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The Myth of White Meritocracy

The Myth of White Meritocracy

Linda Wiggins-Chavis

The recent college admissions cheating scandal involving parents accused of committing bribery and fraud to get their children into elite schools raises two issues: the myth of meritocracy for the privileged and the continued denigration of affirmative action for the less-privileged.


This is all true, as far as it goes.

The thing is: The legacies and ongoing structures of colonization and white supremacy in the US and global political economy, go way way way beyond blatantly unfair admission to “elite” schools. Why does admission to “elite” schools confer such career, position, power and money advantage on graduates in the first place? Why does an “education” cost a hundred thousand dollars, or two hundred thousand dollars, or more in the first place? Why is there more than a trillion dollars “worth” of “student debt” today, when two generations ago there was almost zero? Why are families working three, four, five jobs today and falling deeper in debt, when three generations ago one unionized factory job could feed your family, buy a house, and send your kids to school?

Why do “corporations” have such vast influence over the political process? Why are the courts being packed with patriarchal white supremacist corporate libertarians? Why is EVERYTHING – nature, “resources,” education, labor, water, DNA, garbage, the “public” airwaves, etc., etc., EVERYTHING – commodified and forced into markets? Why do we pay fees for every bank and financial transaction we engage in with our own money, where two generations ago there were virtually no such fees? Why are we subjected to corporate propaganda (“advertising”) almost every minute of every day of our lives? Why is the Pentagon funneling military weaponry into police forces all across the USA? Why are the white settler-colonialist states of Israel and the USA such great allies?

The “for-profit, investor-owned, limited-liability corporation” was literally invented to carry out colonization – with the Dutch East India Company being the first “publicly traded, joint-stock company,” and the British East India Company then being reorganized on the same model. Colonization was carried out by any means necessary, under the claims of “divine right,” “manifest destiny” and the “Doctrine of Discovery” alongside “scientific racism” and “white supremacy” supposedly justifying the conquest, subjugation, enslavement, genocide, and Grand Theft Continental that literally built the foundations of today’s corporate political economy.

The pirates of the 17th century were liberals who resisted the “anti-free trade” monarchial restrictions on their “rights” to engage in the slave trade, and buy and sell humans in the “free market.” These are among the key foundations of the republicanism that led to the revolution of 1776-1783 and the founding of the USA.

White supremacy is in the title to every piece of land, is in the structure and function and “legal rights” of the corporation, is in the “liability and compliance” functions of Human Resources Management (what a professional title!), is in the patenting of and “free trade” in genetically modified organisms, is in the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College and “the duopoly,” etc. etc. etc. And yes it is in the “legacy admissions” and gaming of the system of access to “elite” education by “elite” families, but this is the mere tiniest tip of a massive socio-political-economic iceberg that must be exposed, melted, and new different non-colonizing systems built in their place if we are to literally “account for” colonization and white supremacy and “decolonize” the economy.

There’s tons i’m not touching on in this brief rant. But i believe that movements for decolonization and accountability have to set our sights very high, if we are to have any realistic hope of understanding and dismantling these systemic legacies that keep reproducing themselves in new forms in every generation.


Re: My paragraph above about the 17th century:

i commend and recommend historian Gerald Horne’s amazing book “The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean.”


Let’s also remember the impact of ad valorem property taxes used to support education. Local funding of public schools (don’t even get me started on privatization) is a structural guarantee of securing privilege. “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” --The Late Great George Carlin


The entire concept of meritocracy is nothing more than a justification for disproportionately rewarding a few while handing out crumbs to the rest. It’s the feel-good, d-party version of trickle down or manifest destiny (hat tip to webwalk’s awesome rant, above).

I hate to say this, but in the face of the obvious failure of politics, at this point, the great leveler – climate chaos – can’t arrive soon enough.

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They are all “fake sick humans” like their spiritual leader, crooked trump.

Citizen United decision, bound a lot of corporations together in thinking, they can dominate politics and rewrite the Constitution in their image. Isn’t it what trump is doing? A corporate political system, with the Courts to shove it down our throats?

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Got my ‘free’ college ed in Eastern Europe. Twice a year candidates would have the chance to take an entrance exam. Everyone that applied for the same profile got the same test questions and the same time to finish the test. When i took my exam there were 4 people competing fr one spot. Two of them should not have been there in the first place so there were only two of us with actual chances. The tests were secret u til the morning of the test. And grading was pretty granular. BTW, these were not multiple choice. You actually had to use your brain to get in. Names were hidden on the test paper.

Did some kids of high ranking party officials get in? I’m pretty sure they did without even taking the exam.

All in all it was prolly much better way to decide college admissions. If they tried it in the US kids would get PTSD after those tests. In most European countries with “free” college ed they have the baccalaureate exam or Abitur depending on the country. That usually weeds out most people. Plus, it makes no race distinctions.

I am very much an advocate of Racial Agenda Politics. I support Affirmative Action and Reparations. I am constantly saying Black Lives Matter.

So yes to all in this article as it discusses the narrative of white privilege and respecting Black achievement.

But the meta narrative of this article being a response to the admissions scandal is a problem. Why?

Because the admissions scandal isn’t about white privilege but CLASS privilege.

Why can’t we have a discussion about CLASS privilege? The myth isn’t about White Meritocracy- it’s about any f***ing meritocracy at all. Let’s get clear, there is some allowance of smart, saavy folk (like the author) rising into the professional class, including women, people of color, non-Anglo, immigrants, and LGBTQ folk.

But that’s shallow Identity Politics that doesn’t do a thing for the masses, especially the vast majority of working class folk struggling to stay ahead one paycheck at a time. Plus that ‘not doing a thing’ is actually working against real Racial Agenda Politics because People of Color, especially women, are over represented among the working poor, not to mention the actual poor. When class politics is ignored it is disproportionally affecting women and People of Color. So, a few folk are allowed into the professional class, whatever their identity status, as long as they are committed fully to protecting the status quo. Even worse, this shallow Identity Politics of a few being included into the professional class is then used to justify the ongoing status quo that harms so many outside the privileged groups.

But this wasn’t really about the professional class. It was about the super elite. The 0.1%, which is overwhelmingly old, inherited wealth. However, celebrities are also welcomed into living in Stratos City.

It is this elite group who own most of the wealth in this economy, who make most of the income, and who profit off the oppression of the workers working for the corporations the elite own. Well, it turns out they also insure their children get into the best Ivy League schools no matter what.

Again, the scandal is a CLASS scandal. Yes, the 0.1% are overwhelmingly white and the working masses they oppress include a greater percentage of People of Color than their percentage in the general population- with that due to centuries of structural racism- so it secondarily is a racial justice concern too. But jumping immediately to a discussion of white privilege is a way of not dealing with the real problem of Class Warfare, including the real problem women, People of Color, non-Anglos, immigrants, and LGBTQ folk face in this nation as targets of this Class Warfare.

(It literally is Warfare- it is the oppressed working poor and the actual poor who get sent to fight wars for wealth of the 0.1% and, again, People of Color, are represented in the troops at rates for higher than their percentage in the general population. This has been true for a long time, at least back to Vietnam.)

25% of the US population are first and second generation immigrants. Even more if you add third generation. How are you gonna exempt these people from being taxed to pay for these “reparations” for something that happened before their ancestors came to the US?

Hi Wai Parnel—
and don’t forget how the corporate machines have a lot of those " Get Out of Jail FREE cards—just like the game of —Monopoly

I’m not. But I think working people need to pay lesser rates than they pay now. If people are struggling to survive paycheck to paycheck they shouldn’t be funding the government. But we need higher rates for those doing well.

Anyone doing well in America, whether they are descended from the old Southern Aristocracy that held slaves or they arrived last week, is benefiting from an economy that was built on slavery- not just the South, the entire nation- not just 1619 to 1865, but still. So the entire economy needs to make it right for those who are Americans Descendants of Slavery, who continue to suffer disproportionally because of this History.

I support target reparations to those communities most in need of undoing this- like Flint, Michigan.

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It’s been 150 years.

You progressives should take an example from the Europe you keep worshiping. We’ve been at each other’s throats for centuries. Last time it less than a century ago and there’s less whining there than i see in the US. Great Britain abolished slavery 30 years before the US. Everybody did bad things. A lot of mistakes were made all throughout history. By all means remember and teach and don’t repeat it. Just get over it already.

Li’l Jimmy’s momma can’t afford SAT prep.
Li’l Jimmy doesn’t even know what asparagus is.

There is no easy way to fix corruption, even less so in a society that regularly rewards and glorifies it.
In the case of education however the fix is an obvious one, and it will never be allowed without a successful revolution.
Simply do what the more civilized countries do: bring public education up to the highest possible standards and make it free for everyone.
Not only is it a net benefit both to students and society as a whole, but it would cost less pr year than Pentagon wastes in a day.

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In heaven there is no meritocracy so why must there be on Earth ?

Humans live in a self created illusory existence having nothing to do with ultimate reality .

That and a guaranteed minimum income would “lift all boats,” would it not?

It certainly would, although in the case of America a guaranteed minimum income would probably just lead to the capitalists inflating prices on everything.
Would still be an improvement over the serve or die model currently employed.

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Excellent rant.