AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | When meritocracy goes wrong

In partnership with digital publication Mahoning Matters, The Literary House is elevating the conversation and amplifying discourse around race, diversity and inclusion in the Mahoning Valley. Follow us weekly as we boldly tackle issues head on about the greater community.

Unlike the NBA, the NFL historically restricts draft entrance into their ranks for high school students.

The NFL only allows access to players who have been out of high school for at least three years and who must have used up their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season.  

While there has been much debate, the NFL maintains a meritorious and institutionalized standard in consideration for the nature of the sport. It requires a different approach to account for the difference in starting players’ capability, the time for development, and their physical acumen. And, let’s be honest, a 300-pound high-school student is not equivalent to a 300-pound seasoned professional athlete. 

Just as it would take time to develop and support a young player to compete in the professional football arena, the same approach is necessary in the business arena. Oftentimes, the business sector employs bias prerequisites that do not account for the historical economic advantages that were generated as a result of chattel slavery, racism and sanctioned violence. Such peculiar impediments can be seen during the notorious Tulsa Massacre and Rosewood incidents.

Demystifying meritocracy 

The assertion that African-American businesses and their white counterparts can harness the same opportunities for success based solely on their will, discipline and work ethic is difficult to challenge at face value. Nonetheless, systemic racism and discrimination paint a different picture; one that exposes this notion as an illusionary view devoid of real-world context. When considered against the layered barriers that  African-American business owners experience, the truth is desire may be equal, but resource networks, angel investors and industry mentorship are not.   

In their pursuit of economic wealth building, African-American businesses are often expected and required to meet unrealistic standards of their white competitors for investment. Similar to seasoned football athletes, these white businesses have taken full advantage of the extended amount of time to develop their enterprises. This was illuminated during the first round of the Paycheck Protect Plan allocation in 2020.

Shortly after its release, larger businesses in Mahoning County reportedly received millions in funds while excluding African-American businesses from even participating in the process. Again, systematic racism insidiously marred the efforts of federal efforts, which did not take into account the prioritization of community banks to work with larger enterprises. In the second round of the PPP loan, many African-American businesses received more funding, but not nearly equal to the amount of the previous round by corporations in the area. 

The perpetuation of misconceptions around African-American business’ preparedness is tied to a moral individual failure rather than a one-sided system. If we are to maintain a meritocratic community, then we must acknowledge these belief systems as is being skewed and inaccurate.

These weaknesses if consistently exploited only further disrupts progress and ostracizes qualified African-American businesses of strong aptitude and viability. 

Performative support is not enough  

Closing the gap the meritocratic myth poses is not impossible. In fact, data highlights how sustaining the current status quo actually impedes business growth across the board.

Just as the NFL understands that rookie players need time to mature to match the experience of veteran players for a competitive game, the Valley’s business structure can do the same. When systems and policies do more than exercise performative race, diversity and inclusion efforts, then we all can reap the benefits of a more diverse and capable workforce and economy. 


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