Boundaries of Clan and Colour: Transnational Comparisons of Inter-Group Disparity

By William Darity Jr.; Ashwini Deshpande | Go to book overview

6

Multiracialism and meritocracy

Singapore's approach to race and inequality

R. Quinn Moore


Introduction

Throughout much of the world, there has been a strong ideological attachment to the desirability of procedural equality. The logic runs that if the rules are not the same for everyone, the system is simply “not fair.” However in multiracial, multi-ethnic, or otherwise diverse societies, procedural equality often has come under fire when it has not yielded equality of results. “Fair meritocracy” is an ideological attempt to reconcile these two notions of equality. Proponents of fair meritocracy argue that unjust inequality is endemic to strict procedural equality, given the inherited advantages of privileged groups. Inherited wealth, educational advantages, nepotism, and benefits from discrimination against other groups create a “cruel meritocracy” that does not truly reflect the talent and hard work of all individuals.

To counter this meritocratic distortion, fair meritocracy dictates that societies should strive for “fair” equal opportunity in which inherited advantages or disadvantages are compensated for. In other words, efforts should be made to level the playing field for all individuals before competition begins. The resulting meritocracy should yield what is deemed a “justly stratified society, ” and simultaneously reflect both equality of results and procedural equality. Although this approach is ideologically appealing, there are significant obstacles to its practical application, namely the difficulty of removing the socially entrenched advantages of the privileged and the difficulty in assessing when stratification is truly merit-based, given that any privileged group is likely to claim that the wealth distribution is fair.

Singapore represents a practical, if imperfect, attempt at applying “fair” meritocracy to a multiracial society. Throughout its independence and dramatic economic growth, Singapore has maintained a strict adherence to the ideal of a procedurally equal meritocracy, while simultaneously promoting multiracialism as a fundamental national ideal. The struggle to maintain these occasionally conflicting ideals has yielded an interesting mix of policies that seeks to sort individuals objectively while allowing racial groups to compensate for their perceived social and economic disadvantages. Singapore is somewhat unique in actively seeking to achieve a fair meritocracy. However,

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