This is something completely from my heart; you may agree entirely, you may disagree entirely; you may agree partially or you may disagree partially, but please hear me out. The notion of superiority in race and class bulks large in Western culture especially Britain, certainly England, and the United States. In England, there is a long cosily held notion that the Queen is at the top of the class system, the Royal Family just below her, the aristocracy just below them, the Upper Classes just below them, the Middle Classes below them and the Working Classes at the bottom in graded levels of hierarchy. This system is, of course, wonderful if you are perceived to be at the top of it, or at least somewhere comfortably in the middle; not so good if you are at the bottom. The prejudice and frankly bigotry of such seemingly deeply-held convictions about the superiority of some and the inferiority of many others, is what keeps all kinds of double-standards, unfairness and hypocrisy going. This can, and does, impact unfairly on many people in English society.
Class, like racism, turns on issues of the perceived superiority of some and the inferiority of others; during the height of the British Empire both racism and class were seen as important markers of, and between, people. In Britain, notions of class were accepted and widely believed to be vitally important in the way English people related to each other; in some ways, yes even in the 21st century, this is still important to some people. Outside Britain, in the wider empire, notions of superior and inferior races helped justify the land grabbing and control of people and resources in India, Australia and Africa, and many other places besides, in which in some cases we are still living in the detritus of today. Both notions of race and class were promulgated and strongly promoted to create vast pockets of wealth for some, and misery, penury and poverty for millions of others.
In some instances certainly in Britain, issues of race and class are subtly played off against each other, with the effect of both issues being side-lined and marginalised. The issue is also an economic one; whilst elites at the top of Britain live in wealth and splendour and have good jobs and careers, many people are out of work. Instead of Black and Asian people and Working Class people dismissing each other’s rights as less important than their own rights, couldn’t we stand together instead of being divided?
It seems that some people, not all certainly, will not discuss the issue of class at all, even those who pride themselves on believing in equality. You have to understand that if you ignore the plight of one group, in effect you ignore the plight of everybody else. To really tackle our own prejudices, and we all have them, takes a certain kind of courage and genuine self-examination. If you set yourself up as someone who is interested in the rights of others, you should be even-handed in that endeavour and not selective. My argument is that if someone in the class system benefits unfairly at the expense of someone else seen as lower down the scale, in the end you are part of the problem quite frankly.
For some reason nobody seems to want to talk about or debate the issue of class in England; people will talk about every other issue endlessly like racism, sexism, gender differences, religious differences and so on, but not it seems about class! I do honestly wonder why. I think as some people who are racist deftly and neatly ignore Black and Asian rights, certain people also deftly and neatly ignore the issues of Working Class people too. In the same way, issues of Working Class people are again side-lined, marginalised and basically ignored.
Challenging the injustice of the class system is going to be the next big thing in England; believe me, it’s coming.
For a Christian who comes very much from a Working Class background, these issues about class have been a part of my life for a long time and I have written about and debated them many times. It is good to remember that class, as well as many other similar issues, is a part of the world system and as such constitutes the world and all its sins and evils and injustices. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19 NIV) This is something else I looked at: “You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4 NIV) I believe that all such unjust systems are not part of God and not part of His plan for the world, no matter how deeply-held such views may be. It might be that those who benefit the most from such injustice might have a lot to answer for one day. It is better for each individual to let go of their hatred and prejudices, each one of us, to find out what is the truth about these and many other related issues.
Many of us grow up in reduced circumstances of one kind or another, sometimes even in poverty, and then we have to deal with other people’s unfair assumptions and prejudices as well, so adding insult to injury, and justification to what can only be described as hypocrisy. Often, it is the well-connected, the wealthy and the influential in some way who gets on, who is feted as being better than the rest, and who goes on to a wonderful life surrounded by wealth and privilege. God, it seems, has different ideas: “Consider, brothers, how you were called; not many of you are wise by human standards, not many influential, not many from noble families. No, God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong, those who by human standards are common and contemptible-indeed those who count for nothing-to reduce to nothing all those who do count for something, so that no human being might be boastful before God.“ (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NJB)
Where does this leave the Christian, irrespective of their social class, ethnic affiliation or skin colour or gender? I believe that if we serve God with a whole heart, and expect Him to act in our lives, we should not put obstacles in any other person’s way for any reason. Quite simply we should refuse to be neither exploiter or exploited.