I collect mentions of the meritocracy myth. This one comes from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Harvard Law Review paper “Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law” back in 1988.
Race consciousness also reinforces whites’ sense that American society is really meritocratic and thus helps prevent them from questioning the basic legitimacy of the free market. Believing both that Blacks are inferior and that the economy impartially rewards the superior over the inferior, whites see that most Blacks are indeed worse off than whites are, which reinforces their sense that the market is operating “fairly and impartially”; those who should logically be on the bottom are on the bottom. This strengthening of whites’ belief in the system in turn reinforces their beliefs that Blacks are indeed inferior. After all, equal opportunity is the rule, and the market is an impartial judge; if Blacks are on the bottom, it must reflect their relative inferiority. Racist ideology thus operates in conjunction with the class components of legal ideology to reinforce the status quo, both in terms of class and race.
The eradication of barriers has created a new dilemma for those victims of racial oppression who are not in a position to benefit from the move to formal equality. The race neutrality of the legal system creates the illusion that racism is no longer the primary factor responsible for the condition of the Black underclass; instead, as we have seen, class disparities appear to be the consequence of individual and group merit within a supposed system of equal opportunity. Moreover, the fact that there are Blacks who are economically successful gives credence both to the assertion that opportunities exist, and to the backlash attitude that Blacks have “gotten too far.” Psychologically, for Blacks who have not made it, the lack of an explanation for their underclass status may result in self-blame and other self-destructive attitudes.
The meritocracy myth and the “lowering the bar” narrative are big barriers to inclusion. This study frames the struggle as “merit vs. the diversity imperative” and identifies it as one of four primary organizational challenges to D&I.
The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on “fixing” students and families who are marginalized, but on transforming the conditions that marginalize students and families.