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Lord Dobbs reviews Tony Sewell's 'Black Success: The Surprising Truth'

Lord Sewell | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Lord Dobbs

Lord Dobbs

3 min read

In an age obsessed with white privilege, Lord Sewell wants to talk about Black success. It will irritate some but inspire many more – this is a book for our time

Tony Sewell has done it again. Born in Brixton and nowadays known as Baron Sewell of Sanderstead, his latest book resounds with all the energy and enthusiasm of a man on a lifelong mission. In an age obsessed with white privilege, he wants to talk about Black success – not just his own, but the bright future he wants for others.

Does he believe racism still exists? Of course he does, but Britain has changed, become far more open; he has exorcised his ghosts and wants to enable others to do so. A Prime Minister who isn’t white. Who’d have guessed?

Sewell embraces a host of others to reinforce his case – cricketers, actors, philosophers, even ancient Greek gods. His pursuit of evidence to change the patronising and confused narrative of “white privilege” is remorseless. He claims our imaginations are too deeply rooted in the past and wants us to treat it for what it is – the past.

He hopes this book will be a game-changer

All this comes from a son of the Windrush generation. Those early pioneers disembarked straight into the “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” mentality of that era, yet many found novel ways to overcome the injustices and physical threats. They gave themselves roots and communal strength by collectively buying and sharing their own properties. Stunningly, today those with an African Caribbean heritage are the most likely of any ethnic group to own their homes.

Education is another key part of his argument. Most Black people were brought up on slave history with all its crushing inferiority. Sewell was given no Black heroes in school yet today our society overflows with them – not just in sport and music but in education, the sciences, the arts, medicine, even politics. A platform to build on, not tear down.

His somewhat ironic conclusion is that this has had little to do with race, and everything to do with self-affirmation and the opportunities of our increasingly open society. White working-class kids, he points out, are much worse off.

Black SuccessSewell wasn’t born to his role. He failed his 11+ and got thrown into a comprehensive – these types of schools didn’t discriminate, he says, “they gave an equally terrible education to all”. His schoolboy failure hasn’t stopped him. He has poured his energies and ideas into his charity, Generating Geniuses, based on the belief that a disadvantaged background doesn’t mean kids can’t cope or achieve. What started off with 20 disadvantaged kids in London now has thousands of Stem students around the country. Not bad for a “Black loser”.

His is an outlook forged in the riots of Railton Road in 1981 – “just a stone’s throw from my birthplace”, he ironically tells us. That trial-by-fire forged a resilience that has enabled him to push out against lazy racial stereotypes. He hopes this book will be a game-changer. It will irritate some, inspire many more. At a time when our streets are filled with the sounds of racial hatred, this is a book for our time. 

Lord Dobbs is a Conservative peer

Black Success: The Surprising Truth
By Dr Tony Sewell
Published on 14 March by Forum

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