This is an issue I have written on before, and will undoubtedly be something I will write on again in the future as it is something I feel passionately about. I come from a Working class background and have often felt inferior because of this, and have also felt that people perceived to be of a higher social status get preferential treatment when it comes to education, employment, housing and many other situations in life. Aren’t we supposed to be a largely egalitarian democracy, where those with the most intelligence, skill and know-how rise to the top? In theory we are, but the reality for many people is an acceptance that our social backgrounds are a hindrance and even a bar to getting on in many professions. It is time we started to challenge these unfair and outdated notions and challenged the bigotry and prejudice of the class system as we are supposed to challenge any other unfair prejudice. What started me on this was the fact that I wrote to a group of people calling themselves ‘the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism’; I wanted to ask them what they thought about class as an issue. I wrote quite a number of emails and finally got one reply after many months telling me that the said campaign had finished, and that I should contact another group calling themselves ‘the Institute of Race Relations’ who amongst other things produce a quarterly called ‘Race & Class.’ I decided to write to them and got a nice reply telling me in effect that though there are other prejudices they only deal with racial issues. However, I have written to them again to ask them that if the quarterly is called ‘Race & Class’ why are they are not dealing with the issue of class and to this date they haven’t yet got back to me.
Here is the essay proper:
It now seems that it’s not possible to make offensive jokes about anyone anymore, but it’s ok to charge people more than they can afford for gas, electricity, groceries, transport and the like; if old pensioners die in Britain in Winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes, no one seems to bat an eyelid, but Heaven forbid if anyone makes a slightly near-the-knuckle joke.
Why is class as an issue ignored when other prejudices like racism and sexism are, admittedly very weakly, tackled? Why won’t those people purporting to stand for fairness and equality challenge the very real problem of class prejudice in England? If one is tackled, why not the other?
Those who, for whatever reason, turn a blind eye to the injustice of the class system in England are the same as those who turn a blind eye to racism in other countries and those who turn a blind eye to religious intolerance in other societies. Until class as an issue is tackled in a very real and effective way, it will keep coming up to haunt people and very likely because of the class system and all the prejudice and injustice of this system we will very likely go on hating each other in England.
It seems that some Middle class people in England use their professed interest in racial equality to totally ignore the fact that some of those same people, who fervently profess their belief in racial equality, completely turn a blind eye to class inequality; why is that? Is it because many of those same Middle class people benefit from the inequalities of class the same way some white people benefit in more racist countries? If we are being truthful, we know the answer already.
It seems to me that the ‘pay-off’ for some Middle class people being so concerned about racism and sexism, is that no one is then allowed to tackle them on their class prejudice; and let’s be honest, class is still an issue in Britain, and it certainly is an issue in England. Millions of people in England feel pushed aside and otherwise marginalised because of their perceived low-social status, and feel that often Middle class people get better jobs, better housing, better education and generally all-round better lives and life chances for no reason other than their perceived higher social status; I wonder why all those concerned Middle class people are not campaigning about this? It’s obvious that those who benefit from such injustice don’t want to rock the boat; if someone is really concerned about equality they would be concerned about everyone’s equality and not just a select group of people.
I must add something here; it is right and proper that people fight for the rights of Black people and other ethnic minorities, it’s just that being selective is tantamount to saying that some people deserve equality and other people don’t; that’s the confused message that comes through some Middle class people who are fighting racism but seem to blithely, almost wilfully, ignore class as an issue. Why is a Working class White person deemed less important than a Black person? In short, why are the rights of one person deftly ignored, and someone else’s rights perceived as more important? In a nutshell, and rather ironically, that is the class system! Upper class people are seen as better than everyone else, Middle class people may not be as important as the Upper class, but at least they are perceived to be better than Working class people. Thus we have the prejudice that pervades nearly all English life, and is in fact the social fabric of English society. By constantly ignoring this problem, the very people who proclaim equality and equal rights, are actually in fact adding to the problem. And while we are at it, why does social class very rarely if ever appear a part of equal rights literature; again, why is class ignored when virtually everything else is included?
There is a kind of what I would call ‘polite fascism’ amongst some Middle class people, even those who consider themselves believers in equal rights. Their prejudice towards Working class people is manifested in refusing to accept class as an issue, the very issue that is in fact at the heart of division, double-standards and the hypocrisy we often find so readily accepted in English life. Upper class people can pompously look down on everyone; Middle class people defer to this and so in turn look down on Working class people; some Working class people defer to this and then finding themselves at the bottom of one unfair social system, readily cling to another unfair social system which is racism. So some Working class people become racist; but this is fuelled by the injustices of the class system. Both racism and class are intertwined, and they feed off each other in a kind of vile symbiosis. Often, and more cynically, both race and class are played off against each other, with the effect of marginalising both Working class people and ethnic minorities; and to the benefit of who we may ask?
Until this issue of class is faced and dealt with, we will continue to live in a third-rate country, a country that is a sham of a democracy, with no real democracy at its heart. We will continue to hate each other, instead of learning to work with each other and trying to build a fairer nation that regards people as equal before the law, and not as a nation of unequals. I feel however, that whatever is said, some people who are prejudiced would rather live behind their cosy wall of platitudes and half-truths than face up to their prejudice and their part in keeping the divisions, of all kinds, going.
I’m not attacking Middle class people, I have some Middle class friends and I like many Middle class values, what I am taking issue with is the selective nature of equal rights in England; why is class not seen as a viable issue to discuss and tackle? I am waiting for an explanation of this but am struggling to find one.
The God I worship isn’t just for the Upper class, He’s for the Middle class too; He isn’t just for the Middle class, He’s also for the Working class too. He isn’t just for White people, He’s also for Black people. He isn’t just for the poor, He’s for the rich as well. He isn’t just for Northerners, He’s for Southerners too. He’s not just for Jews, He’s for Palestinians as well. He’s for you, and me.
If someone is praised for living in a palace and yet someone else is dismissed in some way because they come from a council estate, how is that not an abuse of human rights, like racism or sexism, or in any situation where one human being is somehow devalued by another human being? We need to open the debate on class, and accept it is a real problem with real consequences for many people. In the end, we don’t have to hug each other or see life through rose-tinted glasses, but even if you change one person’s mind, and leave all the bigotry to one side, then that person might realise that whether we clean windows or live in a palace, we are all human beings and we all have intrinsic worth and we all deserve consideration, toleration and respect.