Education, education, education” is a common refrain that black young people hear from family and community members. Work hard in school, go to university and graduate into a better life than the previous generation. Education is meant to be the great equaliser, our inoculation against ethnic penalty in the workplace – one of the most vicious symptoms of racism.
But the latest research provides a damning indictment of this view. Between 2007 and 2017, black male graduates earned a staggering £7,000 less per year than their white counterparts. The same study showed that black male participation has increased in higher education by 24%, compared with a 15% rise for white men. So, black men have been more likely to invest in higher education, even though the returns are diminished. We have become so used to the idea that we have to work twice as hard to get half as far that we now take it for granted.
The lastest findings replicate what we know about racism and the labour market. Black graduates, regardless of gender, are less likely to be employed after graduation and subject to severe ethnic penalties in the job market. Part of the reason for this discrimination in Britain is because of inequalities in the university system. Black people are far less likely to receive a good degree and much more likely to go to less prestigious universities, which are both key barriers to finding a well-paid graduate job. But there is also the truth that the job market has always been discriminatory.
The government had to bring in the Race Relations Act in 1965 in order to protect ethnic minorities from racial discrimination. Even though the act has been strengthened numerous times, there is regular evidence that employers continue to discriminate, on the basis of foreign-sounding names, for example. The unfortunate truth is that it is delusional to pretend that racism can be overcome by amassing more qualifications. Much wider shifts in society are necessary to ensure equality for all.