When you look at this picture what do you see? Without any context, I expect most of you may simply say ‘looks like a group of happy black men posing for a picture’. You wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s much more important than that. The building these men are stood in front of is Cambridge University and, it may be surprising to some of you, its not because they stumbled upon it and liked the scenery. These 14 black men are students enrolling at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
I’m now on a nostalgia trip, thinking back to my time in sixth form. I remember dreading the time when I would eventually have to apply to university, I foresaw it as an end to my youth and as a realisation that I would now have to build towards a successful future. I remember my form tutor, a teacher that would register us in the morning, standing before the group and asking the simple question: “anyone hoping to go to Oxford or Cambridge?” In actual fact, that question was anything but simple. For me anyways. You see, it only took a second for a sea of hands to shoot to the sky waving slightly from side to side; with excitement rather than exhaustion. None of those hands were black. Growing up black, you’re faced with a number of stereotypes that will undoubtedly limit your experience of life if you choose to listen to them. “As a black person you can… only listen to rap music… hang out with predominantly black people… wear a hood… be a thief… be stupid” these are all stereotypes that were expected of me growing up. It says a lot when you meet teachers who are shocked you aren’t dumb, when you meet peers who don’t understand why your music palette transcends only gangster rap, when strangers look at you funny because you’re holding the hand of a girl with white skin.
Stereotypes are easy to succumb to because… well, they’re easy. When people expect certain things of you its easier to appease their minds than it is to change them. Whether you’re black, white or any colour of the bloody rainbow, everyone has stereotypes that they are aware of and that they may either choose to contest or accept. On that day, in that classroom, I accepted the stereotype that black people don’t go to the very best universities – “the night life is rubbish… the people there are nerds… you won’t have any fun” I took these reassurances from my peers and convinced myself that these were all reasons to limit my opportunities in life. I can’t say I’m proud of that decision but when you’re young its easier to think that no matter what route you take; you will always make it to the finish line. And I still believe that, only now I prefer the shorter routes.
In the 2015/2016 academic year, out of 3,449 students accepted into Cambridge; only 38 students defined themselves as black. Thirty-eight. Hopefully now you see that this picture means a lot more than it may seem at first glance. It’s a symbol of a stereotype being exposed for just what it is, a stereotype. We don’t have to follow the route that others believe we should be on, we don’t have to limit our opportunities because its easier to ignore a storm than it is to face it full on. Regardless of whether you ignore a storm or not, it’s still there.
‘William Gore, Bez Adeosun, Peter Adefioye, Judah Aiyenuro, Joseph Adikwu, Dennis Mubaiwa, Dami Adebayo, Ife Adepegba , Donte Nembhard, Baba Bob-Soile, Daniel Oluboyede, Michael Samuelson-Beulah, Folajimi Babasola, Ade Omisore.’ These are all the names of the people in this picture. But this picture isn’t exclusive, its much bigger than pixels on a screen.
You, yourself, can add yourself to this picture.
‘I’m a Londoner born and raised. Witnessing excellence in my Local area is worth writing about. What are you most proud of in your area? Let me know.’