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.

Source: Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law

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.

See also:

The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth – Ryan Boren

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.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy

What happens in a world in which white people begin to make dubious claims about how diversity initiatives disadvantage them and take away positions that they are qualified for and entitled to? You have a generation of white men who engage in grievance politics subjecting us all to their rage and their Trump. What happens if these same arguments undergird claims to the presidency on the left? Unfortunately, Sanders’ progressivism does not keep him or his supporters from making the same kinds of problematic merit-based claims to presidential employment that white men in every other industry make.

These voters also choose never to think about the ways that merit-based arguments of the same sort are deployed by corporate America or the halls of academia to wall women and racial minorities out of access to great jobs and organizational leadership opportunities. Anyone who has ever served on a committee charged with hiring candidates who bring some diversity to a place understands how things go when the white guy who meets all the criteria (because he has had structural access to all the privileges that would help him meet all the criteria) is up against a promising woman or person of color who is very good but falls down in a few categories. Or conversely she’s the best, but the standards as written and understood make hiring her seem like too much of a risk. Hiring committees often struggle with what feels to them like the fundamental unfairness of allowing a candidate’s diversity to put them over the top. Many (white) members of these committees see this as a sullying of (a mythic) meritocracy in a way that disadvantages white men. But first, they have to believe that the man in question received all his qualifications on the merits and not because of structural privileges. I expect people on the progressive and radical left, those who claim to understand how intersectionality works, to know better, but they aren’t acting like they do.

The experiences one gains from being marginalized because of racism and sexism offer invaluable perspectives that often make candidates inclined to be more egalitarian and inclusive, precisely because they know intimately what exclusion feels like.

Source: Why Elizabeth Warren’s Gender Matters in the 2020 Election | Time

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.

Meritocracy has created a competition that, even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.

Yet meritocracy itself is the bigger problem, and it is crippling the American dream. Meritocracy has created a competition that, even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.

Meritocracy frames this exclusion as a failure to measure up, adding a moral insult to economic injury.

Source: Meritocracy Harms Everyone – The Atlantic

Via:

The Prosperity Gospel and meritocracy myths: morally convenient supremacy in 1492 and today.

A third important development was ideological or even theological: amassing wealth and dominating other people came to be positively valued as the key means of winning esteem on earth and salvation in the hereafter. As Columbus put it, “Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise.”

A fourth factor affecting Europe’s readiness to embrace a “new” continent was the particular nature of European Christianity. Europeans believed in a transportable, proselytizing religion that rationalized conquest. (Followers of Islam share this characteristic.) Typically, after “discovering” an island and encountering a tribe of American Indians new to them, the Spaniards would read aloud (in Spanish) what came to be called “the Requirement.” Here is one version:

> I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. I will make war everywhere and every way that I can. I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty. I will take your women and children and make them slaves. . . . The deaths and injuries that you will receive from here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.

Having thus satisfied their consciences by offering the Native Americans a chance to convert to Christianity, the Spaniards then felt free to do whatever they wanted with the people they had just “discovered.”

Source: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (p. 36-37). The New Press. Kindle Edition.

Why don’t textbooks mention arms as a facilitator of exploration and domination? Why do they omit most of the foregoing factors? If crude factors such as military power or religiously sanctioned greed are perceived as reflecting badly on us, who exactly is “us”? Who are the textbooks written for (and by)? Plainly, descendants of the Europeans.

High school students don’t usually think about the rise of Europe to world domination. It is rarely presented as a question. It seems natural, a given, not something that needs to be explained. Deep down, our culture encourages us to imagine that we are richer and more powerful because we’re smarter. (It’s interesting to speculate as to who, exactly, is this “we.”) Of course, there are no studies showing Americans to be more intelligent than, say, Iraqis. Quite the contrary: Jared Diamond begins his recent bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel by introducing a friend of his, a New Guinea tribesman, who Diamond thinks is at least as smart as Diamond, even though his culture must be considered “primitive.” Still, since textbooks don’t identify or encourage us to think about the real causes, “we’re smarter” festers as a possibility. Also left festering is the notion that “it’s natural” for one group to dominate another. While history brims with examples of national domination, it also is full of counterexamples. The way American history textbooks treat Columbus reinforces the tendency not to think about the process of domination. The traditional picture of Columbus landing on the American shore shows him dominating immediately, and this is based on fact: Columbus claimed everything he saw right off the boat. When textbooks celebrate this process, they imply that taking the land and dominating the natives were inevitable, if not natural. This is unfortunate, because Columbus’s voyages constitute a splendid teachable moment. As official missions of a nation-state, they exemplify the new Europe. Merchants and rulers collaborated to finance and authorize them. The second expedition was heavily armed. Columbus carefully documented the voyages, including directions, currents, shoals, and descriptions of the residents as ripe for subjugation. Thanks to the printing press, detailed news of Haiti and later conquests spread swiftly. Columbus had personal experience of the Atlantic islands recently taken over by Portugal and Spain, as well as with the slave trade in West Africa. Most important, his purpose from the beginning was not mere exploration or even trade, but conquest and exploitation, for which he used religion as a rationale. If textbooks included these facts, they might induce students to think intelligently about why the West dominates the world today.

Source: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (pp. 37-38). The New Press. Kindle Edition.

Building an education system around ‘meritocracy’ as it is commonly used post-Thatcher may be a function of those in power being so privileged that they are not in a position to see their own privilege. Those who have never witnessed people having to work three jobs to keep their family afloat may not understand why parents can’t do more to coach their children through an entrance examination.

Given that we’re unlikely to recapture the original meaning of the word, I’d like to see meritocracy consigned to the dustbin of history as an outdated approach to society. At a time in history when we seek to be inclusive, to recognise and celebrate diversity, the use of meritocratic practices seems reactionary and regressive. Meritocracy applies a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach that – no surprises here – just happens to privilege those already in positions of power.

We’re now at a stage where meritocratic approaches to society are baked into our education systems. And they’re not working, even on their own terms. Even if you approach education on instrumentalist terms – for example, as being all about life skills or ensuring young people end up in employment – it’s not working. Employers are increasingly turning to alternative methods of hiring and away from formal academic credentials. They recognise that there is a direct connection between affluence and performance in school.

A simplistic meritocratic approach to society and our education systems has failed. It’s time to stop ‘doubling-down’ on narrow education targets and results that privilege the few and, instead, embrace more holistic, open approach such as Connected Learning and microcredentialing.

As a parent with an embarrassment of almost-worthless degree certificates to my name, I owe it to my children, and those everywhere, to help build a better, non-meritocratic system. Let’s raise all the boats in the harbour, rather than focus on those that are already shiny and seaworthy.

Source: Why It’s Time to Let Go of ‘Meritocracy’ – Connected Learning Alliance

I updated “The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth” with selections from “Words Matter – Moving Beyond “Meritocracy” – Mozilla Stands for Inclusion” and “The end of ‘meritocracy’ at Mozilla | Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel”.

“Meritocracy” was widely adopted as a best practice among open source projects in the founding days of the movement: it appeared to speak to collaboration amongst peers and across organizational boundaries. 20 years later,  we understand that this concept was practiced in a world characterized by both hidden bias and outright abuse. The notion of “meritocracy” can often obscure bias and can help perpetuate a dominant culture. Meritocracy does not consider the reality that tech does not operate on a level playing field.

Source: Words Matter – Moving Beyond “Meritocracy” – Mozilla Stands for Inclusion

The world is not a neutral place and meritocracy can actually entrench privilege.

Source: The end of ‘meritocracy’ at Mozilla | Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel