Something that has been on my mind recently is the idea of the myth of meritocracy. The myth of meritocracy is the popular American notion that if you work hard you will succeed. This myth, however, does not take into account the fact that it is easier for some people to succeed over others because of privileges they have in terms of their social identities.
I struggled making sense of this concept at first for personal reasons. My dad is an example of someone who has had to work immensely hard to get where he is today. As a child, my dad and his family were below the poverty line and sometimes did not have enough food to eat. My dad did not have any one to guide him in terms if his career as his parents had five other siblings to raise as well and was left to raise himself at a young age. Now my dad owns his own business and our family is well off financially.
I struggled at first learning about the myth of meritocracy because it seemed to discredit my father’s work. However, as our contemporary racism class has progressed I realized it is much more complex than that. It is not that my father did not work hard; it’s that if my father had been of a different identity he would have had to work twice as hard to get where he is today. If my dad had been a black female or gay, he might never have gotten where he is now. Stories like my dad’s and success stories of other white males are complicated in that you have to wonder how much of their success is a result of hard work and how much is a result of identity. Although I do believe it is important to recognize hard work, we must, as a society, grapple with the notion that we must take into account a person’s social identity as well as work ethic in understanding a person’s success. Hearing that you are privileged can make a person defensive and feel as though their hard work is merely a result of their skin color or gender. Where is the fine line between hard work and identity in determining success? How can the most privileged grapple with their identities and accept that they may have worked hard for their achievements, while at the same time acknowledging their privilege was a factor in helping them get there?
1 thought on “The Complications of Hard Work and Privilege”
I think your last question gets at exactly why it can be so hard to talk about the myth of meritocracy in America. I don’t know what the right answer is, but I think your own experience shows that being able to come to terms with one’s privilege takes time and work.
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