Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The White Working Class - Channel 4

At last, a program on TV which didin't try to analyse the British class system with the simple assumption that the white working class are just scum. White Trash as our American friends would say. This is such a refreshing change!

"The British Working Class" on Channel 4 looked at it from the view that instead of being the racist, stupid bigots my class is commonly portrayed as being, we are in fact the new forgotten underclass. For years, since Mayhew in fact, examined the social and working condiitons in the East End, the British white working class have been considered worthy of examination, rather like zoo chimps. Then, after mass immigration to the UK, not only were we forgotten about at best, put in ghetto housing, and told how wonderful things were for us at worst, but in some cases actively blamed for the ensuing violence which occurred in Britain during the late 70s and early 80s (Skinheads/neo-Nazis).

Under the microscope of the chattering classes were these newly arrived immigrants. The programme, introduced by a guy I've never heard of called Michael Collins - not *that* one obviously! - argued that after the killing of Stephen Lawrence, the media took the line that because it was performed by several white working class boys, there was a festering tide of racism in the satelite suburbs. Suburbs those in the meeja don't live in by and large. Places like Eltham and Dagenham.

The facts don't bare this out however. The BNP in Dagenham hasn't got a hope in hell of getting elected. I grew up near Southall and from a very young age, lived with Sikh Indians, and having gone to school in Shepherds Bush, black kids too. During the Southall riots, about 500 yards from my home, there were as many whites protesting at the killing of Blair Peach by neo-nazis, as Indians. The white working class is *not* inherently racist, despite what you might believe by listening to the crap pumped out by the press and TV. Growing up with minorities wasn't a big deal for the vast majority of us whites in the crappy suburbs and industrial towns of the UK.
I'm digressing a little.

What made this programme interesting for me was the fact that it had been made at all. The content is debatable, sure, but I'm so glad that someone has tried to set the record straight here. I have felt, whenever I hear tales of white racists in Burnley and saaaaarf London, that there is a big chunk of truth missing from the simplistic assumption that we are all unworthy to participate in the great debate because we are all racists *just because we are*. The stupid arseholes who preach political correctlness at people like me should really examine their own back yard, and their own guilt attached to it. If there is any racism, and don't get me wrong, of course there is, then the question that is constantly not asked is *why?* While a pissed off kid in Burnley might sock a muslim taxi driver and his family for the impression he's being favoured over his family by the council, is it not worse that the muslim taxi driver (who might be well-educated) is forced to drive taxis in the first place?

Mr Collins, I felt, had crossed that bridge between being part of class I too have belonged to, and at the same time can look at that class from a middle class perspective. Despite pretensions of social mobility, this ability of his is a rare one. I open my mouth and as soon as someone hears a glottal stop or flattened vowel, 1000 stereotypes have been created for and of me. And those working class kids who cross that bridge do have a habit of going into some kind of class denial. Not me, and apprently not Monsieur Collins. Several people I know have deliberately abandoned or softened their Geordie or Manchester accents. Why would this be if that accent was a source of an identity they wished to keep? Who knows, maybe I only keep mine because its one that so many middle class people want to acquire - but generally fail to sound authentic in doing so!

This bit of telly tried to correct the imbalance of accepted opinion, thought it did veer towards sentimentality. A tiny bit.

But nice one trying Michael.

Mood: Too hot and correspondingly tetchy
Book: The Water Room
Music: Radio 6

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