Labour MP David Lammy is ‘shocked’ that Oxbridge students are disproportionately white and middle-class with professional parents from the higher social income groups living in London, south-east England and the home counties. That whites are twice as likely to get in as blacks is clear evidence of ‘white, middle class, southern privilege’, ‘social apartheid’, ‘regional bias’, ‘serious inequalities’ and so on. Members of the liberal establishment have joined the chorus and expressed their shock and outrage. ITV’s political editor Robert Peston declared he was embarrassed to have gone to Oxford – and, no doubt, Oxford shares the embarrassment.[pullquote]
But are we really to believe that Oxbridge admissions tutors are institutionally racist white supremacists who actively discriminate against black applicants, or are at the very least ‘subconsciously prejudiced’? Aren’t Oxbridge admissions tutors, by nature liberal and progressive in their political affiliations, not already bending over backwards to attract black students, even to the extent of discriminating in their favour when a black applicant and a white applicant have ‘roughly’ similar grades?
Yes, middle-class whites do have an advantage over their black counterparts in the Oxbridge entrance stakes. But it is a cultural advantage – an advantage, a privilege, that the posturing of identity-politics liberals, like Lammy, only serves to perpetuate.
Those reprehensibly white middle-class professional parents are not merely educated in a formal sense but typically immersed in the dominant culture, the culture of England, a culture rooted in the classical-Judaeo-Christian civilization of the West. They are the beneficiaries of ‘an intellectual, imaginative, moral and emotional inheritance’ (as Michael Oakeshott described it); of critical standards and modes of debate, of characteristic forms of expression and codes of speech, attitudes and sensibilities, irony and humour. And they are engaged, consciously and unconsciously, in transmitting this inheritance to their children. This constitutes the great advantage of white applicants to Oxbridge colleges. The tradition has been badly battered in recent years under the assault of fashionable post-Marxist ideology, of post-modernism, cultural relativism, post-colonialism and the like, the wounds largely self-inflicted. But the tradition survives and has, more-or-less, been kept alive in the public-school system in the form of a ‘liberal education’ – which explains in large part why so many successful Oxbridge applicants are drawn from public schools.
Blacks, on the other hand, labour under a colossal disadvantage. Instead of being initiated wholeheartedly and unashamedly into the dominant culture, a central pillar of which is the Enlightenment principle that the individual is empowered with free will and reason, a universal principle which encompasses all humanity, they are lumbered with a minority racial group identity. They are charged, in the name of multi-culture and diversity, to discover this ethnic identity under the relativistic pretext that all cultures are of equal worth – or would be if only oppressive Western hegemonic structures were dismantled. And central to this ‘black identity’ is the status of victim: victim of white colonial oppression, inheritor of the emotional and psychological scars of enslaved ancestors – or as the ‘Black British-African American’ playwright Bonnie Greer recently put it, blacks are ‘victims and witnesses and bearers of our ancestors’ legacy’. This is all well and good, but it has the unfortunate consequence of making their failings and shortcomings always someone else’s fault. Because they are the victims of historical injustice, institutional racism, cultural imperialism, subconscious prejudice, patronising attitudes, racist modes of thought and expression, and so forth, they are absolved of the need to take personal responsibility for their lives.
Moreover, the Western canon, comprising as it does the thoughts, ideas and critical standards of ‘dead white males’ to the deliberate exclusion of black and brown people (those mute inglorious black Miltons that Western history has marginalised), is itself ‘called into question’. The result is that whereas those initiated into the Western tradition are provided with the critical standards by which to judge and measure their achievements, to discriminate between what is of value and what is not, to recognise what constitutes knowledge and what does not, the self-obsessed victims of identity politics are mired in a complex of resentment, paranoia and self-pity. What school teacher or university tutor nowadays would dare put a line through their black students’ work, or assign them a poor grade, or question their attitude, or admonish them for lack of attention, or draw attention to a lack of knowledge of the dead white males of the Western canon; in short, hold them to the high standards they would expect of their privileged middle-class white students? For they know that this would invite the charge of ‘racism’, or ‘subconscious prejudice’, and jeopardise their career.
Tellingly, other minority groups do not seem to suffer these disadvantages, even though they have suffered their share of prejudice and discrimination. The Jews and the Chinese, for example, preserve their distinct religious traditions, but partake in the host culture and are keen for their children to be educated and assimilated into the Western tradition, which they hold in the highest esteem. Which explains, in turn, why they have been disproportionately successful. No need here for ethnic identity politics or victimhood.
Blacks are the fashionable victims of the fashionable ideology of our age: multi-culture. More than anything, it is the cult of multi-culture, diversity, inclusion and ethnic identity politics, that condemns them to semi-permanent exclusion from the riches of our civilisation, riches to which the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge are – despite their strenuous efforts to deny it – the heirs.[pullquote]
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