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Book sheds new light on the silent black middle class

‘I AM HERE’: Dr Nicola Rollock (pic: Garry Carbon)

THE TRUE scope and experiences of the black middle class has been explored for the first time in a new book focusing on race and education.

The Colour of Class: The educational strategies of the black middle classes, was launched last month at an event hosted by Thomson Reuters Black Employee Network (BEN).

The book focused primarily on black Caribbean professionals and their experience in raising well-rounded children in a society where racism persists, in spite of how much they earned and includes testimonies brought out in 80 in-depth interviews with middle-class parents.

One of the authors, Dr Nicola Rollock, told The Voice: “Our main research is looking at education, but what people responded wasn’t limited to that.

“One of the things that worried parents where girls were concerned was tackling the question of, can you be both smart and still be desirable to black men. The stereotypes that are perpetuated through MTV show this hyper-sexualised femininity. Some mothers were concerned about whether they could raise a child that recognises there are other ways to be a black woman besides what is perpetuated on MTV. Relating to that was the question, can you be a black female and intelligent because that is not a version of black femininity that you often see.”

The book, co-written by Rollock, Professor Stephen Ball, Professor Carol Vincent and Professor David Gillborn, also revealed that the key concerns for black parents raising sons were centred on issues that happened outside the classroom and on the streets, including policing, stop and search and the potential of them being dragged unwittingly into gangs.

Rollock, the deputy director of Birmingham University’s Centre for Research in Race and Education, explained: “There was a real distinction in terms of concerns. Within this section, we talked about how you raise a child in a society that is racist. When do you tell them about racism? How do you manage that conversation?”

One of the most revealing findings of the study was the size of the small but present group.

Of Britain’s black population, only 6.2 per cent were identified as being in the very highest group in senior level managerial and professional positions, compared with 10 per cent of white British people.

Rollock added: “You go into this thinking I know people who are black and middle class, but it really breaks it down for you in a very visual way.”

The book’s authors found that the majority of the respondents who were objectively middle class based on their career, were hesitant about being identified in such a way.


As Rollock explained: “Some felt reluctant because there was not a big enough group to align themselves to, others felt that to call yourself middle class was something of a misnomer given that if we looked at the white middle classes they have a greater economic power. There was a sense that those things aren’t as strong for us as a group and comparisons were made with African American middle classes in terms of stability and size.

GUESTS: Audience members inspect displays

“For some, they felt very close to their parent’s class position which by and large was working class but not in all cases. They felt saying they were middle class was being a bit dishonest or letting go of their working class roots and those things were important to the way that they saw themselves.”

At the launch, Rollock – one of a handful of few black professors in the UK and one of an even smaller number of black female academics – proudly told guests that she was both black and middle class.

She said: “I quite intentionally held the launch in collaboration with the Black Employment Network at Thompson Reuters. For me, there is something important about the fact that I [as someone who is also Black and middle class] am speaking directly to Black professionals in the room.

“If you work in big institutions, you often feel silenced or made to feel as though you’re a one-off. Only when you come together with others that you realise or look at the data you realise, that you’re not alone.

Rollock continued: “Though I spoke generally on behalf of the other authors, I spoke specifically for myself on this issue. I wanted to name my identity and highlight that we’re not alone in the things we are talking about and still fighting for.

“I think this research is important because it documents our experience because we don’t often talk about being black and middle class in the UK context and just because I’m black and middle class does not mean that I have assimilated to the white middle classes…if you are going to understand the black experience in the UK, this is part of it as well.”

Commenting on the publication of the book, award-winning journalist Gary Younge said: “The dynamics of race and class are different…To try to understand either separately is to misunderstand both completely.

“The challenge for black middle-class parents, as this important new book illustrates, is to navigate the complex terrain of privilege and prejudice, so that whatever advances they have made in their own lives are not erased in the next generation.”

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