There is a myth we're making progress here

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The Independent Online

The annual African Caribbean medical society dinner and dance is a fascinating event, I looked eagerly at the names of those attending and what was clear was just how few doctors were present. Compare this to my sister-in-law, a GP in the United States, who can throw a packed party for black doctors who live locally.

The annual African Caribbean medical society dinner and dance is a fascinating event, I looked eagerly at the names of those attending and what was clear was just how few doctors were present. Compare this to my sister-in-law, a GP in the United States, who can throw a packed party for black doctors who live locally.

The big difference is that America has a well organised black middle-class and in Britain we can barely muster a handful to go to medical school. One reason is that America implemented affirmative action. It may be corrupt and abused today but it did deliver a solid and talented black middle-class.

In Britain there is a myth that we, too, are making progress. This is distorted by the cult of celebrity wheremore black television presenters and more black people running for Britain and playing football means that we are seen as part of mainstream Britain.

However The Cosby Show is an American reality and a British myth. There does exist what I call an aspirant, black lower-middle class. Many have middle management jobs in the public sector and have been able to move from the inner city to the suburbs of Croydon or North Wembley.

Ironically, by living just inside the M25 they don't join Britain's real middle-class but the white trash version. These are self-employed builders and decorators or taxi drivers. In a previous life they too lived in the inner-city and when it became too "black" they fled to the outskirts for a better life. In Jamaica they have a wonderful term for this caste of the population, they call them "Hurry come up". The idea is that they may have the money to move into a lovely suburb but not the other refinements. If we are going to talk of any kind of black social mobility in Britain then it is black people in a small measure joining a wealthy version of white van man.

Last week I had a run-in with one of those white van men, which exposed my delusion that I had joined the middle-class. He had a disgusting white van which was used to deliver goods early each morning. According to the rules of the council it was too big to be parked in a suburb. I rang my friendly council and they got it removed. I realised that I was really a black middle-class Brit who had landed in an island of the white "hurry come up".

The vast majority of the black population still occupy the indexes that link them to poverty and social exclusion. This is seen in education, housing, crime and, most importantly, income. We are still surprised to see a black doctor, lawyer, university professor or politician.

The writer is a lecturer at Leeds University

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