Blacks and other ethnic minorities in the UK have historically faced discrimination and prejudice. While in recent decades their situation has improved to an extent, they continue to lag behind native Anglo-Saxon Brits in terms of access to quality education, healthcare and job opportunities. The New Labour government in power today has made efforts to rectify this social disparity by introducing educational and cultural programs that would help integrate minority communities into the British mainstream. One such measure targeted at high school and college students in the UK is the Prince’s Trust 12 week programme which “features confidence building, team events, challenges, outdoor activities and fundraising events” (The Birmingham Post, 2006). The program intends to give students from minority communities a chance to gain practical skills that would make a real difference to their community. But in spite of this promise, the statistics pertaining to student enrolment into this programme paints a disappointing picture. The rest of this essay will delve deeper into the underlying causes for this situation.
Firstly, despite several flaws inherent in the 12-Week personal development programme, it has had its share of success as well. For instance, a team of young students participating in a Prince’s Trust 12-week programme run at Bournville College “chose to revamp the neglected memorial garden at Witton Cemetery. The memorial garden was created after the Second World War as a tribute to civilians who had lost their lives and was in desperate need of a facelift. Countless visitors have come to pay their respects since the garden’s restitution, with its upkeep actively undertaken by many local residents.” (The Birmingham Post, 2006)
Talking on the occasion of the team’s success, Steve Perkins of the Prince’s Trust noted that “this team is a great example of how a diverse group of people can learn to look at things in an entirely new way. The enthusiasm and commitment they put into this project after initially showing signs of apathy, has been exceptional.” (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 2008) The story of one particular team member, Danny McErlean, who comes from an ethnic minority background, is quite exceptional. Having left school in his early teens and later running away from his home, Danny found refuge in youth hostels for a while. Throughout these years he was also involved in petty offences and drug abuse. It was in this troubled condition that the 12-Week programme offer came his way. After his enrolment, Danny and his team
“undertook a two-week community project for the National Trust, clearing trees and creating pathways to allow access to a bird hide that the team renovated. Danny excelled at this, securing a work experience placement with the organisation in Birmingham that led to a volunteer-placement with them. During this time Danny worked towards various qualifications that enabled him to become a tour guide. He also continued volunteering for The Prince’s Trust, working as an assistant team leader, to help other young people on the Team programme.” (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 2008)
But it would be simplistic to hail the programme as an unqualified success based on testimonies such as above. In other words, despite the odd success, the process of racial integration and the march toward true multiculturalism in Britain has not taken off yet. The United Kingdom’s projection as a multicultural society has come under greater questioning in the last few decades. The British media – both print and electronic mediums – has also been criticized for its reluctance to discuss openly issues of race and ethnicity in its programmes. The advent of new mediums of communication too has not made a significant contribution toward racial conciliation in Britain. The tendency of the native British to maintain their unique cultural identity has had pervasive effects. In the political front, Britain is still holding on to Pound Sterling even as the rest of Europe is integrating economically and thereby becoming stronger. In the social realm, “the issue of racism has become a latent one, lurking behind media discussions and TV programmes such as the recent five-part “BBC White Season” which focused on what the BBC termed ‘the disappearing White Britain’, and the media’s examination of the 40th anniversary of the infamous speech by the controversial Tory politician, Enoch Powell, who spoke about ‘rivers of blood’ if immigration into the UK was not halted” (Biney, 2008). Such events and political posturing suggest a deep-rooted intolerance for minority communities and a lack of concern for their well-being. Given all this negative baggage, it is understandable why many students from minority ethnics view the Prince’s Trust’s 12-Week program with suspicion and disinterest.