Positive discrimination: defining the worthy poor

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Is it discriminatory to offer a bursary for white working-class pupils to attend private school? Dulwich College and Winchester College say yes.

The two private schools are well-recognised for their exclusivity, but have rejected donations totalling to £1 million, because they were attached to ethnic criteria.

The absurdity of their decision highlights without flaw British hypocrisy surrounding race and discrimination.

Sir Bryan Thwaites, an alumnus of both schools and a scholarship beneficiary himself, has demanded: “If Cambridge University can accept a much larger donation in support of black students, why cannot I do the same for underprivileged white British?”

“If Cambridge University can accept a much larger donation in support of black students, why cannot I do the same for underprivileged white British?”

He is referring, of course, to Stormzy’s personal funding of two black British students’ studies at Cambridge. Stormzy revealed this year that he would be funding two more. While the announcement sparked similar debate around racial discrimination, the overall positive consensus shows that the funding of black students (and the consequent discrimination of the white majority) is the kind of discrimination we can tolerate.

The message is clear: so-called positive discrimination is acceptable – or indeed welcomed – when it favours ethnic minorities. In other words, some types of disadvantage are more worthy of assistance than others.

Ultimately, both schools, like many private institutions, financially exclude huge numbers of potential students, from every racial background.

Stormzy saw an opportunity to help disadvantaged people. Those he chose to help were people with whom he felt he had a personal connection. That personal connection was skin colour. Sir Bryan Thwaites, too, saw an opportunity to help disadvantaged people. He, too, chose to help those with whom he felt he had a personal connection, and that personal connection, too, was skin colour.

By allowing one and not the other, we consider the unequal treatment of people based upon their race acceptable. In doing so, we further embed prejudices into our society.

Bryan Thwaites’ donation was intended to help pupils afford the cost of schools they would not otherwise have been able to attend. The colour of those pupils’ skin is irrelevant.

If Dulwich and Winchester would like to become more inclusive, as they have both stated, then both have missed the point. Their politically correct quibbling has obscured the bigger picture. Ultimately, both schools, like many private institutions, financially exclude huge numbers of potential students, from every racial background.

If, however, the schools seek only to appear more inclusive, then they have made the right decision.

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