Of the opinion writers I read regularly in the NYTimes, the one who uses the term “meritocracy” most by far, and with pronounced ambivalence, is Ross Douthat — himself a confessed meritocrat (Hamden Hall Country Day School, magna cum laude Harvard University 2002, Phi Beta Kappa).
And wouldn’t it be especially appealing if — and here I’m afraid I’m going to be very cynical — in the course of relaxing the demands of whiteness you could, just coincidentally, make your own family’s position a little bit more secure?… Not that anyone is consciously thinking like this. What I’m describing is a subtle and subconscious current, deep down in the progressive stream. [my bolding]
Douthat’s leap of intuition at describing “a subtle and subconscious current, deep down in the progressive stream” sounds almost extrasensory. He’s too canny a thinker, however, not to postposition a discrete “maybe” to his insight.
But deep currents can run strong. And if the avowed intention of the moment is to challenge “white fragility” and yet lots of white people seem strangely enthusiastic about the challenge, it’s worth considering that maybe a different kind of fragility is in play: The stress and unhappiness felt by meritocracy’s strivers, who may be open to a revolution that seems to promise more stability and less exhaustion, and asks them only to denounce the “whiteness” of a system that’s made even its most successful participants feel fragile and existentially depressed.
(Ross Douthat, “The Real White Fragility,” NYTimes, 7-18-20)
(c) 2020 JMN