Nelson Mandela's work is not done

Article published on Dec. 13, 2013
Article published on Dec. 13, 2013

Nel­son Man­dela is a tal­is­man for the progress that South Africa and in­deed the world as a whole has made in re­gards to rights for black peo­ple. How­ever de­spite the achieve­ments of fig­ures such as Man­dela, King and Mal­colm X, racism still re­mains an in­sid­i­ous force in our world.

 The dis­par­ity in eco­nomic wealth be­tween blacks and whites is vast. The sim­ple fact re­mains on the bal­ance of sta­tis­tics: you are far bet­ter off being white than black in South Africa. The case is the same through­out the world; Man­dela’s mo­men­tous task is cer­tainly not fin­ished. 

In west­ern Eu­rope we often con­grat­u­late our­selves in re­gards to dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism through the lens of rel­a­tivism, nor­mally in re­la­tion to the USA. How­ever dis­cern­ing a so­ci­ety’s progress on dis­crim­i­na­tion through com­par­i­son is facile, es­pe­cially when we de­cide to com­pare our­selves to Amer­ica; a coun­try where three quar­ters of white peo­ple be­lieve racist sen­ti­ments such as ‘Blacks pre­fer to ac­cept wel­fare’ and half be­lieve ‘Black peo­ple are less in­tel­li­gent than white peo­ple.’ Peo­ple love to point to Obama as progress within the States, but what they fail to no­tice is that he is the ninth black sen­a­tor to be ap­pointed since the cre­ation of the Sen­ate in  1789. These anom­alies are being used as a smoke­screen to mask the lack of progress for blacks across the world.

Where are we today?

This does beg the ques­tion, how bad is racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the United King­dom?

Racism in this coun­try has come a long way since Enoch Pow­ell’s in­fa­mous “Rivers of Blood Speech”. Main­stream media queues up to lam­bast Nick Grif­fin, the poster boy for the far right in Britain. The at­ti­tude to overt racism has been by and large pos­i­tive in a de jure and de facto sense, but the real worry is the un­der­cur­rent of dis­crim­i­na­tory sen­ti­ment boil­ing up in the choco­late teapot of failed mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. In the UK we prop­a­gate and en­cour­age a sur­rep­ti­tious dis­crim­i­na­tion, the con­se­quences of which are not as ob­vi­ous but still very dam­ag­ing.

The moul­ders of our so­ci­ety over­rid­ingly ig­nore eth­nic mi­nori­ties. Black peo­ple find them­selves un­der­rep­re­sented in all the top pro­fes­sions, from pol­i­tics to jour­nal­ism, from teach­ing to the city. We often hear about lack of women in board­rooms and pol­i­tics; I think we re­ally do not hear enough about the un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of blacks in promi­nent po­si­tions within our so­ci­eties. 

65% of African-Caribbean chil­dren raised by one par­ent

These in­sti­tu­tions see no wrong with repli­cat­ing them­selves in their image again and again. The prob­lem is com­pounded by a lack of role mod­els for young black men, both in pub­lic po­si­tions and at home. As many as 65% of African-Caribbean chil­dren are raised by one par­ent – nearly al­ways the mother. Turn on the TV as a young black boy and you see black mu­si­cians and sports­men ga­lore; go to your school, your doc­tor, watch the news, look at politi­cians and over­whelm­ingly these peo­ple are likely to be white. Through­out my ed­u­ca­tion in West Lon­don and Buck­ing­hamshire, I was only ever taught by one black teacher.

Some argue that race is not the issue; it’s the so­cioe­co­nomic sit­u­a­tion of an in­di­vid­ual. Black peo­ple are more likely to be poorer, less ed­u­cated, do less well within ed­u­ca­tion, more likely to com­mit crime etc. When other vari­ables are con­sid­ered, race ac­tu­ally plays no part in the like­li­hood of com­mit­ting a crime. 

Sta­tis­tics from Rus­sell group uni­ver­si­ties make for in­ter­est­ing read­ing. Surely this is an area where the play­ing field is lev­eled out? Surely, de­spite being un­der­rep­re­sented at Rus­sell Group Uni­ver­si­ties, blacks per­form as well as their white coun­ter­parts after con­sid­er­ing all other con­trib­u­tory fac­tors, such as prior at­tain­ment, sub­ject of study, age, gen­der, dis­abil­ity, etc. The op­po­site is true. Blacks achieve poorer grades, go into less well paid jobs and have a less well rounded uni­ver­sity ex­pe­ri­ence.   

Blacks sense the glass ceil­ing above them

The cal­i­bra­tion of this prob­lem is ex­tremely com­pli­cated. It stems from child­hood and man­i­fests it­self in the ex­pec­ta­tions of the in­di­vid­ual. What they think so­ci­ety ex­pects them to be and how they feel so­ci­ety treats them; in essence black peo­ple do not have the same con­fi­dence within ed­u­ca­tion or their ca­reers as their white coun­ter­parts. They sense the glass ceil­ing above them and make prag­matic ad­just­ments ac­cord­ingly. Re­search and ques­tion­naires con­ducted at Rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties show that blacks feel less com­fort­able in their ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ment even whilst at uni­ver­sity. They are more likely to ac­cept ad­vice from their peers re­gard­ing work as op­posed to their lec­tur­ers. Their white coun­ter­parts how­ever do not have the same prob­lem in ac­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion from their lec­tur­ers. White stu­dents ap­pear to have a stronger sense of en­ti­tle­ment to seek help from lec­tur­ers, and a greater sense of be­lief that such help would be both forth­com­ing and avail­able.

It is un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect these prob­lems to be erad­i­cated quickly, prob­lems in­grained by years of dis­crim­i­na­tory his­tory. Some whites, and in­deed some blacks shud­der at the prospect of pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion, but what they don’t re­alise is that whites are still the bene­fac­tors of a his­tory and a so­ci­ety that has dis­crim­i­nated in their favour for years. So­ci­eties that are more in­clu­sive, that are able to ef­fec­tively re­lease the po­ten­tial of all their cit­i­zens are the ones that thrive. We have come a long way and we are still mak­ing progress but don’t let Madiba’s death fool you, for he would re­alise that there is still ground to cover until we are truly free. The strug­gle for equal­ity and jus­tice con­tin­ues and we should con­tinue to cam­paign for the re­con­fig­u­ra­tion and re­cal­i­bra­tion of our so­ci­eties until they strike a bal­ance that re­leases the po­ten­tial of all our cit­i­zens.