Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Lack of Role Models?

It is fair to say that young people are sometimes wrongly led by modern role models. In a recent survey, careers at the top of young people's lists are no longer doctor or lawyer but singer or sports star.

I'm not sure how such careers got to the top of the list but certainly there is a growing belief, it seems, that success comes on a plate ala X Factor or scouts just arrive from Premier League clubs at your municipal sports ground. It appears that hard slog is no longer on the agenda - and some would say this a direct result of our 'Can Have' rather than a 'Can Do' culture of materialism and new found affluence, perhaps fuelled by the credit boom years since 1997. I don't know.

So scouring the Sunday Times on the weekend, I came across an article in the Appointments Section which intrigued me. Under a general article on the Law as a career, there was a pull out biography of a Mike Pullen, described as a 'Class Warrior'. Mr. Pullen has no doubt had an extraordinary and hard career, having not attended school until 12 as a fairground child. The rest you can read for yourself but suffice to say he is now at the top of his profession and he advises countries on how to deal with the EU and the World Trade Organisation. He cites that he gets on well with Iraqis as he also comes from a 'tribal society', having not lived in a brick building until he was 26. A great 'rags to riches story', it appears - the stuff of role models.

He claims he fought the class system as his accent was a negative for getting into the City, but he did. Pity for us Welsh too but we each have our cross to bear. Then it all goes belly up as he says, "If you want to be controversial, you would say the most disadvantaged minority is the white working class male. They've no role model, apart from drug dealers and footballers."

There was a bit of 'lawyer speak' up front so that you cannot say it was his real opinion but it is clear that it is by glancing at his background. It's the kind of comment that would appeal to Nick Griffin and the BNP Party - successful white lawyer fought prejudice to get to the top and it is a story tinted with colour. White working class men are at a disadvantage - and they don't even have role models.

I think his comment is both dangerous and laced with racial connotations and is not worthy f a successful person. You only have to look at people Lord Sugar or Sir Philip Green to see how people who come from a working class background can get to the top. I am always moved by the story of Bruce Oldfield who came from a Barnardo's Home to rise to the top of his profession - ah, but he was more advantaged because of his colour? There are many, many stories of not just sports people but business people who have made a great fist of their lives yet came from a working class background - and they would be people of any race, sex, colour, or disability. We might find that most people from a working class background who have made success are white - we may not. I would be more interested to know if coming from a working class background is a disadvantage at all - the opportunities are there for those with the commitment to to better themselves. I would suggest there are sectors of society far worse off than white working class males - if Mr. Pullen wants one great role model, look to Simon Weston. Neither his accent or his horrific burns or lack of education has held him back when any one of those could.

I don't see why white working class males should have a role model who is the same as them in terms of colour of their skin - what has that to do with it? I doubt if Tiger Woods thought about his origins when rising up to become the most brilliant golfer in the world in a sport dominated by white people, nor Arthur Ashe or Barack Obama for that matter but in professional careers and business we can all think of many people who rose to the top from working class backgrounds. Looking across the array of successful business or legal people, I suspect that there is a whole array of stories of hardship to get to the top, and it would have involved all sorts of race, sex and disability stories to go with it.

I come from a working class area although my father, a man with no degree, worked his way up from a working class background to become a highly rated professional in the oil business that gave me an advantage in life that I was very grateful for. He was always my role model because he worked hard for what he got and he developed skills and expertise of his own to become an invaluable commodity to his company, BP. It killed him in the end but that is a different story.

It also taught me that you may think you are disadvantaged in life but if all you do is wallow in your situation then it is highly likely that you will stay there. In my final year at college, I was the only graduate in my class who had got a job before my course ended. There was a good reason for that as we were in the turmoil of miner's and steel strikes - the same time as Mike Pullen was graduating the 'University of Life' - I applied to 72 companies, got 55 first interviews, made 23 second interviews and got offered two jobs. I went to work for Hewlett Packard, about who I had no idea when I applied, and the interviews were with real managers who were looking for something different in what was then, and now, a company that held talent in high regard rather than looked at your home background. My accent or background never held me back.

I think Mike Pullen is doing himself a disservice but he is definitely doing a disservice to others. I fail to resonate with his point and I think it is remark savoured by the wrong sort of people and serves as little inspiration to any working class person let alone white males. It is the kind of remark that is at the heart of the BNP's illogical ideal - if you are a white working class male, blame everyone else for your plight except yourself as you are disadvantaged.

How you better yourself has plenty to do with race, colour, age and disability and Britain has a track record of prejudice in all those areas. But to say that white people are discriminated against in Britain is worthy of the BNP only and it's why it is representative of the 'blame culture' that is growing in our society.

We are in a modern world and opportunities to grow ourselves abound. Mike Pullen could be a role model but he didn't have to be white to be one. If he wants to see what disadvantage is all about, take a trip to Africa and see at first hand. His eyes may just get opened.

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