The concept of equal opportunity represents something of a paradox for Americans. We profess to believe in equal opportunity, yet we allow unequal opportunity to abound. Some observers may conclude, with R. H. Tawney, that we are simply hypocritical—that, while we pay “homage” to equal opportunity, we also “resist most strenuously attempts to apply it.” 1 I believe that the paradox of equal opportunity is more complex and the solution more interesting. I believe, not that we say one thing and hypocritically do another, but that the rhetoric of “equality” and “opportunity” confounds what we really mean by equal opportunity. The rhetoric suggests that equal opportunity is a single and ideal state of affairs—difficult to attain, perhaps, but definitely to be desired. 2 The truth is quite the opposite. Equal opportunity is neither a single state of affairs nor ideal—neither difficult to attain nor inherently desirable.