There has been a low level ‘war’ between Working class people and Middle class people for a while now in Britain, perhaps really starting after the 2nd World War finished, when we were all told to pull together and we were all told ‘we are all in it together.’ Sound familiar? I expect it does.
When I say war, I don’t mean a physical thing between different people, or any violence as such, more a war of attrition, a war of ideas, a war where each side tries to prove the other false, or hypocritical or somehow debauched and depraved. Sound familiar? Perhaps it does.
One aspect of the class system is that often we don’t know how to relate to each other. If someone from a very Middle class background meets someone from a traditional Working class background, there is almost certainly unease, a clashing of cultures, two different accents and a wholly different outlook and attitude to life; in some cases it’s as if those two people are from different planets. This to me is the sad state of Britain and the way the class system has made everyone an enemy of everyone else.
For some Middle class people, their supposed interest in fighting for the rights of ethnic minorities seems just a smokescreen so that no one challenges them on their class prejudice and so we don’t look at the way white Working class people are kept out of the wealth creation process, and kept in many cases from higher education, better housing and better employment opportunities to name but a few things. Middle class people it seems do not want competition from Working class people; for some reason they seem to fear us and perhaps that fear breeds hatred. They fear that the majority of poor people, whether White, Black or Asian will start demanding better lives and a bigger slice of the pie and not having to accept low-wage jobs and third rate lives as is the usual case. In some cases, certain cynical Middle class people supposedly fight for the rights of ethnic minorities in order to drive a wedge between those ethnic minorities and the White Working class, so they can divide and conquer and keep us at each other’s throats while they cream off the better jobs, better education and better career opportunities whilst ordinary people fight for the crumbs at the bottom. In reality White Working class people have more in common with Working class Black and Asian people than they do with White Middle class people. Am I being cynical in all of this? Do Middle class people really want equality for everyone, or is their selectivity in supposedly fighting for the rights of some and not others a way of dividing us all up and keeping us all down? My view is that certain Middle class campaigners fight for special rights for ethnic minorities, in the same way they fight for special rights for themselves; instead of special rights, we should all be fighting for equal rights. In the end, I am not condemning Middle class people for wanting to get on and have decent lives, don’t we all, I am taking umbrage with the way some people pretend to be concerned for others when they are really only interested in themselves. I might add that for a Christian there should be no consideration of someone’s class or ethnicity, or whatever background they come from, Christians should believe in equality pure and simple.
The class system is a form of fascism like racism and it is institutionalised injustice, an injustice that will be the next big thing for people to challenge and open up to general national discussion. And believe me it’s not before time; we need a healthy and open debate on this. We all need to accept and understand that class like racism is about demeaning some, and exalting others in an unjust and unfair way that should have no place in a supposedly modern 21st century democracy.
In this country we accept, often without qualm, Working class people being kept out of good jobs in the Media, Law, Civil service and many other institutions, this being the real reason some Middle class people are prejudiced against Working class people; the economic reason. Also how people with Working class accents are kept from the national news and politics, and how often Working class people have to emulate Middle class people just to get on. It means that quite frankly if a Working class person does have ambition to a better life, often he or she has to be twice as smart, twice as hardworking and twice as talented as someone who is Middle class. In effect then, we have a society where often the smartest and most talented people do not get on, if they are noticeably Working class, or from an ethnic minority for that matter. This is where the reality of most prejudice ends; a society where people are held back to allow someone else not particularly talented or accomplished to prosper simply because of their perceived higher status. It’s the way the world has been for a long time but it is time we began to fight it and challenge it, in our own very personal lives, and also on a local, national and international scale.
Our nation prospered as an empire for a few centuries; certain people and certain families prospered as plantation owners, slave traders, land grabbers and many other things besides. It’s true to say that for many people profiteering, there were issues of injustice, double-standards, horrendous levels of prejudice and the turning of a blind eye. Our society is rich in many respects because of what happened at the height of the British Empire, or we could say more honestly some families and businesses and banks and corporations are rich because of these times and the trade connections that empire facilitated. It’s certain that today there is a level of guilt in all of this, and certain again that some families are uneasy about how they originally came into wealth in the not-so-distant past. Somehow, and in some way, this guilt, this self-hatred, has been transposed onto Working class people, that we are to blame for all the ills in society and all the prejudice and racism that exists. If we are honest, it is more likely that guilt is on those who come from the perceived higher echelons, those who have position, status and wealth. I am not condemning anyone for what their ancestors did or didn’t do, I am suggesting that British people, certainly those who consider themselves from Middle and Upper class backgrounds need to examine their prejudices and accept that this reality is something they need to come to terms with, instead of demonising those they perceive to be beneath them for whatever reason.
Society in England still infers that if we aren’t Middle class or above, somehow we aren’t accepted or acceptable, that we should go away and crawl under a stone somewhere and just die. It’s more honest to say that we must curtail our ambitions and leave the better life to our ‘betters.’ Yes, this is still an issue in Britain now and I believe the time is right to bring it up and open it up to debate; we need a national debate on the class system and accept that it has made us a third-rate nation, and continues to sap the lifeblood of the nation. Much of it comes down to prejudice, prejudice that comes from those perceived to be higher up the social scale. I try to understand this prejudice, I even try to come to terms with it, but in the end I can’t; to me it is just prejudice and all prejudice is small-minded, and born of ignorance and contempt and extremely shallow thinking.
In some cases, you are meant to be somehow ashamed of being Working class and having a Working class accent and heritage; why is this? Why are we supposed to be ashamed of being something that we are? Shouldn’t those who are prejudiced be ashamed, or is it another anomaly of the class system that those perceived to be better than the rest of us are allowed to be bigoted? If so, why is this? What happens then quite simply is that once some Working class people get on in some way, through education, starting a successful business or getting a highly-paid career, they themselves become the new Middle class, so carrying on this ridiculous obsession with social status and class. There are more important things in life than which class someone is, or what colour their skin is, or what their parents did for a living; there are issues of justice, fairness, concern for the other person at stake. I believe all prejudice is a form of cowardice and the vanity of small-minded people who have nothing to offer other than their own supposed superiority.
The Economic Apartheid of Britain
The class system in Britain, and especially England is really about who is perceived as ‘the deserving’ and who is perceived as ‘the undeserving’; it’s something that has its roots at least in the 19th century and perhaps further back than that. Class is really about the economic issue; who is allowed to prosper and get on, and who isn’t allowed to prosper and get on. The economic issue is at the heart of class, it’s the only thing that matters. If you are on a good wage, you are probably economically Middle class, if you are on a low wage or unemployed you are probably economically Working class. For me the real reason for prejudice is simply to stop people getting on and getting better wages or better life chances, and to cut out competition for the Middle class. All this talk of being concerned about ethnic minorities and being non-racist and non-sexist and whatever else is mooted is just a whitewash to enable some Middle class people to be just as prejudiced and self-centred and self-interested as they can be, whilst claiming the high moral ground. If people were honest about their ambitions and their agenda, there would be less animosity, and if there was more of a level playing field there would be less injustice and hypocrisy.
There is an economic apartheid in Britain, as there is in many rich countries in the West. The pyramid of wealth in Britain means that at the top there are people with billions and hundreds of millions, and there are people at the bottom who sometimes lack even basic amenities and sometimes go without food. In the Middle are often those who’ve escaped poverty or low wage jobs. The reality is that there is enough to go around but the economic system we live under means wealth for a few and relative poverty for millions. It is this issue that is at the heart of class relations.
We need a debate on this issue, we need to understand that class is as relevant as racism or any other prejudice and an issue that is not going to go away. My view as a Working class person myself is that I will challenge in my own life the limitations society and the class system has set for me by aspiring to a better life, and if I can I will challenge these notions of prejudice on a local, national and international level. I am one person with my eyes open now.