Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dave Harewood’s documentary “Will Britain ever have a black Prime Minister?” is good on analysis but weak on class and solutions

The BBC programme, Will Britain ever have a Black Prime Minister, presented by actor Dave Harewood, provided some devastating facts to illustrate the prejudice that still exists in British society.

Facts like that 45% of black children were growing up in poverty, compared to 25% of whites. A black person is 12 times less likely than a white one to become Prime Minister.

The programme went through the various institutions, such as education, the media, the law and Parliament, finding high barriers in all to the advancement of black people.

There are just 13 black MPs, representing 2% of the total number of MPs, whilst 4% of the total British population is black.

A visit to the BBC news room, revealed a sea of white faces. There was reference to past Director General Greg Dyke’s comment about the corporation being “hideously white.”

Little it would seem has changed throughout the Corporation, though there are more Black And Minority Ethnic (BAME) people fronting programmes like the news, so some might claim a window dressing exercise has taken place.

What the programme did not underline clearly enough was the role of class in keeping working class people out of the top positions in society. The few people who go to public schools, then onto Oxbridge are the ones who dominate the top roles in society – whether it be in Parliament, the City, the law, medicine or education. It is the priveliged route for the very few, mainly white, and wealthy.

Now, within that class definition, race and gender play a key role, disadvantaging people even more. So those with the least chance are likely to be working class BAME females.

The programme presented by David Hare, with Faiza Shaheen, director of the think tank Class, providing the stats, did well in outlining the problem but failed really to provide solutions. There was no mention of things like positive discrimination or forcibly opening up some of these institutions to make them more diverse.

Solutions are what is needed, because a more ethnically and gender representative Parliament say is bound to act differently to one drawn largely from a narrow priveliged band of what are in the main are white males (Faiza Shaheen’s blog provides some answers – see:@faizashaheen).  

These solutions are also part of addressing the increasing feeling of dissolution and disempowerment that was so clearly voiced at the EU referendum, for whatever reason.

It would also be wrong to suggest that if we had a black prime minister all would be well. A black prime minister could be an indication that things are moving in the right direction but not that the problem is solved.

Hare was quick to unfavourably compare Britain with America, which has horrendous race issues. Yes, there maybe more BAME actors in prominent roles in the leading roles in society – most notable being the first black President Barack Obama. But the presidency of Obama provides encapsulates the point, not having done a great deal for the welfare of the average black working class person in America.

If anything, America should provide a salutary class lesson for the Britain, in that in the US there was a tendency amongst some, especially in the middle class commentariat, to treat the election of Obama as a sign of total diversity and that the problems of the black community were no more. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So there is much to be done on both sides of the Atlantic when it comes to giving proper representation for BAME but it is wise to remember that this is only part of a problem that is class based, requiring some major changes in society - if the country is ever to be run for the mass of people as opposed to a narrow clique of the priveliged.

*published Morning Star 17/11/2016 - Class structures hold us back from a black PM  

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