The White Working Class: An illusion created from English middle class prejudice.

I had no intention of writing about the current BBC series “The White Season,” as for me it typifies the middle class arrogance that has driven almost all positive images of the British working classes from the pages of the national newspapers and off the UK’s TV screens. Not least by painting a middle class caricature of the working classes, which portrays us as work shy thicko’s, who live a demoralized empty lifestyle and who are putty in the hands of BNP racist bigots. Our TV screens are full of programs such as Little Britain and Katherine Tate, that portray us in the aforementioned manner; the common thread that runs through all these programs is that they are made by prejudiced middle class people who have about as much understanding of the working classes as a pea; and the ‘White Season’ is no different.

However when well intentioned leftist columnist like Seumas Milne fall into the same trap whilst attempting to defend working class people, I thought I would give my two pennies worth as an authentic son of the working class, although I ought to admit having a Harry Ramsden’s chain of chip shops on my shoulder when it comes to my class. Firstly lets get some facts out into the open, those who are behind the White Season are not centering on the working classes as they claim, but that section of the lumpen-proletariat that has existed since, if not before Marx and Dickens day; and who the media of the 1990s insultingly termed the ‘underclass.’

Whilst it is true that this lumpen element had an influx of working class people who fell hard and never recovered from the deindustrialization and anti trade union legislation introduced by the Thatcher government. [Which has been kept on the statute book by New Labour] There numbers still only make up a tiny fraction of what can be loosely described as the UK’s working class, and to get their numbers out of all perspective as the White Season does and bracket them as ‘the white working classes,’ is to display either crass stupidity and ignorance or down right middle class prejudice.

To suggest as Seumus has, that some of the worst racism can be found in working classes areas is a complete negation of the truth and worse it refuses to place the responsibility for racism where it initially lays. It was not the working class who institutionalized racism in the Metropolitan Police, nor maintains it in institutions like the British army, elite universities such as Oxbridge, the legal profession and dare I say it journalism. Remind me Seumas, how many black columnists and section editors does the Guardian employ? Before you blanket others as racist perhaps you should wield your extremely talented pen a little closer to home.

The British working class whilst not perfect by any means, is one of the most racially integrated groups of people in the world, why? Because it is amongst us the overwhelming majority of new comers to these islands live. I live in an area which since the 1950s has seen an influx of newcomers from Ireland, Scotland, the Indian sub continent, Bosnia, Poland, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, China and countless other nation’s, plus workers from every corner of the UK. Within a short period of time, after the initial shock of the new has worn off, they became our friends, neighbors, work-mates, son in laws and loved ones, etc, etc.

They join our social and sports clubs and trade unions; and these clubs and trade unions also became theirs, which kinda makes a nonsense of this ‘white working class.’ What you will find is working class people who are white, black and god knows what, living as harmoniously as it is possible for human beings to live. Of course amongst us we have people who suffer from racial prejudices, petty jealousies, and a host of other human weaknesses. Draw back a curtain on Britain’s middle class communities and you would find much the same, what you would not find is the ethnic melting pot that is working class Britain. Yet far from rejoicing in this, the media attack those who cannot bite back, that is the reason the so called ‘underclass’ is targeted in programs such as The White Season, Little Britain and the rest of the middle class crap.

If the media wished to hunt out bigots and racists they would do better by-passing Dagenham and going to the nearest middle class golf club, or if they really want to meet some first class bigots who do much harm, I would suggest the City of London, or perhaps a visit to the so called ‘gentleman’s clubs’ that line London’s Pall Mall, before stopping off at the House of Lords and then on to Rupert Murdoch’s media hub at Wapping.

The reason places like Dagenham has so many disgruntled people is because the multi national company Ford, that directly and indirectly used to employ 50 thousand people in the town, upped and left without a backward glance, leaving thousands without work and a large part of the area a desolate wasteland. Lets put the blame where it lays, not on some mystical bigoted white working class.

What the New Labour governments of Blair and Brown have done, is give confidence to the English middle classes to help claw back the social gains the working classes made in the three decades after the ending of WW2. In the process this has revived and reinforced the age old prejudices and contempt many middle class people have traditionally had for their fellow citizens who are working class. The UK media is putrid with class prejudice of the type a previous generation of middle class people had discarded, due to having fought the second world war and rebuilt post war Britain along side working class people and in the process they had come to understand and respect us. Sadly those heros have now left the stage, to be replaced by middle class in-breads who have been programed with Thatchers brand of neo-liberal hate.

No where is this middle class takeover more obvious than on the nations airwaves, especially in the TV soaps, where even the actors who portray working class children now come from a middle class background, thus we are witnessing the return of the “cor blimey gov, you’re a gent” style of acting.

Search for a regional accent on the BBC and you will search in vain, the front of mic broadcasters are middle class to the core and so are their prejudices. It is the same with those who write the TV shows, these days a Johnny Speight would not get a look in the door, nor would those great working class character actors who learnt their craft in the 1960 and 70’s, Phil Davies and Ray Winstone. As to Michael and Sean forget it, if they were starting out today, they would be seeing out their days at the meat market and on the milk round, for the chorus lines are once again full of nice middle class boys and we are back to the la de da style of acting, epitomized by Hugh Grant and Jude Law.

As to us working class people it is true far to many of us have withdrawn from the political fray, but can you blame us when not one of the mainstream parties represent our best interest but work actively against it. Nevertheless life goes on, we work, feed our families, have fun, take pride in our children and do our best to stand with our aging parents. True we are not the same class that we were in the 1950s and 60s, although in some ways we are better, we are less deferential, many of our children have gone to university, but still not yet enough.

Our employers try to treat us like shit as they always have, we do all we can to see they do not, our trade unions are still battling on and amongst us are more trade unionists than in almost any other Western nation. The difference between now and the past is that employers also treat their middle class employees like shit, some progress ah?

If we are to see any real political progress in this country that benefits all, the middle class must stop taking bites out of the working classes, whether culturally or economically; and join with us in a common crusade, for who can really doubt when this last occurred and jointly we created the NHS and the Welfare State, it was socially the UK’s finest hour. However if the middle class choose to continue to go down their current road, they would do well to remember if you put your head in a sleeping tigers mouth, you can hardly complain when it gets bitten off.

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8 Comments

Filed under middle-class-bigots, Organized Rage, reform-or-revolution, socialism, The working-class, UK

8 responses to “The White Working Class: An illusion created from English middle class prejudice.

  1. Richard Paul Hamilton

    I couldn’t agree more. I too am from a working class background but am currently working as an academic. I have never encountered such naked hatred as from some of my professional peers in the UK.
    A friend of mine who is in a similar position was interviewed for a job a while back and he says the impression of discomfort the interviewer emanated stemmed largely from the fact that he had never been in the same room as a working-class person before unless he was paying him to do something

  2. Mick Hall

    Thanks Paul, I appreciate your comments, very interesting, I am gland I am not the only one who has noticed this change in attitudes.

  3. Mick Hall

    Richard

    Sorry, your first name did not appear in my post above, not sure why, opps 😉

  4. Paul

    Mick, there is some truth in what you say but there is also some knee-jerk nonsense, such as:

    Search for a regional accent on the BBC and you will search in vain.

    This is palpably untrue. For example, Andy Kershaw had a long run on the BBC and the reason he’s not on any more is not because of his (or his sister’s) Rochdale accent but because he lost his head.

    I think that too much of what you have written here is motivated by your own class prejudice when what’s needed in criticising this season is something more hard-headed. I’m not clear what you mean by ‘middle class’, and I note that some of what you say seems to elide the bourgeoisie/capitalist class with the ‘middle classes’. To me that seems to be accepting the prevailing ruling class ideology which might well say that we’re all middle class now except for some ‘backward elements’ who lack aspiration but including the royal family and Richard Branson or Alan Sugar.

    This season concentrated on places where immigration and ethnic divisions are sharp and there is a clear resentment in the white working class, some of it ‘lumpen’ and some of it’respectable’. However there is quite a lot of it about, in many cases in places which were relatively untouched by it in the second half of the 20th century.

    You talk of working class race prejudice as a marginal phenomenon:

    What you will find is working class people who are white, black and god know what, living as harmoniously as it is possible for human beings to live. Of course amongst us we have people who suffer from racial prejudices, petty jealousies, and a host of other human weaknesses.

    To concentrate on Bradford, as the place where I have the greatest experience and which this season looked at more than once, I think perhaps you could have said that 20 years ago, but it’s very doubtful that it’s adequate now. I think that the election of BNP councillors is one piece of evidence of that, and although they’ve fallen back they still have some. As you say, this is not restricted to working class voters but I think it would be true to say that the BNP vote was mostly working class and not only in the most marginal areas.

    In some ways Bradford is a nice place to live, but in others it’s a nightmare. I don’t think what you write gets to it, and I’d hazard a guess that’s true in East London as well. It doesn’t address what’s happened to the working class or to ‘middle class’ strata in such areas either. You don’t address the relationship between the Labour Party and its historic social base either, which is one factor, and your only mention of Labour is in a sentence with a particularly slapdash use of the term ‘middle class’.

    I think you really need to think through what you mean by middle class, because otherwise how would you deal with someone like the man in the programme about Wibsey who says he’s not working class because he owns his own house and car and goes on foreign holidays? Or a woman says she’s working class because of where she comes from although she has worked in ‘middle class’ occupations (mostly education) all her adult life and is a higher rate tazpayer? At the risk of falling back on the concept of false consciousness, it ain’t so, but it is a vivid example of the problem of identity, and the risk of identity-based politics, and to me it seems you’re in that trap.

    Comradely,

    Paul

  5. Mick Hall

    Paul,

    My piece was not theoretical, nor an attempt to look at the changes that have taken place with in the British working class since 1979. It was a heartfelt defense of my class which is daily slandered in the media.

    I feel you are being a little disingenuous to ask what do I mean by working class , nor with respect do I need to think through what I mean by working class. For it is a sad fact of living in England that people instinctively know to which class they belong; as our whole life experiences drums this fact into us. This is as true about the middle class as it is the working class etc.

    The woman in the program who said she was working class is correct, for what class we belong to is not just about money and possessions, working class people have a distinct culture which is different from their middle class counterparts and I have to say here, even middle class comrades often find it difficult to understand this, preferring to see us as a single homogenous block.

    For example before he died, Ronnie Kray was still a member of that subsection of the working classes the media call the underclass and Marx the lumpen proletariat, even though at times he owned property and had considerable wealth.[if you get my drift]

    People can say what they like, I could say I am am aristocrat but it will not make it so, just as the guy you mention who owns his own home etc will not be able to leave his working class roots behind by denying them, unless he wishes to live a total lie.

    As to the BBC and regional accents, the exception always proves the rule, for that is partially how capitalism maintains its iron grip. Of cause you will find the odd DJ who is working class, but that proves what? Are you saying that almost all positive images of the working classes are not excluded from the BBC airwaves?

    As to Bradford and London’s East End, no where in the piece did I deny working class people can be racist and bigoted, in fact the reverse as I mention this fact. However my point was they are no more bigoted and racist than the middle class. Indeed in 59 years of being working class I have concluded the WC are far less racist than the middle class.

    With workers the racism is in your face, it can be challenged and argued through, although I will admit not always successfully. With the middle class racism is often hidden, far more underhand, and due to the managerial positions etc many middle class people hold in this society, it can ruin lives and careers, how else did the Met etc become institutional racist?

    Finally about the rise of the BNP in a tiny handful of working class areas. Firstly the overwhelming majority of working class people reject the Nazis and historically have always done so. It was not the German workers who voted en mass for Hitler, now was it?

    So lets not get these numbers out of perspective. This is not being complacent as I’m aware fine comrades work day and night to drive out the BNP. However to tag the WC as a whole with racism due to a tiny number of workers having voted BNP is sheer middle class prejudice and just plain wrong, indeed it was one of the reason I wrote this article.

    Thankfully unlike on the continent, in their ignorance, the middle class leaders of nazi organizations like the BNP have targeted their propaganda at the working class; and not the lower middle class, hence they have never collected a sizable vote.

    Most working class people understand only to well the dangers of fascism and vote accordingly. For a time it looked like the current leader of the BNP might retarget those it wishes to attract, but the internal wrangling within the BNP appear to have put a stop to that and long may it last.

    By the way before you say it, of course the reason why the middle class politicians have managed on behalf of Capital, to claw back some of the gains WC people made in the post war period, is because of the decline of the WC’s political power, thankfully that is not irreversible.

    What the left must do is stop talking up our weaknesses and help us reorganize and regain our political strength. Talking up the BNP and the shortcomings of the so called underclass will not help do this.

    When ever I attack the English middle classes some comrades from a MC back ground become uncomfortable, I believe this may be due to the fact they find it difficult to believe that people like them can behave in a nasty manner, or perhaps their love ones do/have not, hence their anger.

    If they, just for one moment put my and my classes shoes on, they might get some understanding of how I feel when I see the continuos drip drip of insulting articles/programs about the WC, which as I said in the piece portrays us as work-shy, stupid, racist, bigots without a cultural anchor.

    Im not like that, my children and grandchildren are not like that, nor were my parents and nor are my friends and now I have the means with this blog I am bloody well going to say so.

    Comradely regards

  6. Anonymous

    Mick – agree with the comments you make.

    IMHO racism (rather than ignorance) is a serious threat when you can enforce your bigotry through power (economic or social) over your victim.

    Interesting points made on Radio 4’s “You & Yours” (last Wednesday)where a sizable group of callers / correspondents identified the disenfranchised minority as the “Working Class” as a whole – not a faction of the class based on pigment.

  7. Jemmy Hope

    Good post, Mick (i.e., reinforces my prejudices).
    The BBC’s sudden concern for a section of the working class has to be treated with suspicion. As far as I’m concerned it can be summed up in three words, “Divide and rule”. The British Establishment’s propaganda machine is just doing business as usual, and no-one should be fooled by its airing of the taboo term “working class”.
    This all reminds me of a forgotten American film,”The Killing Floor”
    (1985). Worth a look if it’s still obtainable.

  8. Mick Hall

    Jemmy

    Thanks, I think you summed it up perfectly, “divide and rule”.

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