Four years ago, the Sutton Trust for educational mobility, reported that 4 of the top independent schools and one Cambridge based Six Form College sent as many student to Oxbridge as 2000 other schools. The bias in admissions is not new. The worst aspect of the recent criticism, in December 2015, by the cross-party Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (Oxford continues to discriminate against applicants from lower class backgrounds) is that nothing has changed since the previous damning report.
In 2011, PM David Cameron criticised Oxford’s racist policy for only admitting one Black UK student. Not surprisingly, being educated at Eton (one of the independent schools with privileged access to Oxbridge) and not au fait with details of ethnicity, Cameron got the figures wrong. Only 1 Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford: Caribbean does not equal Black! Laughably, Oxford responded with indignation: its figures showed that it had admitted 27 Black UK students. Is 27 better than 1? Well, yes, 26 better, but hardly much to boast about. That 27 would be only 3% of the students supplied by the elite schools and a minimal percentage of all students admitted to Oxford.
The negative attitude within Oxford University towards lower class students and Black students is entrenched. So, the current race row at Oxford is interesting to watch and survey. Oriel College has a commemorative statue of Cecil Rhodes affixed to its college wall: Cecil Rhodes, founder of apartheid as an acceptable philosophy, the man who legislated for the right of owners to beat their slaves (thus reversing what had been removed by the Anti-Slavery abolitionists earlier in the C19) and the Imperialist who believed that White dominance was an educational necessity. Not the best advocate for an Oxford College, but then, maybe he is: Rhodes stands as a prime example of upper class supremacy, elitism and prejudice.
Should the statue of Rhodes be removed? The emeritus fellow of Magdalene college, R W Johnson thinks not. It would be an act of philistinism, much like the destruction of cultural buildings by Islamic terrorists. That isn’t the best comparison for him, as a Rhodes scholar, to make of the Black leader of the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement. Suggesting that Ntokozo Kwabe (another Rhodes scholar) is a terrorist really evokes the language of apartheid.
The noted Jamaican academic Stuart Hall once commented that what he most disliked about being a Rhodes scholar at Oxford was the “distilled Englishness”. This also finds voice in the protesters against the Rhodes statue—it is a symbol of a prejudiced curriculum at Oxford that upholds White supremacist values.
All of this sounds like Dambudzo Marechera at Oxford. He did not know what to do with Oxford and Oxford did not know what to do with him. He realised that he divorced apartheid for an unhappy Black-White educational marriage. Marechera expressed his views on Oxfordian Rhodes and his liking for young male servants, his “lambs”, by transfiguring him into a Black transvestite in “The Alley”. Marechera also summed up his view of Black students at Oxford, in a mocking version of Fanon's Black Skin White Masks, as “chimpanzees…chittering about Rhodes and bananas.” ("Black Skin What Mask", The House of Hunger p.103). Nothing has changed that much.
Privilege arguing against privilege. Oxford should be re-curricularised? Who cares beyond those at Oxford? Would it change much for many? Not at all. Using Rhodes as a figure-head for an attack means little outside Oxford and the Oxfordonians who want to enter the debate. Most of Rhodes’ precious Englishmen and women will not know his reputation. The whole on-going saga stinks of hypocrisy. If Ntokozo Kwabe is so opposed to Rhodes and Oxford, why did he not refuse the Rhodes scholarship and stay away from Oxford? Because he knew that it would be good for his future career, that is why. Really, it is “let’s have the revolution after I’ve gained what came for”. His argument that the Rhodes scholarship money was just taking what Rhodes plundered from his people is worthy of a future barrister/politician. The principled stand would be stay away from tainted funding. It is all very well for Cameron to pluck fine words about too few students in Oxford, but this is the man who allowed Gove to turn the education curriculum backwards and—in a truly Rhodesian move—enshrine the teaching of "British values". If Cameron truly cared about Black pupil achievement, he would recognise what Fanon once said: you do not go around tilting at statues, you set about “decolonising the mind”. If we—as a culture—were engaged in decolonising the curriculum, indeed, removing the restrictions of a curriculum, opening up the education system at primary and secondary levels such that disadvantaged Black pupils are educated rather than schooled, then there might be less Black pupil failure, more Black pupils ready for Oxford and Cambridge…or better still, thinking students ready for more creative and valued degrees outside Oxford and Cambridge. The notion that Black students are disadvantaged and therefore do not succeed likes to place the fault within the the social background of the students. (In the past centuries, it was within the mental capacities of the students). The real issue is that the curriculum is the cause of disadvantage, having little for Black students to identify with or take inspiration from. Cameron has no interest in radicalising Oxford, his Oxford, or the dissolution of the private elite establishment that fashioned him and placed him in Oxford. His words are nothing more than beating nanny with a silver teaspoon and the latest Oxford debacle is a storm in a fluted champagne glass.