The Myth Of Meritocracy – How Privilege Continues To Shape Success

Nmesoma Okwudili


November 10, 2023

Within the narrative of the “American Dream” and analogous ideals worldwide, meritocracy stands as an integral and compelling concept. The allure of the notion that success hinges solely on industriousness and innate talent, irrespective of one’s origins, beckons to the human spirit. Yet, when subjected to closer scrutiny, the sheen of meritocracy reveals itself to be more a mythical aura than an empirical reality. Privilege, ever tenacious in its role, continues to wield a decisive influence in shaping the contours of success, often rendering the ascent to pinnacles effortless for some while erecting formidable barriers for others.

Meritocracy as a theoretical construct advocates for a system in which people are recognised based on their abilities, labour, and accomplishments. It puts forth the idea that anybody can succeed in this field with hard work and talent, regardless of background. But in the harsh reality of life, the shadow of privilege lurks in every aspect of existence, subtly determining the possibilities and paths that people take.

There are many egregious tales of privilege casting a lengthy shadow over one’s path to success, with access to education being among the most notable. Although high-quality education is frequently hailed as the great equaliser, the harsh truth is that it is not always accessible to everybody. The wealthy and well-connected elite have unrestricted access to the most esteemed academic establishments, possessing a golden key that grants them admittance to esteemed universities and networks. On the other hand, those who lack these advantages experience the crushing burden of inadequate educational prospects, which stifles their extraordinary abilities.

Furthermore, the seismic influence of socioeconomic privilege is a force not to be underestimated. Those born into opulent households benefit from an array of resources that effectively lubricate the wheels on their path to success. They can procure the services of tutors, immerse themselves in enriching extracurricular activities, and embrace unpaid internships that serve as crucibles for skill enhancement and experiential growth. Conversely, those hailing from less fortunate backgrounds face a herculean struggle to breach these formidable barriers.

The complex web of networking, which is a significant predictor of success in and of itself, always buckles under the pressure of privilege. Having access to powerful connections can open doors to careers that are frequently tantalisingly out of reach for others. Individuals who grow up surrounded by family or social networks that are deeply rooted in a certain business have a distinct advantage over others who have to traverse the maze of recognition based just on their own abilities.

Furthermore, privilege plays a crucial part in influencing the field of mental health and wellbeing, which are qualities that are essential to success. The mental space to focus on their goals is granted to those who are not subjected to the vice-like grip of financial worries or the furnace of systemic discrimination. On the other hand, even for individuals whose abilities are blatantly obvious, reaching their full potential becomes an excruciating uphill battle for those who are enmeshed in the web of misfortune.

Opponents of the idea of meritocracy argue that it is still sadly blind to the structural injustices that exist throughout society, such as differences in race and gender status. Prejudice, bias, and discrimination are unavoidably present in many areas of life, from job opportunities to the stark differences in pay and promotions. These prejudices, which are ingrained in society as a whole, create severe barriers for individuals caught in their nets, making it difficult to succeed based only on merit.

The question that looms large is how to confront the myth of meritocracy and the omnipresent role of privilege in the narrative of success. Foremost, acknowledgment is of paramount importance. Society must confront the reality that privilege is a prevailing force that intricately shapes the trajectories of individuals. It is through this recognition that we can embark upon the arduous journey of dismantling the barricades that privilege, often surreptitious, erects.

Moreover, a role of utmost importance is played by an uncompromising dedication to inclusivity and the provision of equal chances. Legislators and institutions should carefully create policies that eliminate inequalities and balance the books. This complex project could involve the adoption of affirmative action guidelines, the expansion of mentorship programmes and scholarships, and the development of diversity and inclusion projects.

In the grand tapestry of aspiration, meritocracy must stand as a lofty goal towards which we earnestly toil, ever cognisant that its full realisation might forever elude us. By grappling with the pervasive influence of privilege and ardently pursuing a more equitable social order, we take a stride closer to a world where the yardstick of success is calibrated not by the circumstances of one’s birth but by unadulterated merit and unwavering toil. In so doing, we beckon forth a world that is more equitable and just, where each individual, unshackled by their origins, has the opportunity to ascend to the zenith of their potential.


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