Once again BBC Panorama pointed at the elephant in the room last week, right after my favourite soap, Easterners. Don’t judge me, who knows what you watch behind closed doors! :-). Cleverly titled ‘Jobs for the Boys?’(I think Panorama intentionally didn’t say black boys), the documentary focused on the difficulty of young black men finding jobs in the UK.
‘49% of young black men (16-24) in the UK are unemployed, this is double the amount of their white counterparts. This is worse than South Africa’. – Quote from the documentary.
We all know high unemployment rates are affecting many countries in the developed world, so what is the fuss about, why did Panorama bother making this documentary? Why are young black boys always moaning? Maybe they are just lazy? This is ‘multi-cultural Britain’ after all! Championship winning ex-Arsenal and England footballer, Sol Campbell was the presenter who listened to disheartening anecdotes, including one boy who was sent back to prison, claiming that without a job, a life of crime is the only way he could survive.
‘It can tough being young, British and black’. – Quote from the documentary
Maybe it’s just a misunderstanding, white employers don’t understand black boys and vice versa? From Liverpool to London, the situation is the same. During a focus group in Merseyside one young man said, ‘in the 80s we (black people) asked why we can’t jobs, they said because we can’t speak English properly. In the 90s they said we were not educated enough. In the last ten years, they said it’s because we don’t have degrees. Now we have all those things…’
‘Why do black boys have a chip on their shoulder?’ – Quote from the documentary
Another young man (the first in his family to go to university) has a degree in Electrical Engineering but hasn’t been able to get a job in the sector. A sector which has complained about the lack of university graduates applying for jobs in that sector. Charities such as LEAP provide vital skills to help boys from ethnic minorities succeed at interviews, such as walking in a straight line (yes, a straight line, so I guess no bopping!) and how to speak etc. During the documentary many boys claimed they sent multiple, even hundreds of CVs but had no job offers. Some did get to second stage interviews but that was as far as they got. It’s not just a race issue, but battle of the sexes too. Unemployment rates among black boys is 25% higher than black girls.
‘These figures aren’t new, they just rarely get reported’. – Quote from the documentary
Now, if these figures are not really new, then when things were good, i.e. before the recession why couldn’t black boys get jobs? Is it a deliberate conspiracy, where black boys are being frozen out of the job market? Are there too many of them in crime? Do black boys only want to be rappers and footballers rather than have a ‘normal’ career?
‘There aren’t enough black role models promoting everyday jobs’. – Quote from the documentary
I think it’s true that many boys, black and non-black want to be footballers; with probably more black boys wanting to be rappers. I could be wrong though; Eminem opened up the white-rapper debate and there are now white female rappers too. Anyway, on the documentary there was a call for successful black men to be mentors. One of the boys went on work experience with a self-employed plumber and found out that after qualifying, he could apply for a grant to start his own business, as most plumbers are self-employed.
‘African-Caribbean graduates are three times more likely to be employed than white graduates’. – Statistic from the documentary
The government has admitted that the disparity in unemployment rates between young black and white men is too large. Part of the problem is ignorance; maybe black boys are not aware of grants that are available to help them start their own business or about careers services in their local areas (this was the case with the electrical engineering graduate in Liverpool). However, I think this is a smaller slice of the pie. One boy wanted to go to university to study architecture but couldn’t afford the fees (I am guessing they were top-up fees) and so opted to do a vocational course in football coaching. This course like other vocational / apprenticeship schemes was a waste of time and he is still jobless kicking a football. Yes, many companies have a positive discrimination / diversity policy but how many black people are in senior jobs in the UK? Not many, but you will see black people in cleaning jobs (all the cleaners in my work place are black), or as cooks and in lower paid positions. I agree that in the work place environment one has to alter their speech to sound ‘professional’ including shouldn’t speak slang, but not all cockney speaking / Essex boys are sitting on plastic crates in Dalston market, but in board rooms and on trading floors of investment banks, insurance companies and law firms.
‘You get judged and put in a category straight away’. – Quote from the documentary
It’s obvious, well it is to me, that these rates of unemployment are no coincidence but something more sinister. I do think that the black community can do more to mitigate this, maybe create their own institutions like in the USA, where there are black-owned banks, TV networks etc, but I guess this would just lead to segregation? If you knock on the door but there is no answer, then you will be forced to build your own house on a rock. I used to think that there were no black role models besides rappers and footballers but then I stumbled across the Power List 2013, the 6th edition of the annual list. Its creator Michael Eboda, wanted to highlight that “there was more to the black community than footballers and entertainers”. How ironic! There is always a cry for black role models in the UK and here is this list that has been published for the last six years. I haven’t heard about it until this year and that was only by accident. The black British community needs to communicate within itself more effectively; it is not just about letting others know. One of the boys in the documentary wanted to be an architect, he was put off by the fees but maybe if he had a little chat with architect David Adjaye, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, who topped this year’s Power List, and is designing the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington DC, costing $500m, maybe he would have felt empowered to make the investment in his education somehow. He would have seen that there is a possibility that he could become an architect too. Apparently 20,000 copies of the Power List were sent to schools across the UK, but is the message really filtering through? Maybe a bigger advertising campaign is required, like TV adverts on specific channels that young black people are likely to watch, like music channels; a scene of a young black person actually reading the list in a TV show targeted at the youth, such as ‘Youngers’ (channel E4). There are several ways to get the message to those who really need to hear it. Yes, all this will cost money, but the cost of disproportionately high unemployment rates will cost the black British community and the government (through welfare benefits) a lot more!
You can watch the documentary Jobs for the Boys? On BBC iPlayer.
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Featured image photo credit: Google images – The Economic Collaspe blog
4 thoughts on “Another one bites the dust – No jobs for black boys”
I watched the Panorma documentary as well and I think you highlighted some of the key issues perfectly! I think it comes down to black ppl in the UK and across the world to educate ourselves – not just academically. We need to better promote ourselves because there ARE black people out there who’ve managed to work their way up as the Power List shows. We need to encourage one another and promote our success more in other areas other than entertainment and that in itself can go some way to doing the job of a mentor by showing young ppl that it can be done.
Fantastic article! I agree it is extremely challenging to secure jobs in the current economic climate. However, I believe this is hard for everyone, regardless of your skin colour. The truth is if we as black men want to make it to the top, we have to take the necessary steps to achieve that. Whether that be studying for years on end, working in low paid jobs, learning to speak correctly or working long hours this is the prelude to success. I believe the problem lies in the fact that we as a people are looking for the easy route, however my experience has taught me there isn’t one.
Thanks very much! Please keep the comments coming :-). I agree hard work is the usual way to ‘success’ and there are some black people who want the easy route (as there are in other races too), but even if you study hard that does not always translate into a good job. There are some highly educated black people that find themselves in low paid jobs and I don’t think the proportion is equivalent when compared to white people (the documentary was mainly comparing whites and blacks).
It’s widely known that John Prescott, former deputy Prime Minister (Labour Party) of the UK was taunted by the opposition of his lack of education after failing 11-plus exams, but he still made it to one of the highest posts in this country. If he was black I don’t think his fate would have been the same. In comparison Barak Obama (the President and not vice-president, I know), went to Harvard Law School! I agree jobs are hard for everyone, but I am convinced by the documentary that the disparity is not just a simple coincidence.