The Illusion of Racism and Meritocracy: America, A Melting Pot? by Eunice Ifedayo Ogunlami
Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million people were kidnapped from Africa and sent to the Americas through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Illusion is a concept that describes a perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature. This article aims at examining the illusion of racism and meritocracy in America.
A melting-pot is a metaphor that describes a fusion of diverse cultures, nationalities and ethnicities; mixing, merging and becoming stronger than each individual one. This metaphor is at the heart of America’s immigration system.
Over the years, systems across America have chosen to uphold a universalist opinion that racism isn’t ingrained in the system, or that the education system, for instance, is a meritocracy.
Taking a cursory look at how the slave trade began in America, a group of people with their own culture and traditions were forcefully taken from their homes to work in an entirely different continent; suffice to say that these people also had diversities in their cultures and ways of life. They had their religion, language, customs and traditions that shaped how they related to one another. But the narrative changes when they are taken away. The importance of slavery in America’s past or history isn’t only about forceful removals and plantations; it also suggests a people having indices of their humanity taken from them; indices of their culture like their language, customs etc that formed an integral part of who they are forcefully taken with nothing as much of a prior warning.
They were forcefully made to accept and have ingrained into their system new ways of life and culture that were alien to them. Their names were changed to white names with their last names being the name of a white master, or at best the name of a state or plantation; stifling their resistances.
These people would eventually produce generations after them with no inkling of who they were. Their last names hold no meaning asides from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, neither does it trace them to where they are truly from; with resultant traumatic identity consequences. They are referred to as African-Americans in present-day America; their colour being the only index of their being African, slave history that of their being American. They are acculturated into the American culture without being accepted; non-acceptance is based on one thing – the colour of their skin. This is exactly how racism came to be.
To suggest America as a meritocratic state is to have an illusion of reality or a distorted view at best; with enormous racist examples as parameters. There are individual and systemic forms of racism in the America of today. There are countless stories; from the extreme cases of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; to the mild ones of silent entitlement, suspicions and subtle lack of acknowledgement of mainstream black people in various sectors of the American system.
To also suggest America as a melting pot is to hold the belief that African Americans freely of their own accord, had a merger of some sort. Racism as a result of skin colour alone deprives them of equality in dispositions and socioeconomic privileges that should accrue if America were a melting pot.
On the surface, it seems to be, especially as regards the concept of meritocracy, with enormous improvements and developments in the education and political spheres, but that’s as far as it goes. An in-depth view into the overall mainstream system reveals meritocracy and a melting pot metaphor a distorted reality at best for African Americans.
A short bio: Eunice is a skilled literary analyst with an eagle-eyed creative and innovative mind. Adept at exploring creative ideas and transforming those into an engaging and interesting read. Keen also in providing an error-free output, with a drive for excellence. Also a researcher passionate about the African American story, across history, identity and Afropolitanism. She loves to analyse literary works, with an emphasis on constructive criticism. She is interested in an impact-driven society, with a focus on extolling the reading culture and peer education.