Do we really need role models?

Award winning barrister and London Met alumnus presented a Tedx talk to the people of Tottenham

Date: 20 January 2016

Tunde Okewale is a familiar face to many of our London Met staff and students. Tunde is an award winning barrister, a passionate advocate for justice and a fairer society, a London Met alumnus and one of our London Met heroes.

This month Tunde presented a TEDx talk in Tottenham called “Do We Really Need Role Models” which explored the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in our society, its impact in relation to gender and ethnicity, the role it plays in disaffected communities and how to effectively challenge this.

He defined the “soft bigotry of low expectations” as the culture and belief that a group of people are better than others based on their gender, their class or their ethnicity.

In his talk Tunde explained that role models and mentors, while they can play an important role, are often anecdotal examples of people who have managed to achieve higher than a bigoted societal expectation. What they fail to do is to change or alter these expectations, they “temporarily take the problem out of sight but never really fix it”.

This topic is close to home for the London Met graduate, as the son of first generation migrants he was the first member of his family to attend university. He graduated with a Bachelors in Law from London Metropolitan University, successfully passed the bar and is now a member of one of the world’s most renowned chambers, where he works alongside Amal Clooney.

Tunde explained that throughout his education he experienced this soft bigotry of low expectations with questions like, “Tunde, what university did you go to?” and “Tunde, are you sure you want to become a barrister?” Although soft, these type of questions represent pre-conceived expectations people hold based on your gender, class, race and prestige of University. Tunde is a shining example that these labels are not indicative of skill, intelligence or worth.

He concludes that by themselves, role models are not enough to bring about change, that systemic change happens firstly at an individual level, secondly from institutions, then at a societal level and finally at a global level. Tunde encouraged the audience to start with themselves, empowering themselves and influencing their circle as the starting point to inciting global change.

In March last year, the secretary of state for education, Nicky Morgan, warned that this soft bigotry of low expectations was holding back poor students because teachers were writing them off as low achievers. Studies have shown that positive expectations get better results.

The Tedx talk was held in Tottenham, north London. It is an independently organised event that aims to give a platform for passionate and driven people of Tottenham to tell their story and to inspire “tottenhamites” to share their love of the area and take ownership of their community.