Saturday, 21 October 2017

Social apartheid: it's not just Oxbridge

'Nearly one in three Oxford colleges failed to admit a single black British A-level student in 2015'.

Are you surprised? Are you surprised that a minority group that is hideously under-represented across top schools, top professions, top companies, top government roles is also under-represented in top universities? Because you probably shouldn’t be.

This week’s headlines have served to remind us that black British people are fighting a system which fails to include them. And it doesn’t begin at university. I’ve spent the past three weeks working at a school in East London which, as you’d imagine, has an extremely diverse student population. Many of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, many don’t see university as something that is ‘for them’ and many feel disenchanted with a system that they don’t feel like they’re part of. So how are we supposed to help them become ‘elite’, and qualify for an application to Oxbridge, let alone a place?

Yesterday a student said to me “teachers judge me for what I look like, they say I’m ghetto and they don’t respect me”. And if that’s how you’re addressed by some of the primary authority figures in your life, what chance do you have of proving them wrong? Every so often we see the ‘stop and search’ statistics and the disproportionate likelihood of being approached (or accused) by the police if you’re black – and we’re all shocked, and then we change nothing. Because black people are in gangs, and black people commit knife crime, and we can blame Muslims for everything else. If that’s how you feel like society sees you, why would you want to be part of it? Similarly, if you go to a school that’s chronically under-funded, you’re not given the support you need despite teachers’ best efforts, then your opportunity to change that perception and have the voice that challenges it is limited too.

The problem is not with Oxbridge, it’s with social mobility and discrimination. Black male graduates are twice as likely to find themselves unemployed a white male graduates, and I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing to do with their degrees. In my previous two jobs, there were some excellent graduates from some top universities – but none of them were black. Lots had been to the same university, or the same school; as much as we try to ignore it, people hire ‘their own’ and those they think are similar to them. By having white men running all our top organisations, unfortunately, we are perpetuating the problem. Diversity still feels like a ‘tick box’, something which is a product of positive discrimination, and treats the symptoms not the problem. For many, it’s too late by then. No one’s been ambitious for them at school, or they’ve an intrinsic sense that school isn’t for them because college isn’t really for them because university definitely isn’t for them; and all the positive discrimination in the world cannot justify hiring a black British person with 3 GCSEs over a white British person with 10 GCSEs, 3 A Levels, a handful of internships and a 2:1 from a Russell Group university. The cycle continues, it remains ‘us’ and ‘them’ and black Brits are unrepresented in society, politics and the economy.

Next time you blame Oxbridge for social inequality, or say ‘aren’t the police awful, falsely accusing all those young black men’, look at yourself in the mirror because you’re part of the problem too.

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