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Oh to be young, female and black


What fortunate times these are to be a female university student, especially if you happen to come from an ethnic minority background. ‘Victimhood’ status is conferred automatically. Doubling up by having both attributes is, as Cecil Rhodes noted in a parallel context, ‘to win first prize in the lottery of life’. Rhodes’s boast about the good fortune of being born British now translates into the benefits of gender and non-white skin colour. To update Wordsworth for our own age: ‘Bliss it was in that dawn to be of the fair sex/But to be female and ethnic minority was very heaven.’

Nor are the ‘leg-ups’ associated with race and gender diminishing. The advent of ‘no-platform’ and ‘safe spaces’ policies at universities is taking an even more sinister turn. Restrictions on freedom of speech and on unfettered debate have not gone far enough, it seems. The time has arrived for aberrant, ‘off-message’ professors to have their intellects cleansed. Recantation and re-education are to become the new norm in the senior common room.

The latest chapter in promoting the supremacy of female and ethnic minority ‘rights’ is known as ‘reverse mentoring’. The BBC introduced it last September and now it has spread to universities. Its purpose has been set out by one of its promoters, Professor Jon Rowe of Birmingham University. He told The Times Higher Education Supplement:

In ‘normal’ mentoring, you tend to have a senior person whose job it is to coach a junior person . . . In reversing that we will take, for example, a black, female academic, who will then explain to a senior white, male professor what it’s like being who they are, the journey they’ve come though and the challenges they have faced.’

No mention here, of course, about reversing the ‘reverse mentoring’ and having an older white male professor explain to a young black female what it is like being who they are, the journey they’ve come though and the challenges they have faced.

In terms of empathy ‘reverse mentoring’ is one-way traffic. ‘You must understand me because according to me this is all about me,’ appears to be the gist of this new law of dialectics.

Any esteemed professor wishing to avoid the fate of Sir Tim Hunt of University College London would do well to go along with it. This distinguished Nobel prize-winning scientist was forced to resign for observing that women working in labs have a tendency to ‘cry’ and even to ‘fall in love’. Yes, serious stuff this was judged to be, rather than the bit of verbal silliness he admitted.

So, action has been deemed necessary to bring stale, male white professors into line. The initial cost of the ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme will be £5.5million, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

I do not doubt that racial or gender prejudice occasionally rears its ugly head amongst older members of university authorities, as it does elsewhere in British society. On the whole, though, it is the younger generation with their politically correct credentials who dominate and control thinking at our universities. They are the masters now.

How else can one explain the student attacks on the white male icons of British imperialism such as Cecil Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling but the veneration of arch-imperialist and racist ‘nurse’ Mary Seacole?

Seacole lauded the Empire and was, in today’s terms, a full-on racist. She described the Turks as ‘degenerate Arabs’ who were ‘worse than fleas’ and she was happy to use the n-word for those with skin darker than her own. Her statue was erected a couple of years ago in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital opposite the Houses of Parliament at a cost of half a million pounds. Having a Jamaican background provides her with immunity from criticism and raises her to the status of Britain’s Number 1 black hero/heroine.

‘Reverse mentoring’ should be called out for what it is – intellectual dishonesty and hypocritical nonsense. This is not to say that young people should not be listened to and understood. It is to say that, generally, age brings with it the benefits of experience, hindsight and accumulated knowledge. Formalised mentoring of the old by the young is to turn society upside down. It is revolutionary in the truest sense.

Mostly, the old understand more than the young. There is much truth in the old quip, often attributed to Mark Twain, which comes in a number of versions:

When I was a boy of 18, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 25, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

Age and experience are, of course, revered in most cultures around the world. It was no accident that, during Mao’s cultural revolution, the young turned their fury against Confucianism because of its reverence for ancestors. China’s so-called ‘Four Olds’ of customs, culture, habits and ideas were subject to sustained attack. Much the same was true of Pol Pot’s return of Cambodia to Year Zero.

‘Reverse mentoring’ is another step along the pathway towards purging what remains of intellectual nonconformity – the cornerstone of our once free society.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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