Heidi Safia Mirza: Young Female and Black

Young Female and Black is a research study of 198 young women and men who attended two comprehensive schools in London in the late 1980s. The main focus of the study is on 62 black women. The book was published in 1992.

Mirza used a variety of research methods, but this is primarily an example of a qualitative research study using observations and interviews with both pupils and parents. 

The myth of Underachievement 

Mirza argued that there was evidence of racism from some teachers, and that some of the girls felt that teachers had low expectations of them, she argues that these negative labels did not have a negative impact on the girls’ self-esteem.

When asked who they most admired, almost 50% of the girls said themselves, and the black girls in the study achieved better exam results than black boys and white girls in the school, both of which criticise the labelling theory of underachievement.

Types of Teacher

Overt Racists

These teachers were ‘overtly racist’. One of them even used the term ‘wog’ when talking to one of the black girls. The girls tried to avoid these teachers as far as possible and strongly rejected their negative opinions of black people.

The Christians

These teachers had a ‘colour blind’ attitude to ethnic differences. Their attitude was less harmful than that of the overt racists, but did create some problems. For example, they opposed the setting up multi-ethnic working parties because they didn’t believe there was a problem with racism in the school.

The crusaders

These were the teachers who tried to actively develop anti racist teaching strategies in their classrooms, however this could backfire. For example one teacher introduced a role play about a truanting pupil and her social worker, designed to reflect the experience of black pupils. However none of the girls in the class has ever played truant or had a social worker.

The liberal chauvenists

These teachers genuinely wanted to help black students, but their help was often patronizing and counter-productive. For example some teachers insisted black girls did less subjects because they felt they could not cope with a more demanding work load, because of issues like their parents not being able to cope at home.

This later point seems very similar to what Gilborn and Youdell found with banding and streaming!

Despite this, this group of teachers was well respected by the all students and were generally useful in helping identifying the needs of black girls.

Ineffective Teachers and Alternative Strategies

Most of the teachers were genuinley concerned with helping the black girls achieve a decent education, however, most failed to so and negative labelling made if difficult for the girls to realise their full potential.

Despite this, the girls were committed to academic success, but felt it necessary to avoid asking for help from most teachers, which was detrimental to their success.

Conclusions

This is an interesting study that criticises the labelling theory of educational acheivement – the girls did not accept their negative labels from their teachers and had positive self-esteem.

However, the end result was that still failed to reach their full potential because their only coping strategy amidst overt racism and negative labelling was to avoid teachers as far as possible and effectively study by themselves, meaning they were still disadvantaged in education.

Adapted from Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Ethnicity and Inequality in the UK 2017

The issue of why there are inequalities by ethnicity in the UK is a topic which runs all the way through the A level sociology syllabus. This post simply presents some sources which provide information on the extent of inequality in life chances by ethnicity in contemporary Britain.

As it stands, in 2017 it seems that:

  • ethnic minorities are less likely to be offered places at Britain’s top universities
  • ethnic minorities have higher rates of unemployment
  • ethnic minorities are more likely to be arrested, charged, prosecuted and imprisoned.

Ethnic minorities are less likely to be offered places at Britain’s top universities

Russel Group universities are less likely to provide ethnic minorities with offers of a place, even when grades and ‘facilitating subjects’ have been controlled for.

Univeristy ethnicity.jpg

White British students have the highest chance of being offered a place, with 52% of candidates receiving offers, while Black African students have the lowest chance, with only 35% of candidates receiving offers of places. (source: Manchester University Policy Blog, 2015) also see: (source: UCU research paper).

Oxford University has also been accused of being biased against Ethnic Minorities: according to Full Fact – in 2013 the Guardian revealed that only 17.2 percent of ethnic minority applicants were admitted to Oxford University, compared to 25.7 per cent of white applicants, and earlier this year (2017) MP David Lammy argued that this issue has not yet been addressed.

NB – It’s worth mentioning that the Russel Group universities, and Oxford University explain this away by saying that ethnic minority students are more likely to apply for more demanding courses for which they don’t necessarily have the grades, hence their higher rejection rate.

Ethnic minorities have higher unemployment rates

Ethnic Minorities are almost twice as likely to be unemployed compared to white people (source: ONS employment data)

In January – March 2017 the unemployment rate was 4.1% for white people compared to 7.9% for people from a BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) background.

unemployment ethnicity UK 2017

There are significant variations by both specific ethnic and group and age: for example, Bangladeshi and Pakistani Britons have the highest unemployment rates relative to other ethnicity in all ages.

unemployment ethnicity age UK 2017.png

This difference is at least partially explained by the relatively high levels of unemployment among Pakistani and Bangladeshi females, which is significantly higher than male unemployment, a trend on found in these two ethnic groups.

ethnicity unemployment gender UK.png

Ethnic minorities are more likely to be charged for comparable offences

According to a recent study headed by David Lammy MP, ethnic minorities are more likely than white people to be arrested by the police, to be prosecuted by the CPS, and to be sentenced and jailed by judges and juries.

A Guardian article outlining the findings of the report (link above) notes that

‘Disproportional outcomes were particularly noticeable in certain categories of offences. For every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at crown courts for drug offences, the report found, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, the figure is 141 for every 100 white men.’

NB – It’s particularly interesting to note the disparities in sentencing for black women, suggesting a truly massive ‘intersectionality effect’

Race gender crime statistics UK

Comments/ Questions 

This is just a brief ‘update post’ providing links to some recent statistical evidence on ethnic inequalities across a range of topics in A-level sociology.

You should always question the VALIDITY of these statistics – the drug offences stats, for example, do not tell us the severity of offence. It may just be that all of those black women were caught smuggling drugs whereas white women are more likely to be caught ‘merely’ dealing them… not inconceivable!

Also, even if you accept that the stats have at least some validity, you’ll need to dig even deeper to deeper to find out why these inequalities in life chances by ethnicity still exist!

Related Posts

Ethnic inequalities in social mobility 

Criminal Justice, Ethnicity and Racism

 

Tony Sewell – explaining black boys’ underachievement

In this 1997 study Sewell argues that a culture of hyper-masculinity ascribed to by some (but not all) black boys is one of the main factors explaining the educational underachievement of black boys. This study is an interested counter point to previous studies such as those by Cecile Wright and David Gilborn which emphasized negative teacher labeling as the main explanation for differential achievement by ethnicity.

For an overview of the other in-school factors that explain educational achievement by ethnicity, please see this post.

Street culture and black masculinity

An extremely high proportion of Black Caribbean boys are raised in lone-mother household, with the father being absent. In the late 1990s when Sewell conducted his study, 57% of Black Caribbean families with dependent children were headed by a single parent, compared to only 25% of white families.

This means that many black boys lack a father figure to act as a role model and provide discipline while they are growing up, which makes this group more vulnerable to peer pressure.

Young black men are disproportionately drawn into gang culture which emphasizes an aggressive, macho form of masculinity which emphasizes the use of violence as a means to gain respect, values materialist displays of wealth such as the latest street fashions and crime, rather than ‘hard work’ as a quick and easy (‘smart’) route to financial gain.

Do gang culture and hyper masculinity explain the underachievement of Black Caribbean boys?

According to Sewell, this subculture of black masculinity provides peer support which makes up for their sense of rejection by their absent fathers, and for the sense of racism and injustice they feel from wider society.

Black Masculunities in School

Sewell suggests that this type of black masculinity (what he calls ‘hyper-masculinity) comes into conflict with schools. It leads black boys to rejecting the authority of both the teachers and senior leaders and to them not taking school work seriously as this is seen as effeminate and a bit of a ‘mugs game’ compared to the ease with which you can earn money by committing gang related crime.

Conformists – 41% who rejected hyper-masculinity and saw conforming to school rules and hard work as their route to success

Innovators – 35% who saw education as important but rejected the process of formal schooling as it compromised their identity too much. However, they attempted to stay out of trouble.

Retreatists – 6% of students who kept to themselves, mainly SEN students

Rebels – 18% who rejected the norms and values of school and the importance of education. They saw educational qualifications as having no value because Racism in society would disqualify them from many decent jobs anyway. This is the group which adopted hyper-masculinity and were confrontational and challenging.

Rebels?

Evaluation of Sewell

Sewell has been criticised for blaming black culture for black underachievement, however, he is clear that he is only talking about a minority of boys who adopt hyper-black masculinity.

if you look at the percentages above – only 40% of black boys are conformists, so if we take the other three categories together, there is maybe some evidence here that it’s hyper-masculine identities which are holding black Caribbean boys back.

Sewell’s Solution to the underachievement of Black Boys

Sewell’s argues that the solution to black boys underachievement is to provide them with strict schooling that demands high expectations and, as far as is possible, provide them with positive opportunities that middle class students get through their social and cultural capital that middle class students ; effectively he says that if we do this, then this should make up for the disadvantageous they underachieving boys face. Importantly, Sewell, does not seem to accept that disadvantage is an excuse for failure.

Sewell runs the ‘generating genius’ programme – aimed at improving the educational opportunities of disadvantaged students –

Details of Sewell’s  Experiment –  ‘Generating Genius Programme  -how to raise black boys’ achievement
The aim of generating genius was to get 25 black boys, all from failing schools, interested in science and engineering. Starting in 2006, at age 12-13, these boys spent three or more weeks of their summer vacation working alongside scientists at some of Britain’s top universities, such as Imperial College. Sewell claims that these boys got amazing GCSE results, and now that the first wave have had their university acceptances, at least 3 have made it into Oxford and Cambridge.

Sewell argued that Generating Genius worked because it established the right ethos and high expectations – which effectively combated the disadvantages that his students black boys faced – They also created a ‘science crew’ or a learning crew’ – imitating gang mentality (relevant for boys!) and exposing these children to universities at an early age – made them think ‘university is for me!’ and provided the contacts necessary to get them into those unis.

There are lots of limitations to this’ experiment’ – just a few include –

  1. Lacks representativeness – very small sample of ten boys!
  2. Lack of control of variables means we don’t actually know why the boys improved so much – was it due to the contacts, or did they try harder because this was a unique project and thus they felt ‘very special’? (a problem of reliability)
  3. Ignores white working class underachievement (worse than A-C working class!)
  4. Girls also excluded

I also wonder whether or not Sewell’s work really gets to the root of the problem – Class inequality! Summer schools for black boys funded by charities cannot compete with the advantages the upper middle classes give to their children by sending them to £16000/ year prep. Schools such as Sunningdale. Also, Even if you provide fair and equal opportunities for black boys surely Racism in wider society will still disadvantage them as a group compared to white boys?

Sources

Sewell, T (1997) Black Masculinities and Schooling: How Black Boys Survive Modern Schooling

Adapted from Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.