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Another article about black under-achievement making us look bad

December 17, 2010

If you look at the statistics of any organisation, profession or institution that is in the realm of governance, banking or law and find an under-representation of black people, don’t bother with the press release. When the English Defence League said they didn’t want Terry Jones to come over any more because they had reservations about his homophobic and racist views – that was newsworthy. 

Unlike this news. I file news about black under-achievement in the same box as the revelation ‘Berlusconi is a womaniser’. 

Today’s shock report is that one black applicant in 100 gets ‘fast-track’ Whitehall job.

“The problem we have goes right the way down the educational system,” said one civil servant. “This is not about the civil service discriminating against black candidates – it is simply that there are not enough black candidates with the appropriate qualifications.”

‘One civil servant’ is an idiot. The test to get into Fast Track doesn’t ask you ‘what did you get for your GCSEs?’ It tests your aptitude and capacity to fit inside a culture that has one way of thinking. It is a culture that is bureaucratic, hierarchal, full of arse kissing and old fashioned. I know this because I am a civil servant and see this first hand, every day. Where I work, people aren’t known by their expertise. They are known by their pay band. “He’s a PO, she’s an A Band, ignore him, he’s a C”.  I think it’s a disgrace. That’s why I’d fail the Fast Track test. I believe hard work and outcomes should be rewarded. In the Fast Track test, that’s not the answer to what is invariably a trick question. 

The same can be said about the ‘complex’ exercise given to candidates that requires them to prioritise emails. Common sense would tell you the most important emails are the ones with pressing deadlines. Wrong. In the Civil Service, the most important emails are the ones that come from the most important people (or people with the most self-importance). 

Getting ahead in the Civil Service isn’t about having common sense or achieving outcomes, it’s about respecting ‘the way we do things round here’. 

Putting the 'white' in Whitehall

There are enough black candidates with the qualifications. There aren’t enough that can demonstrate they can fit in with the civil service tradition. And good for them. I wouldn’t wish my dreary life on an ambitious young black person. I’m not sure I can respect a young person of any creed that wants to grow up to become a Permanent Secretary. 

It’s about time we stopped making successful white people think highly of themselves by believing in the idea that a: their achievements are the marker for success and b: they navigated a level playing field to attain them. And we need to start asking the right questions. 

Asking why black-people underachieve in the civil service is without purpose. A better question is “Why do white middle-class people over achieve?” What makes this group more pushy, striving and easier to mould than a black person? 

Conventionally, we look at black under-representation and derogatively reflect upon schools, parents, society and black youth itself. Does it not occur to the white establishment to ever reflect upon themselves?

One Comment leave one →
  1. J Schwartz permalink
    December 19, 2010 11:50

    This is actually consistent with what various tests would predict though. It’s a shame the Independent didn’t consult occupational psychologist Linda Gottfredson who has written about this issue.

    Skills gaps, not tests, make proportionality impossible. Gottfredson, Linda S. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Vol 6(1), Mar 2000, 129-143

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