William Singer is going to jail. He’s the man who masterminded the college cheating scandal, collecting more than $25 million in bribes between 2011 and 2018 for helping the children of millionaires get into college through what he called “the side door.” More than 50 people got caught up in his scam, including a couple of well-known actresses, and some not so well known corporate CEOs who were willing to pay big money to get their unqualified children into elite colleges like Yale, Georgetown, and Stanford. Singer’s unsavory antics were outrageous – hiring people to take ACT and SAT scores for young people, photo-shopping photos onto athletic bodies, lying about student’s background and athletic prowess. It boiled down to creating opportunity for young people who are already endowed with the blessing of their parent’s wealth. It flies in the face of the notion of meritocracy.
If you are surprised by this entrance-buying scheme, you are deluding yourself, though. Wealthy people have been buying their children’s admission to elite schools for years; they just did it the legal way. They gave substantial contributions to colleges and then asked for a place for their children. Or, they took advantage of the legacy preference (affirmative action for white people) to get their children in. So Singer called himself “the side door” to admissions, with traditional admissions being the front door, and large contributions being the back door. We in the African American community are clear that the front door has often either been closed to us or slammed in our faces, while we lack the wealth to enter the back door or side door. The fact that money buys admission, either through the back or side door makes the notion of “meritocracy” a bad joke.
Meritocracy suggests that people hold power (or have access to things like jobs or college seats) because of their ability, but the current leadership in these United States suggests that meritocracy is a myth. It’s not just that our 45th President seems to lack the ability to behave himself (witness the attacks on John McCain), read a briefing book, or do his job correctly, it’s that he has found a gaggle of miscreants to make and implement public policy. That Betsy DeVos (Devoid of good sense) runs the Department of Education flies in the face of meritocracy. That the man who lives in the House that Enslaved People Built brought his law-breaking daughter and son-in-law onto his staff as “senior advisors” flies in the face of meritocracy. That the administration is actively seeking appeals court judges whose primary qualifications are their youth and conservatism flies in the face of meritocracy! Alison Rushing, at 37, has not even practiced law for a decade but is now a member of the US Court of Appeals in the 4th Circuit. That court covers North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina and Maryland, and convenes in North Carolina, where Ms. Rushing has not even passed a bar exam. But she has a lifetime appointment to the court! What meritocracy?
The college cheating scam is a counterpoint to the myth of meritocracy, but African American people are clear that meritocracy has never worked for us. Even those who get into school “the old fashioned way,” through the front door, come to the door with myriad advantages that many African American students, especially poor, working class and first generation Black students do not have. They’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on prep courses. They’ve used alumni-rich networks for recommendations and advice. They’ve taken advanced classes (International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement) that are not available at all schools, especially inner-city schools. The playing field has never been level, nor has there ever been a meritocracy!
Here is the real tragedy – millions of African American young people can’t afford to go to college, no matter what their merit or ability. When they graduate, many face a hostile job market, and often experience pay discrimination. Not to mention the fact that even walking while Black might get you shot if the wrong police officer finds your walk “threatening.” Meritocracy? Please.