Following the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, the following sculpture soon found itself next to the empty plinth:
As Paul Embery remarked on Twitter:
A couple of weeks ago, I posted this twitter thread on the issue of privilege. That thread led to me writing this blog post on the term ‘white privilege‘. If you want a visual representation of how this, in part, plays out then the above statue is it. Since then, Konstantin Kisin wrote this twitter thread, outlining what he perceived was likely to happen next. This is now happening.
I was directed to this video. I think it is a powerful and helpful video on the current state of things in certain ways:
But I was particularly struck in this video by what were described as ‘kinks in the hosepipe’. That is, blockages in the system for particular people. This starts at around 4:30 in the video. The kinks were described as these:
- Less likely to have a father present in your formative years
- More likely to struggle at school
- Your surname limits your call to interview and, if you do get one, you do not know the codes and the jargon because no one ever taught you
- You never went to the right school or university
- When you get a job, you know you’ll never make it right to the top… ‘you can’t be it, if you can’t see it’ because for 1000 reasons your face doesn’t fit
I was struck by how almost all of these – if not all of them – apply to white working class folks too. For them, it may not be ‘African-sounding’ names but there is a similar block on interviews for ‘chavvy-sounding’ names. They too are unlikely to have fathers present. They have also struggled at school and now, en masse, outstrip black boys in the failed by education stakes. They also rarely went to the right school or university and were never coached in the codes and jargon. It was striking how all those kinks in the hosepipe applied to working class white folks too.
Now, none of that diminishes the real issues BAME people face. Those kinks in the hosepipe are real. They certainly exist. But it is striking that they are not the only people for whom they exist. It was the sculpture mocking and degrading the white working classes in Bristol, coupled to the evident similarities outlined in the video, that caused me to write another twitter thread here.
For me, these issues are not moot. I live in a town beset with racial tension. We have a bad history over these issues, the area where our church stands being the epicentre of race riots within recent history. Our town remains highly segregated and far-right groups who make hay with these issues frequently come into the town to stoke these matters. Other far-right parties have made it onto local councils.
It is my belief that many working class white people would make common cause with BAME people who have suffered from a lack of privilege. There would be great empathy over the issues that both groups face because many of them are, ultimately, the same. However, as I noted in my twitter thread, these things are frequently hijacked by very privileged people who have a vested interest in maintaining a sense of victimhood to serve their own identitarian worldview.
The protests are very often overtaken by middle class people who loathe the working classes. Some even consider themselves working class – against any credible evidence to that effect – and sneer at real working class people. They consider themselves to have risen above the swamp. They have bettered themselves unlike the culturally backward types they have left behind. But they have rarely actually come from the same background and faced the same lack of privilege.
The radicalisation of the white working classes remains very fringe (see, for example, this recent attitudes survey as well as this one). Most detest the far right. I have witnessed how many will protest against the far-right groups who come into our town with frequency. But it is not difficult to see how those who do end up radicalised become so. They hear very privileged people from affluent places telling them that they, in their deprived town and difficult life circumstances, are indeed very privileged. They see others looking down on them. Others still, who court their vote, clearly do so whilst barely disguising their contempt for them. When far-right groups come, identify and name some of the issues that exist, speaking to the white working classes without holding their noses, although the solutions they offer are no such thing, it should be obvious why that ends up appearing attractive.
Rather than highlight the very real struggles faced by BAME and white working class people, many of which are almost identical (as per the video above), many with a great deal of privilege prefer to stoke racial differences – and play off one group against the other – for their own identitarian ends. It is, ironically, the same tactic used by the far-right as their recruiting tool. They “other” those who would otherwise empathise for the sake of their own need to be classed as victims based on their identitarian worldview.
Because such people so rarely live amongst real working class people, they are able to stoke these things from the relative safety of their cushy middle-class neighbourhoods. They can demonise people they never actually spend any time with from a distance. They also don’t have to concern themselves with the likes of the English Defence League and Britain First because they know they won’t be going around their areas on a recruitment drive. There is no danger of former BNP councillors getting elected in their wards.
Others of us, however, have friends who are demonised for nothing more than their class and skin colour. We live in neighbourhoods where tensions are already high. Both the BAME and the white working class groups that live in areas like ours have legitimate grievances about how they are portrayed and the life chances afforded to them by those with far more privilege than them. But those same privileged folk, who know none of these people and do not ever appear to want to mix with them, prefer to let these groups “other” one another so that they can continue to pretend they are still really working class or that they too are victims of some sort despite their evident privilege. They ride roughshod over the legitimate concerns and grievances of one or other of these groups so that they, too, can identify with one over the other and claim a slice of the victimisation feelgoods.
I cannot say enough, many of the issues being highlighted in these discussions by BAME people are real. Privilege is real and many do face issues of institutional, systemic and personal racism. Those things are, without doubt, true. But it is also the case that white working class people face many (though not necessarily all the same) of these issues too. But they are repeatedly demonised and sneered at, not least with new statues that now mock them openly. When people point out that some of the language used will drive some (though clearly not all) towards the far-right, it is dismissed. Sometimes even stated as though we are blaming BAME people for the existence of the far-right. But just as the British Army were not the cause of the IRA bombing in Northern Ireland, there can be no doubt some of their tactics and actions did – albeit unintentionally – end up acting as a recruitment drive for Republican Paramilitarism. In the same way, those making making these arguments – and it bears saying it is not all BAME people doing so, nor do all BAME hold these views – have not brought the far-right into existence and are not to blame for their ideology, but their arguments and actions do, albeit unintentionally, lead to the radicalisation of certain sections of the white working classes. This is a reality that must be faced.
In my view, it is the identitarianism that leads to these issues. If there was a legitimate recognition of the problems faced by both BAME people and white working class folks, and not all BAME and white working class folks will experience these things in the same way, I suspect we would foster much greater empathy for the issues faced by the other. But as long as the middle-classes are happy to pit one against the other (which, largely, they are) and who seem happy to highlight the legitimate grievances of the one over the other – sometimes not even overlooking the grievances of the others but actively blaming them for some of these things – these tensions will not go away and the far-right will make hay with it.
I want to finish on this interesting set of data and comment from Matthew Goodwin. You can read the full twitter thread here. But he was interested in how attitudes to Brexit exhibited a much deeper values divide within Britain. He investigated attitudes toward the recent statues controversy, and how they lined up with views on Brexit. The results were, as you can imagine, interesting.
If there is a point to be made from that, it is probably this. Those same people who dismissed working class views in the Brexit debate are those same people ignoring the views of many in respect to statues and, in the wider sense, the questions around justice and privilege. As Paul Embery noted on twitter: