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From the Bible, Psalm 8:4: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Harvard University, Cambridge, United States. Photo: Kelly Sikkema

White US students blast merit because of ‘inherent racial bias’

A guide was created by white American students and academics to denounce the alleged racism of merit which is supposedly prevalent in STEM studies. STEM is an acronym used for studies in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

Published: August 24, 2020, 7:13 am

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    According to the guide, non-whites have to face “barriers to a STEM career” due to “systemic racism”. This happens because “merit” is being used as a criteria, and not the race of the student.

    African Americans is the most underrepresented racial group in engineering faculty positions in the US.

    Graduates as well as student from universities across the US collaborated to create the guide with “responses to 10 common criticisms of anti-racism action in STEM”. Notably, none of the authors identify as black.

    “While observing and participating in recent discussions about the racism that pervades institutions, departments, and scientific discourse, we (the coauthors) have noticed a set of standard arguments against anti-racism action within STEM. Our goal is for this document to facilitate more productive conversations (and in turn, tangible systemic changes) toward addressing racial discrimination in STEM.”

    Statements such as “I only hire/award/cite based on merit; I do not need to consider race,” were dismissed by the group. When employers mention “merit” rather than race, they are “upholding a nonexistent meritocracy” and “are perpetuating the discriminatory status quo by failing to acknowledge the systemic inequities facing BIPOC”. BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.

    “Arguments that support the objective consideration of merit without the overarching context of external factors are often weaponized against diversity efforts.” Therefore, the authors argued “factors outside of one’s control, including race, ethnicity, class, and gender add an extra barrier to their success”.

    The authors maintained that “the racial wealth gap prevents a truly meritocratic system in STEM from existing by placing disproportionate barriers on BIPOC,” and thus “more broadly, the criteria that define ‘merit’ possess inherent bias.”

    In STEM studies “racial bias often manifests as microaggressions”. Because “black scholars are underrepresented in nearly every field of STEM,” this is allegedly proof of “systemic racism”.

    Hiring staff therefore need to become “actively anti-racist” because it is not enough to be “not racist”. The authors claimed that diversity initiatives “in STEM are not a barrier to white scientists; rather, these programs are designed to partially remove a systemic barrier that has been placed on scientists”.

    And because systemic racism is further perpetuated through education, BIPOC students are unable to “escape pervasive discrimination by holding advanced degrees”. They quoted from the book by Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be An Antiracist, which has attracted renewed attention following the death of George Floyd. Kendi wants to make racism unconstitutional in the US.

    The group also advocated a limit to free speech since whites can “debate racism as a detached scholarly exercise because they are not directly harmed by racism”. They compared the effects of racism to the negative implications of smoking, with “dozens of studies that confirm the existence and severity of racism in STEM” concluding that “people who deny the existence of racism are not entitled to equal time and consideration for an opinion that directly contradicts facts”.

    While focusing on the “prevalent” anti-blackness in STEM studies, they noted that it should not “overshadow nor compete with efforts to combat sexism, ableism, or discrimination against other underrepresented minorities”.

    They added that it was their “moral responsibility to leverage our position of privilege and become actively anti-racist” and “hire more faculty of color” and “allocate funding at the institutional level toward diversity initiatives”.

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