The Myth of the Meritocracy, and More

March 13, 2019

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“What college presidents understand is that we are not yet in a postracial America and that programs that support equal opportunity are still needed today.”—Richard Anthony Baker, regarding what college presidents think about race and ethnicity in college admissions.
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THE STORY

Though the concept of meritocracy is embedded in our culture, research has revealed its many pitfalls, both individually and societally. Researchers have found that participants primed with the idea of meritocracy are more tolerant of unequal outcomes, and that when companies explicitly hold meritocracy as a core value, they compensate men more than women, despite identical performance evaluations. Incidentally, when meritocracy isn't a stated value, researchers have found that the bias disappears. Believing in the concept seems to make people more confident that they themselves are fair, ironically leading to less fair and more discriminatory behavior. What’s really dangerous about holding meritocracy as a value is that it provides justification for inequality: claiming that those with more have earned it themselves implies that those with less deserve less.

OUR TAKE

This piece points out that the concept of meritocracy, like the concept of privilege, can be a “hot topic” for people: “These arguments are not just about who gets to have what; it’s about how much ‘credit’ people can take for what they have, about what their successes allow them to believe about their inner qualities.”

How It Affects You

Just as it’s important to reflect on one’s privilege, it may also be helpful to reflect on one’s relationship to the concept of meritocracy, and to remember that not only is meritocracy a myth, it’s a notion that can have lasting damage on your students and employees.

THE STORY

Despite claims of increased inclusivity in Hollywood and the fashion and beauty industries, a number of Black models and actors are calling attention to a cross-industry issue: the lack of hair stylists who are able and willing to work with Black hair. At Paris Fashion Week, model Olivia Anakwe posted a photo on Instagram, describing how when she came backstage to get her hair done, she had stylists “blatantly turning their backs to [her].” Anakwe added that on another occasion, her edges were pulled too tight, resulting in damage and highlighting Gabrielle Union’s point that, “if u stay quiet, u WILL have bald spots, hair damage, look NUTS.” Instead, Black models and actors often have to pay out of their own pockets to get their hair styled before arriving on set. Stylist Topher Gross chalks the lack of knowledgeable hair stylists up to a bigger structural issue: most beauty schools focus their training on “fine, straight hair, inherently excluding natural hair and kinkier textures” and even charge extra to teach styling of textured hair. Anakwe summed up her feelings on the issue as follows: “I was ignored, I was forgotten, and I felt that...It’s 2019, it’s time to do better.”

Our Take

While Gross makes an excellent point about the gaps in beauty school curricula, the onus shouldn’t fall exclusively on the schools—as in all careers, it’s critical that hair stylists make an effort to learn the skills needed to serve an inclusive clientele.

How It Affects You

Discrimination against people of color—particularly the Black community—based on hair is rife across all industries, not just entertainment, fashion, and beauty. Consider whether there are any policies or implicitly condoned behaviors at your school or organization that exclude or even penalize people of color for not looking a certain way.

THE STORY

People with disabilities come from all over the country to swim, rock climb, bike, and, most notably, ski at Eagle Mount, a non-profit in Montana that specializes in providing instruction with adaptive equipment and techniques so that people of all abilities can take part. Their motto sums up their philosophy: “Everybody has challenges. We have adventures.” Lucile, who has Down Syndrome, credits her time at Eagle Mount for her success as an independent and working 25-year-old. Her mother reflects on Lucile’s time there: “Finding her a place to belong has just meant the world to us.”

OUR TAKE

The different people at Eagle Mount—like downhill cyclist and ice climber Dave “Madman” Poole, who has a spinal cord injury that paralyzes him from, in his words, “the nipples down,” and two-time Winter X Games winner Kevin Michael Connolly, who was born without legs and “gets around primarily on a skateboard” when he’s not skiing—illustrate that people with disabilities thrive when they’re part of a community that doesn’t marginalize or isolate them.

How It Affects You

Consider the steps that Eagle Mount takes to create a welcoming community for people with disabilities, such as adapting current technology and equipment for all to use. Eagle Mount’s mission is to serve people with disabilities specifically, but we can look to them for inspiration in all communities that aim to serve all groups.