As a child I would spend a lot of time telling people what I couldn't do and what I wouldn't do.
I was quick to decide about the things that I would never be able to do and would never be interested in. As I grew older, my dad became aware of this and started to instil in me a philosophy that I still live by today. My dad told me 'don't close doors on yourself'. My dad made it clear to me that there would be people, and structures that would close doors on me and prevent me from doing certain things, so it was essential that I ensure that I never close doors on myself.
In recent weeks I have read news articles around racial inequality, gender inequality and the way in which elitism still pushes a small number of individuals forward, at the expense of holding the masses back. National statistics in these reports have presented a number of concerning issues:
- Black graduates, on average, earn considerably less money than white graduates who have the same level of qualification.
- Black people are far more likely to be stopped and searched by the police.
- Women are much less likely to rise to leadership and managerial positions than men.
- Even in non fee paying grammar schools, there is a disproportionate amount of wealthy students, and a clear underrepresentation of those who come from a low income background.
News stories that provide us with this information are often praised as being very honest, and very important for the way in which they highlight the inequality that they address, but what impact do they have? I have seen news reports like these throughout my life, and despite them being regularly covered, they rarely seem to change much. Some small progress has been made in the areas that I've mentioned, and I appreciate that it is not within the power or maybe even the remit of the press to solve the problem, but my concern is that the way in which these reports are presented could actually make the problem worse.
We live with sayings, like 'knowledge is power', without ever really questioning them. As a result of this we allow ourselves to believe that when we are provided with information, it can only be a positive thing. On an intellectual level, I would argue that knowledge truly is power and knowing more allows you to do more. What this saying and this idea doesn't consider, is the emotional impact of information. Knowledge is not power, if it all it serves to do is make you feel powerless. Imagine being a 14 year old, black girl from a low income family, in a month which has provided us with news stories about how Britain appears to be unfair to those who are female, those who are black and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. How would you feel? Probably not powerful.
What I often feel that these stories are missing, is a take away message which offers some light and hope. A message that reminds us that despite all of the potential barriers that you may face, there are people like you who have achieved fantastic things and continue to be successful. There are women in some of the most powerful positions in this country and, in fact, in the world, there are black people achieving great levels of success and achieving their dreams, and there are people from low income backgrounds who have reached the highest levels of education and gone on to shape society as we know it.
It sometimes feels justified to acknowledge these reports as evidence that you can not succeed, it sometimes feels logical to stop trying, to spare yourself the heartache of failing as a result of things you have no power over. When we feel like this, we allow our fears to prop up the glass ceiling that we are so desperate to break through. When we do this we take away the need for anyone to close doors on us, as we are already closing them on ourselves. You may not, within you, have the power to change a system that isn't always fair, but you are in control of putting yourself in a position where you can confidently and proudly say "I did everything that I could to achieve my greatest ambitions". That is a massive responsibility and it is yours alone, there are no excuses, or extenuating factors. You have the ability to break through barriers, you have the potential to defeat the odds, you are able to defy the statistics. What are you going to do about it?