It’s no secret that graduate life is difficult. Added to that fact that BME graduates are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their white peers then you will understand why I’m about to rant about my frustrations.
I am a young black graduate. In the summer of this year I graduated having achieved a 1st class honours degree in history. It was one of my proudest accomplishments. Having avoided all of the pitfalls associated with growing up black and in the inner city, I felt like now I have finally arrived.
*Now before I really get into this, I am aware that I will achieve what I want and I pretty much know how to get there. This is not some “woe is me” piece on how I feel the “system” is holding me down. I want to highlight real obstacles that are facing people like me and hope that this can be used to spark some discussion about what we can do to overcome them. So fall back with your “pull your socks up” rhetoric. Clear? Good. *
So now that’s out the way, let’s begin.
Recently I was chatting with one of my oldest school friends. Both of grew up in pretty much the same area, are of similar academic intelligence and shared many of the same interests. Our chat (as most of them often are nowadays) was about how the both of us are going to go about achieving our respective career ambitions. He said something that really struck me. I’m paraphrasing here of course: “ Bruv, I swear it’s like we’ve done everything they told us to do you know. We avoided all the traps they set for us to fail as well. We stayed in school, didn’t jump on the roads, we ain’t got no yutes, went uni and applied ourselves and now it’s like they’re telling us “you’ve gone far enough”.
When he said this I swear I was fuming. Not at him, but at the truth he was dropping. You know when you know something, but you don’t know you know it, until someone else says it? Yeah, that’s what happened. Now I am certainly not ignorant to the fact that the infrastructure of this state is not set up in a way to help people like us succeed, and I’ve always known the “work twice as hard” line to be true. However, at that moment I fully deeped that I, and a lot like me, have bruk our backs to gain accreditation from this system (or should I say “shit-stem”) to now be told that this still isn’t good enough. We dedicated ourselves to doing things the “right way”. We were told that by going through the conventional school, then college, then uni route, that we could secure our long term futures. This was in comparison to our peers who were involved in gangs and crime, who we were taught had no foresight and we would ultimately fall behind us. It now almost looks as if both decisions are as short sighted as each other.
Now, before you chastise me, I am by no means saying that choosing to jump on the roads is as viable a life choice as going to university. What I am saying is that going to university completely blind, with the belief that merely by being there you are guaranteed a safe passage through to retirement is as absurd as thinking you have a long term future slanging food (for posh people or those over 35 slanging food = selling drugs). My friend and I weren’t equipped with the knowledge that comes with being from a certain background. We had no clue that networking and who you knew in your field was as important as your credentials. We just knew that you go to uni and you can get a job doing something relevant to your career ambitions. For most graduates this simply hasn’t been the case. We haven’t the network, nor the industry specific knowledge to get our first step on the ladder in our chosen field.
A more interesting stat than the unemployment one would be to see how many black graduates are working in fields related to their degree subject as opposed to white students? Given the socio-economic standing of most black students I feel certain that there is a lot less of us working where we had envisioned. Not through lack of talent, this is purely because we haven’t been able to access the knowledge which would equip us with the necessary tools to achieve our career aspirations.
I feel somewhat played. As if my achievement in succeeding at uni is being used as a positive statistic, so the government can show just how “progressive” we are becoming. But ultimately it hasn’t meant anything yet. Had anybody really cared, they wouldn’t have let us navigate this final furlong of our academic careers based on false knowledge.