- May 2014
Also, I forgot to mention Joan of Arc here. She certainly deserves a mention here since she was the heroine who helped turn the tide in France's war against the English in the early 1400s.
I actually think that it might be easier for a talented, smart non-White person (especially Black and/or Hispanic person) to rise up the ranks in the US nowadays due to the existence of affirmative action. Since Black and Hispanic talent is more scarce (for instance, I think that there have been no Black Fields Medal winners), it appears to be more valued in our society. A Black mathematician would likely get much more job offers than a White mathematician with a similar resume and achievements would simply because Black mathematicians are much rarer than White mathematicians are. The New York Times recently wrote about the scarcity of Black mathematicians.
To be fair, it's much easier to defy expectations and rise through the social ranks in 20th/21st century America - even if you're non-white - than it was for someone of a low class to rise through the classes in the ancient or medieval world. Ideas of meritocracy simply did not exist in these eras, or at least only very minimally and specifically.