LETTER:Good opportunities for black Britons

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The Independent Online
From Mr Geoffrey Perret

Sir: The admiration you rightly feel for General Colin Powell appears stronger than your grasp of social and racial realities ("Far from the promised land", 10 October). It is a myth that social mobility is sluggish in this country and buoyant in the US. The rate of social mobility, ie the changes in socio-economic status of one generation of people when compared with their parents' - has been approximately 30 per cent in nearly all developed countries, including Britain and the US, since before the Second World War.

Moreover, the US now has, according to the OECD, the smallest middle class, as a proportion of the total population, of any developed nation. This reflects the fact that just 1 per cent of Americans own 40 per cent of the wealth. Britain's top 1 per cent, by way of comparison, owns 18 per cent of the national wealth. On current trends, the US could end up a generation from now with a socio-economic profile more closely resembling that of a Third World nation than anything most people associate with an industrialised country.

Nor can I share your enthusiasm for Clarence Thomas. Millions of Americans believe he perjured himself to get on to the Supreme Court. The circumstances surrounding Thomas's appointment, including George Bush's ludicrous claim that he was "the best qualified person in America", combined tragedy and farce. An example to shame the British people? Perhaps not.

You also forget those black immigrants who have succeeded here, such as Lord Pitt, who arrived with nothing but ability and a commitment to public service, only to conclude his career in the House of Lords and as a widely admired member of one of the most exclusive British clubs of all, the Great and the Good. General Powell's assertion that sergeant- major was the most he could have expected to become had his parents boarded a ship heading for Southampton underestimates both his own talents and this country's.

Yours faithfully,

Geoffrey Perret

Beverley, Humberside

10 October