Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Role Models Aren't Only Middle-Class

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Role Models Aren't Only Middle-Class

Article excerpt

Black role models are at large. Those with wigs and gowns, police and military officers, doctors, dentists and City wallahs--anyone with an academic or a professional qualification: these are our mentors for black, errant, urban boys.

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Charities are being formed to raise funds in what appears to be largely a private initiative. The blackmail seems to be: "We spend our money at your businesses in the inner city; we demand that you donate to the cause of our youth."

Thus, in the ever-redesigned space of our inner cities, there are mentoring rooms, painted in soothing colours to calm the troubled nerves of our young men who have been reaching for the gun "under stress".

The instinct of any caste or class is to reproduce itself, and so it is with the black and urban middle classes. At the sound of a gunshot, they find ways of recruiting members of the working classes into their social group.

The signs are writ large. On Tuesday 28 August the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, invited scores of black men and women to sup at the Dorchester hotel. We were described as those who had reached the top of our professions and as leaders in the struggle against racism.

Then one of the black weekly newspapers published a pamphlet on the 100 most successful black men and women. Even though it was silly season, it astonished me that the Observer gave this nonsense a double-page spread.

It is in such quasi-anti-racism that deep class snobbery is exposed. There were no working-class heroes mentioned in the list, only middle-class aspirants for whom a university degree is everything.

Permit me to illustrate. In the midst of all this fuss and fanfare, a huge and dramatic moment occupied the national stage. Thousands of prison officers, black, white and Asian, struck in defiance of the government's no-strike legislation. …

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