Last week, grime MC Stormzy continued his unstoppable crusade into the nation’s hearts in an unlikely manner. After sealing a book deal with Penguin earlier in the year and the continued success of his debut album 'Gang Signs & Prayer', the South London rapper announced a new scholarship for the University of Cambridge, which will fund four places for black British students, paying for tuition fees and a maintenance grant for up to four years. Explaining his reasoning, he told BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat: “It’s so important for black students, especially, to be aware that it can 100 per cent be an option to attend a university of this calibre. We're a minority, the playing ground isn't level for us and it's vital that all potential students are given the same opportunity.”
Above all else, The Stormzy Scholarship is a refreshing and important step towards addressing the decades-long struggle for black students hoping to attend top-tier universities such as Cambridge, an institution long criticised for not admitting many black people. In 2015, just 15 black men were admitted, making up 0.3 per cent of the total students admitted (in comparison, 73 per cent of the admitted students were white men). And last year the university’s African-Caribbean Society shared a series of photos of 14 black men who study there, all of which went viral, shining a bright light on the work that still needs to be done in wiping away racial disparities at elite universities (in 2017 the average acceptance rate for Cambridge was 20 per cent – but 16 per cent for black men and 17 per cent for black women).
Stormzy’s actions are also a positive progression for grime and rap artists making themselves known and heard in the political and social sphere, especially after last year when the likes of himself, JME, Novelist, AJ Tracey and Big Zuu heaped support on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during the 2017 general election, mobilising thousands of young fans to vote. As one of the UK’s biggest cultural voices currently, Stormzy is using his platform to invoke meaningful change for the black community – the underprivileged and ignored who are unable to attend university – and provide real opportunities to advance themselves. Particularly when it is extremely difficult for these young people to gain places among the elite.
Of course, black people are never allowed to have nice things, and the white establishment was bent out of shape when Stormzy announced the scholarship. Some even accused the 25-year-old of racism as the scholarship only caters to black students which provoked, in me, one of those powerful face-palming moments of confusion after something deplorable has been uttered in your direction. In a context where universities such as Cambridge have terrible track records in admitting black people – something the university has admitted to – to deem Stormzy’s efforts racist is laughable, another example of misplaced white outrage and privilege running wild. He is aiming to equalise the academic playing field between black and white in a world where white people are handed opportunities based simply because of their whiteness. Black people have to work twice as hard just to be considered, and to accuse Stormzy of racism is simply ignoring the structural and institutional advantages white people continue to hold. His accusers fail to mention that Cambridge already has a bursary system in place for students with household incomes below £42,620, benefitted mainly by the white working class, meaning they don’t see the bigger picture of Stormzy’s aims. Their objections are screams of fear that the current mode of things is being upset, a typically British response to a person of colour attempting to uplift their community.
The sight of a grime MC from ends gaining enough traction to be able to initiate the scholarship is a victory of age-old black resilience; the idea that, despite whatever barriers are thrown around us, we can still find a way to advance ourselves, on our terms. Black students are the focus because they are just like Stormzy – ambitious, hungry and out to prove their worth to their communities and beyond. Bursaries are also a much relied on means through which black students can attend uni and not worry about the financial burden. They need all the help they can get in a system that doesn’t regard them in the same light as white people, and anyone who doesn’t see that is missing the whole point. His scholarship is simply to tackle discrimination, not to invoke it.
Structural racism, particularly within education, continues to hold back a generation of black students and while Stormzy’s scholarship doesn’t eradicate the problem, it at least provides one answer to it. His actions will no doubt spark debate about what further steps can be made to address racial inequality, as it should, which will hopefully steer the ship in the right direction for the next generation of uni goers. And as for the haters, well, Stormzy himself has quite a popular song telling them what they can do.
Yemi Abiade is Contributing Editor of Trench Mag. Follow him on Twitter