I don’t know about you, (millions of Real Life Athena readers) but I grew up hearing about the Land of Opportunity, all over. There was never a shortage of American underdog stories – whether in politics, school or on TV. I understood that I lived in a country where anyone could do anything if they worked hard. It’s an inspiring .. myth. A myth that is hidden extraordinarily well from far too many people, and is propped up and protected by our deeply flawed, oppressive system day in and day out.
Meritocracy; as defined by The Merriam-Webster dictionary is “ 1: a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement 2: leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria”
I think Meritocracy as an ideal, makes sense. Hard-work should be rewarded, smart, creative people should think of solutions and if everyone is offered the opportunities, the ones that take them should be rewarded. Obviously it’s not just merit if it took us 44 presidents to get a person of color in office and we have yet to see a woman there. If anyone can do anything if they work hard, shouldn’t our leaders have a bit more diversity?
It’s obvious there’s a problem if we look around and notice the racial and gendered trends amongst the upper class, politicians, tech industries and CEO’s to name a few, but we hold near and dear to this idea that we exist in a true meritocracy. (Just look at Oprah!)
If we are really living in a system that only judges the individual on their personal merit – then why do the stats keep proving that there are more success stories amongst white, upper-class men? Surely, there are exceptions to the rule but not nearly enough to throw out the idea (truth) that the non-merit factors like race, class and gender have something to do with all of this. Right? Right! They do! Yet our individualistic focus often keeps us from challenging these ideas because instead of seeing the alarming systematic racism, sexism, and classism (to name a few) that surrounds us, we are fed more “if I can do it – anyone can!” testimonials and stronger than fear that we won’t make it, is the hope that we will. The exceptions to the rule, keep our hopes high and serve as ‘proof’ that it is possible, to make it and again puts the blame on the individual rather than the system. The internalization of a flawed system allows the hierarchy to keep going unchallenged. Thus, the faux meritocracy stays put as well as our systematic oppression.
In the end, Meritocracy is a crock of shit, and it’s message is damaging to all people because it’s not true and it negates to mention that we are living in a society that is systematically racist, sexist and classist, while masking it’s oppressive nature with an individual blaming ideal that is Meritocracy, instead of the acknowledgment of a shitty system and the resources to change it now, together.
This pretty much sums it up more eloquently, “A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate — these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others.” – Ben Bernanke
**Note. Ben Bernanke is an American Economist, he held two terms as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and was Professor at Princeton. **
If you want to read more check out Stephen J McNamee’s, The Meritocracy Myth