The PJ Tatler

Afrolantica, Part 13: The Roots of the War on Meritocracy

Part 1: A Guided Tour Through Derrick Bell’s Afrolantica Legacies

Part 2: A ‘Euphoria of Freedom’

Part 3: What Could it Mean to Be White?

Part 4: The Wages of Antisemitism

Part 5: Thomas Jefferson, A Symbol of American Racism

Part 6: Why Meritocracy Must Die

Part 7: Unemployment Creates Crack Dealers

Part 8: We Have a Right to Your Property

Part 9: The Birth of ‘Blackness’

Part 10: Apocalyptic Prophet of Racial War?

Part 11: The Brown-Skinned Joan of Arc

Part 12: Critical Race Theory’s Distortion of Trayvon Martin 

From Page 50 of Afrolantica Legacies, an alien prophetess confirms Derrick Bell’s belief that tests scores also play their part in the white supremacist conspiracy:

The source Bell cites to support Chiara’s claim that “these pen and paper tests actually measure past opportunity better than future potential”: Susan Strum and Lani Guinier, “The Future of Affirmative Action: Reclaiming the Innovative Ideal,” 84 California Law Review 953 (1996).

For a summary of Strum and Guinier’s views, consider a different article with a similar title published in 2000 in the Boston Review. The subtitle summarizes their objective:

Promoting diversity in education and employment requires us to rethink testing and “meritocracy.”

Related: See part 6 of the Afrolantica series for analysis of Bell’s attacks on meritocracy.

Here’s Srum and Guinier’s argument:

We think it is time to shift the terrain of debate. We need to situate the conversation about race, gender, and affirmative action in a wider account of democratic opportunity by refocusing attention from the contested periphery of the system of selection to its settled core. The present system measures merit through scores on paper-and-pencil tests. But this measure is fundamentally unfair. In the educational setting, it restricts opportunities for many poor and working-class Americans of all colors and genders who could otherwise obtain a better education. In the employment setting, it restricts access based on inadequate predictors of job performance. In short, it is neither fair nor functional in its distribution of opportunities for admission to higher education, entry-level hiring, and job promotion.

Question: if you need a high-risk, life-or-death operation would you choose the surgeon with the highest GPA or the one who made it in via affirmative action and just barely managed to graduate?

Here are some of the books on my to-read list in the coming months that relate to this subject:

MSNBC host and Nation editor Christopher Hayes publishes his first book in June, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.

Here’s Hayes’s argument:

Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another –  from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball – imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, Americans have historically low levels of trust in their institutions; the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters.

How did we get here? With Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes offers a radically novel answer. Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top. Their ascension heightened social distance and spawned a new American elite–one more prone to failure and corruption than any that came before it.

Mixing deft political analysis, timely social commentary, and deep historical understanding, Twilight of the Elites describes how the society we have come to inhabit – utterly forgiving at the top and relentlessly punitive at the bottom – produces leaders who are out of touch with the people they have been trusted to govern. Hayes argues that the public’s failure to trust the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives.

Upending well-worn ideological and partisan categories, Hayes entirely reorients our perspective on our times. Twilight of the Elites is the defining work of social criticism for the post-bailout age.

Among those urging the consumption of this postmodern repacking of orthodox Marxism:

“A provocation; a challenge; and a major contribution to the great debate over how the American dream can be restored.” – David Frum, contributing editor, DailyBeast/Newsweek

Another book, this one published a few years ago:

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