Last night BBC 3 hosted a programme #FreeSpeech. Hosted by Jake Humphrey and co presenter Michelle de Swarte, the “question time on espresso” programme had a lively panel of young people includingJamal Edwards founder of SB.TV, Comedian Kojo, BBC Presenter Cherry Healey and potential UKIP politician Alexandra Swann.
The programme centred on a number of topics including legalising drugs, female rappers, unemployment figures for black males and private schools. On Twitter I decided to talk about the last two and got most responses (no surprise there) for the comments on black unemployment. For me this unearthed a number of questions about race that often get caught up in emotional as opposed to reasoned arguments. This post is about some of the issues raised on twitter and subsequent views on race.
Playing the Race Card
It is so easy for people to use that idiomatic phrase. In my personal opinion I think it is a lazy term to explain some of the more uncomfortable issues. For me race is a social construct. By and large it is a tool for economic and political division, along with class, and it has no real roots in science even if some do try to assign theories to IQ, criminal tendency and other socio-economic arguments. Whilst many will say we are all a human race our society is entrenched in defining people by race. Most people would describe me as black and I often self reference that way too. Police and other security would define me by race, I am an IC3 if you are asking. Politically we are asked to identify by race. Media very often defines by race. Educational demography also has strong elements of race (and gender to be fair) when defining which groups are successful or not. Given that this strong element of race is prevalent in our culture it is no wonder that it is a sensitive subject.
The background for this leads to my point about playing the race card. When a problem is raised in race terms then of course part of the answer means looking at it through the lens of race.
- Analysis by the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Open Society Justice Initiative shows during the past 12 months a black person was 29.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person. (source: Guardian).
- According to the census in 2001 over fifty per cent of black males where living or married to a white or non-black woman. (please note some see this as a problem, I am just curious)
- The ONS data on unemployment suggest that the 56% of black males of the working population aged 16-24 are unemployed, this is compared to 26% asian, 22% mixed and 24% white. In comparison 39% of black females in the same age range are unemployed.
In tackling these subjects and seeking solutions through asking hard questions there are a number of lens including race, class, education, policing, that will lead to an answer. To have suggested as I did on Twitter yesterday and today that when you look through a solution and raise race that you are playing the race card is weak arguing and makes me wonder why the issues of class and education aren’t raised also.
Do I believe in positive discrimination. Hell no. To be honest I am not even a fan of diversity policies as in the main I find them patronising, not dealing with the deeper issue at hand and usually enforced by companies to protect them legally as opposed to embracing difference.
Black Male Unemployment
Working in schools, especially in areas of economic deprivation the biggest issue we have around under achievement is white working class males. A combination of poor education, housing, generational aspiration has left a generation with little or no economic power. Many will end up repeating the cycle of not having worthwhile work, engaging in criminal activity and raising a new generation with the same kind of thinking. Whilst my view here is anecdotal and reflective of my working experience there are organisations like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Sutton Trust and other esteemed researched based charities who have provided the wider evidence that this is true. The solution for this calls for teachers, police and society as a whole to have an honest look at how they perceive white work class males and not being so lazy as to clump them all together as shiftless chavs, neds or whatever regional phrase suits at the time.
At the same token there are ethnic groups of Bengalis, eastern europeans, south east asians and black African and Caribbean males who are also failed in many way by the system. The slight difference being that they are over represented when it comes to school exclusions, police stop and search and employment opportunities. Whilst it is noble and utopian to address the issues of unemployment without looking at these factors, personally I think it is both ignorant and offensive not to take into consideration the fact that the same data defined by race will surely have other racial factors included as part of the argument.
Race Does Need to be Addressed
On Twitter yesterday I had a bit of playful banter with @jacileet (well I hope she saw it that way anyway). I admit I did show off with the words I used, but heck I am in intelligent man who spends time as a speaker talking to corporate audiences around the world both face to face and online. We had banter about the race card. I have stated already I do not favour positive discrimination but at the same token I don’t think it is easy to dismiss looking through the lens of race to correct issues either. Today however another post from a certain @charloteexx in response to me last night told me I should “piss of” and “I talk a load of shit”. I addressed her erudite riposte by asking if she read all the threads I posted. Obviously she had not, but what struck me was that this conversation can never go forward if intelligent and honest conversation cannot be had on the issue. In a society that in so many respects is defined by race (by the way how come black and white are the only colours) how the heck you going to address these situations without challenging the perceptions and assumptions we have around them.
In another conversation last night a lady asked me on Twitter how I explain for black males being the main victims of knife and gun crime. I suggested it depends where. In London, Birmingham and Nottingham there is by far an overrepresentation of black males as victims and perpetrators. However in Manchester, Liverpool, Hull, Glasgow it is white males. Everything in context. I can’t blame her for thinking that way though because the media would suggest as she believes.
I grew up in a community where aspiration was key. Of my inner circle of black male friends I am the only one who did not finish his degree yet we are all successful. We are all aspirational in terms of business or career. All of us were told by our parents that we had to work twice as hard to make it as white people. Whilst we would never say that to our own children this had a lasting effect. We encourage them to be the best they can be. In my work I see a lot of children from all backgrounds who don’t have this and by the very nature of life for many males I am perceived as a role model. With a name like David McQueen the issue of names never affected me but I have spent time coaching some of the brightest minds of black descent who have found it hard to get a job. They have thought of changing their names would help. Or have accent softening coaching. This does not negate the fact that the employment market is tough for all but, and as the TV show addressed yesterday, there is a sector of the community who are looking for answers. They are black males. Just like the fact that women as a whole are drastically affected when recessions hit we need to ask questions why. Am sure if a lady asks the same question, do we ask are they playing the gender card? Suggesting some one is playing the race card just adds insult to injury especially if people are not willing to engage in a reasoned debate around the subject matter.
The conversation continues. Would love your thoughts.
(p.s. Mum if you are reading WTF means What the France? *cough*)