil rights establishment's response to this on-going education tragedy is to claim that the tests are racist or culturally biased.

What has been tried in black education for decades has revealed itself as a dismal failure. I say it's time we explore other approaches. One approach is suggested by sports. Blacks excel, perhaps dominate is a better word, in sports like basketball, football, baseball and boxing. Blacks excel so much so that 80 percent of professional basketball players, 66 percent of professional football players and 20 percent of professional baseball players are black. In most professional boxing categories, the top boxers are black.

These statistics aren't motivated by racial jingoism; instead, they are to raise the question: in sports, when have you heard a coach excuse poor performance by alluding to a "legacy of slavery", or being raised in a single-parent household, or call sports standards racist and culturally biased? I have yet to hear of such excuses in sports. In fact, the standards of performance in sports are just about the most ruthless anywhere. Excuses are not tolerated. Think about it. What happens to a player, black or white, who doesn't come up to a college basketball or football team standards? He's off the team. Players know this and they make every effort to excel every day. They do so even more, and even play while they're injured, if they have aspirations to be on a professional team.

Blacks thrive in an environment of ruthless competition and demanding standards. There may be some gains from applying a similar environment in the academic arena. Maybe we ought to have demanding schools where youngsters are loaded up with loads of homework, frequent tests and top-notch teachers. In such schools there would be no excuses for anything. Youngsters cut the mustard or they're kicked out and put into some other school. I'm betting that a large number of black youngsters would prosper in such an environment just as they prosper in the tough sports environment.

There's something else about the excellence and disproportionate representation of blacks in basketball, football and baseball. Who complains? Nobody white or black is bothered by the disproportionate number of blacks and the high income they earn. You go to a football, baseball or basketball game, most of the patrons are white and they cheer like hell for black players. That ought to tell us something: if there's meritocracy, who cares about race?

Walter E. Williams
December 24, 1999
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