I thought it would be fitting to end the 2020 series of The Money Spot podcast with a series on the Economics of being black. The issue I would like to explore first is a list of things that could hold a child back before they are even 18.
Where possible, I will depend on UK studies and statistics but if that’s not possible reference will be made to US studies where much more research on race tends to be available.
Having a name that is perceived as “different” may be a factor that exacerbates a black child’s feeling of otherness, of being different to the mainstream.
In the worst case, it may lead to teasing or just feeling discomfort and insecurity with what might seem like innocent questions from teachers, like “how do you say your name?”
I’ll talk more about names in my piece about what holds black adults back.
Personally, our desire for our children not to be discriminated against in mainstream British society was a key consideration in name selection. We want them to blend to the extent possible and didn’t feel that name was an issue they should need to deal with in addition to everything else.
Is there an issue more contentious? My son noticed the difference in his hair before he mentioned that his colour was different to that of everyone else in his class.
There are many anecdotal examples of black children being treated in an unfair way at school on account of their hair, for example:
But, while a name and hair, in addition to skin colour may add to a feeling of being different, there are real and recent statistics from the Social Market Foundation and other research organisations to show that black children are discriminated against at higher rates:
3. The perception of being threatening
There is a perception and stereotype of being threatening which especially haunts black boys. In studies, black boys as young as 5 years old have been perceived as more threatening compared to similar aged white boys which is a scary fact. This has been elicited with tests of association of faces and objects like guns or puppies rather than by asking directly.
And where as being “tall and dark” would give a white boy advantages with perceptions of stature, strength and athleticism – for a black boy the exact same tallness and darkness may only serve to make them appear more threatening and with that all the disadvantages: more regular police stop-and-searches and fewer opportunities. This sentiment is my own, rather than from elsewhere but it is something that recently occurred to me as a risk.
4. At-school and In-class discrimination
The Social Market Foundation reports that “discrimination in education frequently takes place outside of the syllabus. There are a range of institutional practices that underpin Black students’ exclusion and, ultimately, their educational attainment.” For example:
So, unfortunate as it is, black children especially black boys face discrimination at much higher rates at school.
I haven’t found any research to back it up but a friend who works in the field told me that some recent studies suggest that black boys are ahead of all other ethnic groups on entering school but within a year they are behind others because of the poor engagement they receive.
5. Low expectations
Akala in his autobiographical, “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” recounts how he was a gifted child, highly intelligent with a GCSE reading age by the time he was 7 and yet, he was placed in a class with children with learning difficulties. It took his (white) mother advocating for him and speaking up for this to change.
And in her time on Desert Island discs Sonita Alleyne, the first black Master of a Cambridge college admits that exactly the same thing happened to her when she arrived from Barbados as a young child. Placed in the special needs class, her mum walked into school and explained that her daughter’s accent wasn’t a sign or symptom of being stupid.
The most frustrating thing about these examples is that similar things are happening to many black children today and they don’t have an advocate. What of those children that reveal they want to be a doctor, lawyer or astronaut that are told to be realistic and guided towards nursing, hair dressing, plumbing and other manual jobs. Or towards sports and more artistic jobs like music – yes, there are more examples of black people succeeding in these fields but this is simply because you can’t pretend the boy or girl who came first in the 200m sprint actually didn’t. If nurtured correctly there’s nothing to stop black children excelling in any and every field.
Further, many black children up and down Britain simply assume it’s “stupid” or “unrealistic” for them to aim for Oxford and Cambridge and there is no one there telling them otherwise. Conversely, the majority of those in private schools assume it’s a given that they are expected to apply to the top universities.
Not long ago women had many of the same challenges – in her time on Desert Island discs retired surgeon Averil Mansfield (born in 1937) says her mum told her to lie she wanted to be a nurse rather than admit she wanted to be a doctor to avoid the mockery. Any girl can say they want to be a doctor now and no one would bat an eyelid and that is the position I would love all disadvantaged children and black children specifically to get to.
People can live in a vicious cycle of poverty from which they struggle to escape.
What proportion of black children live in poverty?
The Social Metrics Commission found that almost half of people living in a family in the UK where the head of the household is black are in poverty. This compares with 19% or about a fifth for white people.
This means black-headed households in the UK are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts.
Poverty comes with many disadvantages that you can probably list yourself, a few that are commonly discussed in the press include:
These are example economic factors but poverty, of course, also has negative social consequences, living in an economically deprived area may mean increased exposure to crime etc. According to research by the University of Manchester, “a fifth of its Black African, Black Caribbean, and Arab populations live in the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods compared to 8% of the white British population.”
I will tackle “social mobility” in my next instalment, for now it is enough to know that many more black children than white children are living in poverty and therefore do not have access to opportunities taken for granted by middle class and more well off children.
7. Single parent home
This data is a little old (from 2007) but is unlikely to have changed much so I will use it. According to a Metro article, “48% (almost half) of black Caribbean families have one parent, as do 36% (a third) of black African households.” This figure is 10% for Indians (and marginally higher for those of other South Asian background), 15% for the Chinese and 22% (a fifth) for whites.
90% of single-parent families are headed by mothers. Children who grow up without their biological father are more likely to be
I don’t want to stereotype the single parent with lots of dreary stats but suffice it to say having to manage as a single parent according to the data tends to exacerbate poverty – which stands to reason because one person equals fewer resources including services like washing, cooking etc rather than financial resources. It may also mean the child has less access to parental support for homework and possibly other emotional needs.
In summary, before a black child is even a teenager they may face major challenges with their development because they are:
If ALL school teachers could treated ALL children like they are special and going places regardless of race so much progress could be made in erasing educational inequalities between the races. And over the long run, erasing wealth inequality.
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Heather on Wealth
I enjoy helping people think through their personal finances and blog about that here. Join my personal finance community at The Money Spot™.