Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
In August it was announced that chart-topping rapper Stormzy would be providing a total of 4 scholarships to Cambridge University over the next two years for ‘underprivileged or disadvantaged’ black students. This move has been welcomed by many, including Cambridge University, but there has been an unprecedented backlash with some crying that this type of ‘reverse racism’ is discriminatory.
Let’s get the facts straight. Just because a black rapper is helping deprived black kids, it doesn’t mean white people are suddenly being subjected to a prejudicial system. Indeed, Stormzy’s scholarship programme is an effort to reduce the racial discrimination that’s all too often found in admissions to elite universities. In June of this year, Cambridge admitted that some of their colleges admitted no black students between 2012-2016 and several admitted fewer than ten black pupils over a 5-year period. This archaic attitude towards students from minority backgrounds is shocking, but what is even more disheartening is the negative reaction against someone attempting to alleviate the issue.
Some have questioned what the reaction would have been if such a scheme had been offered exclusively for white people – ironic really, considering that is essentially who the admissions system has been catered towards for years. This is an anti-historical argument that ignores the structural racism that is rampant in society and draws false comparisons between the two groups’ racial experiences. It would be inaccurate to state that all white people are advantaged, but general patterns indicate that in a racial sense, white privilege (and yes, that is a real thing) has meant that white people have been advantaged in the education system, and therefore don’t need a special scholarship to further their careers. Also, Stormzy’s scholarship requires the entrant to be ‘underprivileged’ because it targets those who also suffer a class disadvantage. Poverty disproportionately impacts black communities; thus, this initiative is highlighting both a social and a racial issue that is permeating our society.
However, the problem is entrenched even deeper than this. Just looking at the case of higher education it’s apparent that discrimination has wider impacts than the experience of the individual student. There is a huge underrepresentation of black university professors, partially because the curriculum focuses on white European contributions to history and ignores how black people and racial issues have shaped modernity. Consequently, the heritage of an entire community is marginalised and there are limited role models to whom black students can aspire. The repercussions of this cannot be underestimated. Data indicates that the dropout rate of black university students is disproportionately high, and they are more likely to graduate with a degree marked an entire grade lower than their white counterparts, despite entering university with the same level of qualifications. As a result, they are restricted from higher-paying jobs and from positions of power where they could affect real change. And so the cycle continues.
We cannot pretend that 4 scholarships will reverse centuries of structural inequality, but what Stormzy’s scheme does highlight is that more needs to be done to root out the racism that litters our country. It is a gesture that aims to rectify a shameful legacy of mistreatment and it’s now the duty of all institutions, governments and societies to demand change.