The Idea Of Elitism And Its Perils In Society

Elitism Definition. What does Elitism mean?

The era we presently live in is being democratized in a lot of ways and aspects. From rights to privileges, most things are being afforded to most people, regardless of age, gender, class, and ethnicity. People nowadays can get things which, in times past, are prohibited from them due to the characteristics mentioned, or by belonging to them.

Some things and ways, however, remain and persist. Despite the advancement and progress that characterizes modern society, atavistic practices, a drawback from the previous era, still exist and remain prevalent. They still determine the ways and means of most people, as well as the contours those people define themselves. Elitism is just one of those practices.

What is elitism?

Elitism is the idea that people, by belonging to a particular class, gender, culture, sex, race, or nationality, or by having certain attributes, are better than other people. It is the concept, the guiding principle, that gives the right to other people to dominate others and deny to some the privilege and rights which others are being afforded.

That people are better than others is an idea that need not be debated. The difference with elitism, however, is the idea that being better is an intrinsic quality, a particular attribute of belonging to a particular social group. Rights and privileges that must be accorded to persons and groups based on merit and performance are accorded to them by belonging to that particular group.

Elitism, however, is not about just the others being afforded rights and privileges. It is the idea that others are being afforded rights because they are better, that is at the core of the problem of elitism. People must be afforded rights and privileges by being members of society. That there is a group or sector privileged enough more than other, is a problem in itself.

How does elitism impact society?

That the others can have more due to their position in society, and due to them having more resources, is a given, and in itself, expected. When it comes to rights, however, everyone must have equal rights, especially political, civil, and economic. That others have more rights because they are privileged, is a sure sign of elitism, and it is not good.

Even worse, others feel that they are better than their counterparts in society only because they have access to certain things which others do not. That the others have better education, live more comfortably, or more famous, does not mean that their voices are more important than others. But in a society that smacks of elitism and caters to privilege, this is mostly the case.

By giving importance to the privileged, more powerful, better educated, and more famous, the society, in a way, marginalizes other voices, just as important and needed to be heard. The result is a society that caters to the powerful, educated, rich, and famous. This kind of society is expected to be unresponsive to the needs of others, the majority of the populace.

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Elitism in hiring

The great and most obvious example of how elitism impacts and pervades society, is the way the society hires its employees and workers. Most students have attained education that should warrant their inclusion in the society’s workforce. As such, they should not have any problems finding work and making their way into the upper echelons of most companies.

As we all know, however, this is not the case. Despite good education, most students have problems finding work. The most common reason is that most employers prefer those who are graduates of prestigious universities and institutions. They believe that those who graduated from these schools are better than other students.

For those who were hired, the situation does not get any better. Despite working in their respective companies for years, they have a hard time being promoted. The rationale has nothing to do with performance, but rather with their educational attainment.

Most companies are adamant to promote their loyal employees who do not have the necessary ”pedigree” to be members of top management. They prefer those who are graduates of top, prestigious academic institutions, to man the companies and be members of their top management. Despite the education and experience, those employees can never be trusted with leadership.

But why? It is because of elitism. For some reason, they simply do not have confidence in those people. This is even though most of them are employed by companies through the years, are fiercely loyal, and have proven their worth and competence. How many times do we see a prestigious company hiring someone from outside instead of hiring their own?

Surprisingly, the practice persists although people from other colleges can perform and excel in their work, just like other graduates from prestigious educational institutions. That it is pervasive, despite proof to the contrary, shows how intense the hold and belief of our leaders in the idea that only prestigious institutions produce leaders: the very mark of elitism itself.

How to avoid elitism?

Unlike them, we should not be enchanted by prestige and privilege. The idea that one can perform the task or work must be anchored on merit. The greatest way to avoid elitism is to promote meritocracy: the idea that one must be judged, promoted and, be rewarded based on merit. All of us must be measured according to our abilities.

To do so, we must trust our social institutions that promote the idea of fairness, equal rights, and meritocracy. We must believe that public institutions that train our citizens are truly capable of creating individuals that can do whatever tasks or jobs are required of them. Society will create the individuals it needed for progress. No one is better than other by birth or belongingness.

We must also disabuse ourselves of the notion that those who graduated from prestigious institutions, or better than others, one way or another, are better persons. One can certainly be better with regards to the rest, but one can never be better in everything. It is utterly impossible. We must recognize that being better, or even being best, still has its limitations.

Going back to meritocracy, ability must always be the key. Whether carpet making or management, one must be judged as to his ability. It does not matter where one comes from. The important thing is that he is the best with regards to that task. And even then, one must be only judge with regards to that. A great carpenter must be judged with regards to carpentry, and nothing else. Another way to manage elitism in terms of cultural diversity or discrimination is for employers to provide cultural competency training.

The idea of social elitism

The problem with elitism is that it pervades the social system. Going back to carpentry, a carpenter must be judged by his work. According to Sciencedirect, in elitism, however, people who are privileged and powerful ultimately have a say with those things which, most likely, they do not know anything. In an elitist society, a powerful person becomes the final arbiter of most things.

That is why we must avoid elitism in all of its aspects. It breeds reliance on the privileged and powerful on the part of the underprivileged, even on things of which everyone must have a say. On the part of the elites, powerful, and privileged, it breeds contempt against the underprivileged and the marginalized.

An egalitarian society that is responsive and cares for everyone will always value the ability and merit of an individual over the privileges of certain groups and sectors. The degree of elitism in a society is a measure of how far society has moved toward egalitarian ideals. An ordinary person must have an equal say and right against the powerful, and society must ensure that this is the case.

What is Elitism?

Elitism is the idea that people, by belonging to a particular class, gender, culture, sex, race, or nationality, or by having certain attributes, are better than other people.

Elitism article


About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory