‘Merit’ Is Only Useful When It Helps White People
In a recent study, “Multiple Group Threat and Malleable White Attitudes Toward Academic Merit” (paywall), sociologist Frank L. Samson at the University of Miami discovered that white adults prefer a meritocratic system of university admissions, that is, until they learn that their school has a high Asian-American population, in addition to Black and Latino populations, and then test scores are suddenly, not so important.
From the study:
Prior research has pointed to the importance of meritocracy for White judgments about ethnoracial outgroups and the ideology of color-blindness. While these studies, based on in-depth interviews, play a valuable role in revealing the centrality of meritocracy in shaping the views of many Whites, the quantitative data analyses employed here directly reveal meritocracy’s political malleability in ways that complement these qualitative studies. Not only do we have evidence that meritocracy matters, but also with the use of survey-based experiments, we have evidence that the level of importance given to meritocracy can be manipulated by experimentally making a particular group salient. (Samson, 21)
Samson also noted in a presentation:
Sociologists have found that whites refer to ‘qualifications’ and a meritocratic distribution of opportunities and rewards, and the purported failure of blacks to live up to this meritocratic standard, to bolster the belief that racial inequality in the United States has some legitimacy, . . . However, the results here suggest that the importance of meritocratic criteria for whites varies depending upon certain circumstances. To wit, white Californians do not hold a principled commitment to a fixed standard of merit.
So that whole argument against using race as a factor in school admissions? The argument that schools should only use test scores and grades as a measure of their merit? Turns out that “merit” is entirely flexible and based entirely on racial contexts after all.
(h/t Inside Higher Ed)