No Longer Racist…?

22 02 2009

I read today with interest that the MET is apparently “no longer racist” according to Jack Straw. By this he meant that the MET is no longer “institutionally racist” as opposed to specifically racist. That’s great news in the 21st century.

Yet I don’t feel happy about this at all. Racism is still prominant in today’s society. Yet it is not white-on-black racism. Nor is it black-on-white racism. It is, at least in my experience, white-on-white, orchestrated by our caring government.

Allow me to explain. About a month ago I found an interesting job/career opportunity that I was keen to apply for. I read through the information and was hugely encouraged about the opportunity. Until I read one line, “ for a candidate from the Black or Minority Ethnic Communities“. Meaning that I could not apply because I would not be considered for the role. I would not be considered on racial grounds. This is, I am convinced, racial discrimination. I grew more disillusioned as I read the accompanying blurb about the council which said “ [the] Council is committed to ensuring that job applicants are treated fairly and consistently and that no one is disadvantaged or discriminated against because of their gender, ethnicity, age, disability or any other personal characteristic which has no bearing on their ability to do the job“. To my mind, the two statements completely contradict each other. Angry that I was being forced out of applying for the role due to my ethnicity, I wrote to the council in question, demanding answers.

This is the full response:

Thank you for your letter of 3rd February 2009 expressing your concerns that the Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity advertised by [the] Council is only available to a candidate from the Black or Minority Ethnic Communities.

I will try to address the concerns you raise and assure you that the Council is acting responsibly in offering this opportunity.

The post is not a permanent appointment but a Positive Action Traineeship 24 week work placement with bursary.

Positive-action training within the museum sector is part of a much wider initiative to address the under-representation of Black and Minority Ethnic staff in museum services locally, regionally and nationally.

The Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity, which is being hosted by The Arts and Museum Service, is part of a national strategic initiative developed by the Museum Association called the Diversify Scheme. This aims to create long term changes in the cultural diversity of the museum workforce. Diversify has received significant government funding through the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and forms part of the Positive Action training which has been advocated in the museums sector since the late 1990s.

Positive action training is not a quick fix but is designed to create long-term sectoral and cultural changes which will encourage a wider pool of potential applicants for permanent positions. The Arts and Museum Service is committed to supporting this process.

You raised the concern in your letter that the County Council was acting in a discriminatory way in only allowing candidates from Black or Ethnic Minority communities to apply for the Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity. All public authorities have a duty to promote race equality under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

The Race Relations Act does not allow positive discrimination or affirmative action- in other words, an employer cannot try to change the balance of the workforce by selecting someone for a job because she or he is from a particular racial group. This would be discrimination on racial grounds, and unlawful. Selection must be raised on merit and all applicants treated equally.

However, employers can take positive action. The Race Relations Act 1976, Section 37 (1) sets the legal framework for organisations to take positive action. The aim of positive action is to ensure that people from previously excluded minority groups can compete on equal terms with other applicants. It is intended to make up for the accumulated effects of past discrimination. The law does not compel employers to take positive action, but it allows them to do so. Section 37 (1) is the section relevant to running positive action training initiatives.

The enclosed document, “What is Positive Action and How Does it Work”, outlines the rationale behind running this scheme . The scheme was run successfully in the County last year and continues to run across the Region in other organisations including Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

I hope that you are satisfied with my response to your complaint. The Council takes complaints very seriously and we do investigate each one carefully. If you need any further clarification or explanation of what I have told you, please contact me. If you are not satisfied with this response you have a right to request that the matter be reviewed by the Corporate Director at Stage 2 of our Customer Feedback/ Complaints Procedure.

In actual fact, the letter has done nothing to convince me that I was not racially discriminated against, but due to a combination of other things, I have not pursued the issue any further.

There are a few points which jump out at me:

1. They can, apparently, discriminate to make up for past discrimination. The logic is that two wrongs will make a right.

2. They seem to think that because everyone else does similar things that somehow justifies it. It doesn’t, in fact, it makes things worse.

3. They are trying to force an issue here. They have identified that people from minorities are not getting the roles they are advertising, so have simply said that they will only consider people from those backgrounds.

4. They do not offer a similar opportunity for white people.

5. They dress up the discrimination in another term and somehow think that makes it better. It doesn’t.

There is something more fundamental about this problem. I accept that there may not be the numbers of minorities in the library/museum sector. This shouldn’t be made into my problem though. The council have made it my problem because I have been alienated from applying for a role which may be beneficial for my future career. Addressing this issue of a lack of numbers should occur at a lower level, more likely at school level. I do not have the answer to the problem, but I am absolutely convinced that the solution that has been found is completely the wrong one. Racism is not dead, far from it. There is still the more traditional forms of racism, but we should not forget that white people can be discriminated against too. The solution to older problems of racism is to over-compensate now, thus actually remaining racist, but against a group which isn’t allowed by society to complain about it.

Education Stimulation…

18 02 2009

The news today that more and more people are wanting to study at university given the current economic climate comes as no great surprise to me. After all, it was over ten years ago we were promised that half of all A Level students would be going to university. Given the huge downturn in the job market (something I myself am hugely frustrated by), it seems university is the only option for people with scant few other options. This is aided by the provision of loans to students with the proviso that they do not need paying back until the student is earning £15,000 pa. Indeed, it seems university is the only option for many.

The trouble is, there remains a cap on the numbers of students admitted to any one place. Hence why there are only so many places available on any given course. This cap is fine if the numbers of students applying to university remains roughly constant. However, with both the encouragement from the government and the current problems, this number hasn’t remained constant at all. It has risen by 8% for the next academic year. Thus, there is 8% more people competing for the same number of places. There is a presumption here that these candidates will be (generally) applying for the more mid-range universities, rather than the established elite universities. Therefore, the increased competition will be felt keenest at precisely the levels where the competition is already the greatest. A quick scan of UCAS’s website shows that generally, over the past five years, applications have increased, indeed, since 2003 they have increased by roughly 15%, and the number of applicants by 12%. Of the 534,495 applicants in 2007, 413,430 were accepted onto courses. In other words, roughly 23% of candidates were not successful with their applications. This figure is worse than it was in 2003, where it was roughly 21%.

If therefore we map such figures onto next year, we are told “The number of people wanting to study undergraduate courses at UK universities this autumn has risen by 8%. I take this to mean that there are 8% more applicants than last year. So, here’s the math: there is an average growth of 2.75% in applicants for the past five years [more if you ignore the anomalous year of 2006, I didn’t], meaning there would be 564,296 applicants for 2009 [549,194 in 2008]. Which means there would be roughly 432,476 successful applicants.

This is without the extra 8% of applications. Add this figure in and there would be 608,232 applicants. If we assume that the percentage unsuccessful remains the same, there would be 466,149 successful applications. That’s an extra 33,673 people who are rejected from university. Whilst therefore it is true that universities are accepting more people on their courses, the rate of increase is not enough to accomodate the extra 8%. Indeed 142,083 people will not get into university.

There are likely to be numerous reasons for this, but it is clear that the added competition will do nothing to help the situation. This problem, coupled with the inflexibility of the cap of the number of people, means that many will suffer. Those who are applying for the mid-range universities (a quick glance at 2007’s list of numbers applying for individual universities seems to confirm my view) will be the ones forced to suffer the most, as they will have to accept places at universities which may not have been their number one choice, or even number two. This means that they will be taking places at universities asking for lower grades. By definition, these universities are the ones which are not as good as the higher placed ones in league tables.The impact that this could have upon their future careers is hard to say, but it is clear there will be an impact (If, for example, you are an employer and have two candidates with the same degree, but one was from, for example, Kings College London, and the other was from Sandwell College, who would you pick?).

For those people aiming towards the bottom, it seems that they will be the ones to miss out entirely. They will be forced off the bottom rung of the ladder, and will have to seek work after their A Levels, something which is no easy task at the best of times, never mind in the middle of an economic crisis.

As I see it, the remedy to the problem is to relax the cap. This is not to say “remove it all together”, but allowing more people in would help out in the long run. However, this is too idealistic, many universities cannot cope with extra numbers of students, there is not the accomdation, or the teaching staff, or the space. It seems there is potentially a bigger problem emerging then. It also seems that the hope of putting half the student population through university has proven to be poorly thought out. A simple increase in the number of universities will do little to remedy a problem at the other end of the academic spectrum. Of course more students means a need for more accomodation, it’s inevitable. Universities can just about keep up if the increase in the numbers is slow but constant. When however, an extra 8% are dumped into the mix, someone, somewhere will lose out. And not just someone, some 33,673.

Money Talks…

17 02 2009

The news today that three high profile English rugby players are moving to France next season comes just a day after speculation Jonny Wilkinson may also be a target for the French clubs. If the three players in question (James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer) are being honest, they are moving to France not for the quality of rugby (which is good, but, I would suggest, only on a par with English rugby), but instead for the amount of cash they can earn playing there. French rugby, unlike in England, has no wage cap, which means the clubs can afford to pay as much as they can afford. Which therefore means they can attract better players to their clubs, players who are trying to earn enough money to help them when they retire at 35ish.

I can completely understand both sides of the coin here. The three players are trying to look out for their futures. That’s fine. The English leagues are trying to look out for the clubs and the fans alike. Which is also fine. The trouble is, the two cannot overlap, unless the wage cap that exists in England, exists worldwide too. Which is obviously never going to happen. The fear is that rugby will become more like football, with players moving to the highest bidders rather than playing for the love of the club or the sport. English rugby has tried to prevent this, which is why there is not the same level of investment in rugby as football, as teams and squads are limited by the cap, and there is nothing anyone can do to overcome this.

The downside is that high-profile players will become more and more keen to play abroad, where they can earn more money. The English leagues are slightly forcing the hands of players who need to earn as much as they can while they are still playing. There becomes little choice once you know a French club will pay you much more to play for them.

So what can the English RFU do? Not much I would suggest, other than hope that players brought through the ranks at English clubs show loyalty to their clubs. I would think though, that there is little hope of this being successful. Therefore, the only option which becomes available to them is to remove the wage cap and risk falling the same way as football has.

Pieces and Bits…

15 02 2009

I haven’t got anything substantial to write a blog on, so here are a couple of thoughts for you. The first concerns a term that had been used to find this blog.  In finding The Cowfield someone had searched for “What are two causes that contribute to student apathy”. It’s an interesting question, but limited. Obviously there are a whole plethora of reasons that the average student is apathetic, and there are a whole load of things for the average student to be apathetic about. My first instinct was to assume that the question was relevant to student politics, given that is what I have blogged about previously, but, thinking about it, there is much more that students have to be apathetic about: their course, their careers, their friends, their family. Plus anything else you care to mention. Students, it seems, are naturally apathetic beings. Generally. I’m not quite sure why though. Students are young, fresh, keen, intelligent. Yet lazy. Is there a reason for this? Is it that university students are on their own for the first time, not constrained by parents or teachers? Can they not deal with their own freedom in a responsible manner? Does this lead to them being unwillingly apathetic? I’m not sure, but there could be legs in this idea.

My second ponderance is whether there is really such a thing as “free speech”. I’m finding it increasingly easy to argue that there isn’t. My reason for saying this is simple: you cannot say anything you want. Hence, “free speech” is actually a limited term. You cannot, for example, be racist, or sexist. Or anthing else “-ist”. Thus, the concept of free speech is actually a flawed one, simply because you cannot be completely free if you are operating within social boundaries of race, gender, age etc. Free speech therefore is an idealistic term used to give ourselves a sense of superiority over countries controlled by dictatorships. “We have free speech, we can write or say what we want, we are representative of a fair and democratic society, we must be better than you“. Except that we don’t, do we?

Stamford Surprise…

9 02 2009

The surprising dismissal of Luis Felipe Scolari from Chesea this afternoon has revealed much about the nature of the beast. Having courted the Brazillian for so long, it seems counter-logical for Chelsea to sack him at the point the going gets tough. Yet they did. Or rather Abramovich did. Yes, it is true, the Russian owner of Chelsea has had his final, definitive say in the matter.

For Abramovich, sitting fourth in the league is simply not good enough, especially as Chelsea seem so far off the boil they are practically frozen. The fortress that was Stamford Bridge is now little more than a hiderance to players already suffering from a crisis in confidence. So many key players are not performing to the same standard they were a couple of years ago. Drogba is unhappy, Deco is wayward, Terry looks less than composed, Joe Cole is off colour, and try as he might, Frank Lampard cannot continue to carry the team as he has done in recent times. And the reason for all this, is, according to Abramovich, Scolari. The big Brazillian’s first attempt at club management for a long time has imploded spectacularly, despite it being easy to suggest that he was not given a fair stab at things.

For Abramovich, Chelsea remains his plaything. It is true that he does care about the club, and wants success, but he feels that, as owner, it is his call on the major decisions. He forced Mourinho out last season, in what was probably his biggest mistake to date. He sacked Grant and Scolari for little more than a few poor results (Grant had only lost in the Champions League final and finished second to Manchester United). Neither were given a fair crack of the whip. Chelsea were the first rich-mans-plaything in this era of increased wealth from foreign climes. They are still considered the blueprint for league success, and have upped the stakes for other clubs. Suddenly it became hard to compete with them in financial terms, so teams had to find other ways of gaining the upper hand. United succeeded, and there are signs Liverpool have done too. Chelsea’s transfer policy of signing the big-name older players has done for Scolari. Youth is the way forward, yet it was a factor ignored by the previous three managers. Sir Alex Ferguson has often talked about his current team playing together for another ten years at the highest level. That is a sign of his youth policy working. Most of Chelsea’s first team are 30 or over, and it shows. Aston Villa, another team who have invested largely in youth players, have claimed third ahead of the Blues.

Scolari, then, was sacked for two reasons. Firstly, most of his key players are alarmingly off-form. As manager it is his job to correct this element. But, more importantly, I would suggest Scolari has paid the price for a transfer policy which is clearly not of his own making. In this regard I feel sorry for him.


8 02 2009

Just thought I would post a link to an article on the Golden Strawberry. It makes for interesting reading, and is certainly a point of thinking that is worth considering. The article is here. Give it a read.


7 02 2009

So Jeremy Clarkson has got into trouble again. This time for insulting the PM, the blind, and the Scottish, all in one sweeping statement. Only one of which he did. As a voting member of British society, is Clarkson not allowed to express an opinion? Of course he isn’t because he is part of the BBC (the organisation with charred fingers following a series of high profile gaffes).

The reaction to what he said was grossly over the top. It was interpreted, deliberately, in the wrong way. And he was later made to issue an apology to the various groups he had apparently offended. He insulted the PM. He is not the first, nor will he be the last to say such things about our esteemed leader. It is, apparently, fine for cartoonists to point out Brown’s visual deficiency, or indeed his Scottish heritage, and it not to be interpreted as some form of slur on either the blind or the Scots. As soon as these observations are put into words, suddenly there is uproar. It is, quite frankly, pathetic.

It is symptomatic of our society, in which deliberate misinterpretations of any given statement frequently land the person making such a statement in hot water. It is almost sickening. At some point we will not be allowed to say anything derogatory at all, ever. We will, of course, be deliberately offending some part of society. Which, of course, we won’t be doing. Not that that will matter.

Both the blind, and the Scots need to get off their high horses about this. Clarkson was not insulting them. He was insulting the PM, and I, for one, think he should be allowed to express his view with all the freedom of free speech that our democratic society has given him.