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Soundings

Theodore Dalrymple
Not All Cultures Are Equal
For young British blacks, academic success means facing ridicule from their black peers.
Spring 2003

According to a survey from Tony Sewell, a black academic at Leeds University, eight out of ten black youths in Britain (meaning, in this context, largely blacks of Jamaican descent) believe that the biggest obstacle to their academic success is other black youths. Blacks fear ridicule and abuse if they are seen to do well academically, or even to try hard to do so: high marks mean low esteem. For black youth, nothing succeeds like failure.

This will come as unwelcome news to Britain’s race-relations bureaucracy, which not only needs ethnic groups to fail, but to fail because of alleged racism. If groups do not succeed for reasons other than racial prejudice—for example, if they fail on account of their own attitudes and values—then the bureaucracy is not merely useless but harmful, for its prescriptions reinforce the very attitudes and subculture that cause failure in the first place.

Failure wouldn’t matter in itself, of course, if people were content to fail: the problem comes when they don’t even try to succeed but nevertheless want and even demand the fruits of success. All kinds of psychological and social pathology follow from this contradiction.

Some of the comments Sewell heard were revealing. One boy said, “I sometimes don’t tell my mates I’ve done well in maths and English, in case they dis me.” A girl noted, “I don’t blame the teachers. . . . It’s mainly black kids with some whites all wanting to act as if they’re the rudest.” A black child who succeeds in school will commonly hear that he is a coconut, black on the outside but white inside—most definitely not “rude.”

If people see success in any but a very small and limiting range of fields (sports, pop music, and so on) as betrayal, it is not surprising that they should fail and become embittered. But in fact, the situation with British black youth is even worse: for the values of black popular culture are calculated to perpetuate social pathology. Young men take having children by several different women as proof of their own masculinity but lack the traditional working-class man’s pride in being a breadwinner for his own offspring. As for the hostility to discipline that they exhibit at school (blacks are three times more likely than any other ethnic group to be expelled from school for violence and other offenses), it is unlikely that it ends once they leave school. But those who cannot tolerate discipline from without, yet have developed no discipline from within, are likely to drift through life bereft of long-term satisfaction and incapable of real achievement.

The resentment of young black men to discipline usually has a strong component of self-righteousness to it, as if by refusing to obey a teacher they are righting historical wrongs. Told constantly that they inhabit a racist society and that “racism disallows dreams,” to quote one commentator, these young men come to the convenient conclusion that effort is pointless and that they might as well do just what they want. Their subsequent failure in life only proves to them how right they were all along.

Not all cultures are equal. Some condemn those immersed in them to perpetual disappointment. Such is the Anglo-Jamaican subculture that has developed in Britain. The now-customary, indeed near-obligatory, flattery of this subculture by public intellectuals, the refusal to condemn any of its degraded values, is not anti-racism: it is a higher racism.

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