I recently wrote an article for Pi Media on the first full year of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage. The school is fully funded and operated by University College London as an attempt to bring a more university-style education to the secondary experience. In the article I tour the building and facilities, plus interview the Prinicipal of the Academy, Geraldine Davies. You can view the article here. It’s also included in Issue 701 of Pi Magazine which you can pick up for free across Bloomsbury or view online here.

“We don’t learn languages very well in this country. So our principle has been to embed one modern and very important language into the life of the school”

Positive Discrimination: A Battle on Moral Grounds

High Rise Flats in Notting Hill

The definition of oneself is always a conflict waiting to happen. So much so that in 2001, 330,000 people described themselves as ‘Jedi Knights’ on the UK census in protest.

IUTLINH can claim to be of mixed heritage. But charting that heritage is nowhere near an easy thing. Half Jamaican, quarter white British and another quarter Dominican – yet this is only one fragment of the complete story, which includes Americans, Chinese and Irish. You could say that my family were never exactly discriminatory, which, oddly enough, segway’s onto the topic in question.

‘Positive discrimination’ (PD) is one of those double negatives that sounds rather pointless at first. Yet, as with many race issues, it finds itself centre of a storm in a teacup. Labour’s controversial All-Women Shortlists are an example, whilst Norway have a government directive forcing public companies to appoint women in at least 40% of non-executive board roles.

The for argument touts a number of statistics showing an obvious lack of representation for minorities (or that small proportion of females we have in our society) in higher professional employment.  Therefore a leg-up in job applications seems necessary for a foothold to be achieved.

On the other hand, people against affirmative action (as its also known), argue that its offensive for minorities to be recruited this way, whilst actively discriminating against qualified individuals because of their more privileged backgrounds.

The problem with the respective arguments is the lack of substantial hard evidence on either side. The debate for and against PD is being fought on absurd moral grounds, rather than on actual information. Companies who do recruit via positive discrimination wouldn’t reveal whether a black candidate has been chosen because he was the best candidate or because they were the best black candidate in order to fulfil a quota.

IUTLINH at WorkThis relates to the original idea for this post. Have I myself been the subject of ‘positive discrimination’, or indeed ‘active discrimination’ – being rejected from an application process on racial grounds? The truthful answer is that I don’t know, and jumping to conclusions will only lead to calls that I’m either a sore loser or ‘arbitrary’ winner.

I would think that I’ve had the average amount of successes and defeats in the employment process. I was rejected from one top university, only to be accepted by another; I’ve failed in some attempts to get a job whilst I was a part-time waiter, but did find employment the first time I actively went out and tried, rather than passively filling out online forms.

So if there can’t be a factual debate, is the moral debate justified? The thing that confuses me about this is how the opposition fails to address the issue at all. They accept that there is a gap between the proportion of minorities or women in society and their representation in top jobs, but fail to put forward any ways of solving this. Either it’s a non-issue, or they herald from the George Osborne school of people who aren’t doing well, just not trying enough.

Yet I don’t blindly support the reasoning for PD. The fact is, discrimination in the UK begins at birth. An overwhelming amount of minorities are brought up in areas and schools that don’t match that of their white British peers. On the most part they fail to get into the best universities and subsequently aren’t chosen for the best jobs. Even if they do, the existence of a glass celling is something to take into account. Maybe positive discrimination isn’t the way forward, but addressing inequality in our education system and creating greater opportunities in poorer communities would be a start.

Equality is a long time off. It will happen at a certain point, but that will only be when we address discrimination in our society at large, rather than battling chunks at a time. A rather big task, but someone must try; if for anything, to end the ‘moral’ debate that rages on.