I think that there are overlapping and complementary privileges at work in Britain. White privilege is one but not necessarily the most important. I don’t wish here to try and rank the privileges but let me try and address them. Let’s start with Wealth. The chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak was educated at Winchester College – a fine Independent school, but an expensive one. His parents were sufficiently wealthy to buy him that privilege and he has subsequently had the personal ability to build on it. But he had a head start denied not just to the vast majority on British Asians, it is denied to the vast majority of Britons of all races.
Sunak’s privilege of wealth has allowed him to trump his disadvantage of race. I do not, of course, mean that his race was in any way inherently a real barrier to progress. The reverse seems to apply – British Asian children seem to outperform others at school though whether this is nature or nurture I’m not sure (I suspect the latter). But as Priti Patel has made clear people of colour like her (and Sunak) will face prejudice and discrimination at times. And not all will be able to ease their way around this disadvantage as they have.
Seven percent of children have the exceptional advantage of attending an independent school like Mr Sunak but wealth can buy educational advantage within the state system. Schools vary considerable in quality and there is a clear correlation between the wealth of a location and the quality of the schools. This is the so-called “postcode lottery” though it is less chance than this suggests. If you can afford a house in a more expensive area the schools there will be better. Again wealth buys advantage
Closely linked to wealth is, of course, Class. Again in Sunak’s case his father’s profession as a doctor placed the family firmly in middle class territory. And his education both at school and university will have reinforced that. He also sounds like what he is – a wealthy privileged Brit of colour. I doubt that any doors have ever been closed to him because of his race – as it should be, but all too often isn’t.
The advantages of class and wealth are endemic in British society – there is far too little equality of opportunity. Middle Class parents can buy their children privilege but they can also create a context within which education is valued. If at home there is a bias towards learning – books on shelves and diversity of entertainment choices – then this is an environment helpful to a child’s development – and to the passing of exams !
The evidence of a north/south divide cannot be ignored either. In the map below the percentage of children achieving five or more A to C passes in their GCSE exams is shown. The redder the area the fewer the passes, the bluer the more.
If the discriminators of wealth, class and location can be added to that of race so can Gender. As the Trades Union Unison puts it “Some employers have outdated ideas about what work is appropriate for women, what work is appropriate for men, and how that work should be rewarded.” Look at the Board Rooms of our public limited corporations if you doubt that – and where there are exceptions check whether the presence of some female non executive Directors isn’t tokenism!
The fact that there are a raft of discriminations in British society does not, of course, minimise the significance of racial discrimination. Yes, Black Lives Matter. Yes we need more colour blind selection. As I have written before I believe the instances of racial discrimination in Britain are much greater than the establishment admits to. But our society is inherently discriminatory on many fronts – the goal of genuine equality of opportunity is a long way from being achieved.