Stereotypes. Don'tcha just love 'em? Why consider the messy, complex realities, or take the time out to carefully weigh up matters of nuance & distinction when you can make lazy generalisations about a whole group of people while passing yourself off as enlightened & principled?
Why not follow the example set by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in today's Independent as she damns the entire white working class as reactionary bigots (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/yasmin-alibhai-brown/yasmin-alibhai-brown-spare-me-the-tears-over-the-white-working-class-1225824.html )?
Hazel Blears, perhaps the most irksome automaton in New Labour's ranks, has been delivering speeches & penning articles over the last year or so about the future of the white working class. Oddly for Blears, she has been willing to confront some uncomfortable truths in assessing the life chances & opportunities of what was once the proletariat.
Taking that as her cue to wade in, Alibhai-Brown wastes no time in referring to "the always wretched and complaining classes." No matter that the white working class don't hold a monopoly over racist sentiments & actions, Alibhai-Brown warms to her half-baked nostrum, observing:
"One writer, Liz Jones, of white-working class stock, sees through the cultural protectionism. Responding to beer-swilling blokes in Wibsey Working Men's Club, in Bradford, who said on television that they had lost their place as the backbone of the nation because Asians were overtaking them, she wrote: 'A snail with special needs would overtake this lot...It is patronising and not remotely useful to treat the white working-class as though they are all helpless, giant toddlers in need of conservation.' "
There's something rather snobbish &, dare one say it, discriminatory, to use terms such as "stock", wouldn't you say? In the context of Alibhai-Brown's supercilious sneer, its connotation assumes a more disturbing hue; she would rightly object to phrases such as "stock" when used in a racial manner. Could it be that class has replaced race when it comes to scapegoating?
How perverse things are when the issues thrown up by class are more soberly addressed by Tory MPs (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/dec/11/white-working-class-boys ):
"Figures released today show that white boys lagged further behind the national average in this summer's exams than a year ago. Just 16% of white boys on free school meals reached the government's target of five good GCSEs including English and maths -- 32 percentage points behind the national average of 48%, and a one percentage point on last year."
However, the most telling & damning sentence in Polly Curtis' piece for the Guardian is devoid of statistics, but pithy in its finding:
"Throughout their education white working class boys are now the lowest achievers apart from a small group of Traveller pupils."
The article goes on to quote a Tory spokesman:
"Shadow schools minister, Nick Gibb, said: 'It is deeply worrying that the gap between disadvantaged and better off boys just keeps growing. A culture of low expectations and a lack of rigour are holding these pupils back.
We need to ensure that schools in the most deprived areas are using the type of high-quality academic teaching which we know can drive up standards, with a focus on setting by ability and a strong behavioural policy.' "
While Gibb's point in the second paragraph of his quote owes more than a little to party politics, he is correct to identify the culture of hostility to educational attainment & a structure in which any academic progress could be possible.
Such sentiments neatly dovetail, doubtless to the Tories' chagrin, with the questions raised by the Guardian's Michael White in the week before Christmas as he pondered whether the rising unemployment in this recession will produce a response of protest or apathy. He recalls those who lost their jobs in the 80s (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2008/dec/18/michael-white ):
"Many were shunted on to a version of Invalidity Benefit (recently re-engineered as the proactive Employment and Support Allowance) and left to fend for themselves or to rot. They never got jobs when the boom came and therefore will not lose them now - the kind of employees always vulnerable to a cull."
It should be noted that Alibhai-Brown inadvertently invokes the more relevant class factor that she otherwise ignores in her blunderbuss of an article when she protests:
"We immigrants didn't cause the credit crunch. We didn't privatise the nation's assets and pay ourselves shockingly high bonuses. We did not outsource jobs and bring down wages. We didn't cut back on public housing and run down the infrastructure. We didn't make the British choose benefits over work. We are blameless citizens and residents."
Quite right, Yasmin, any attempt to smear immigrants & migrant workers with those factors is odious racism. However, neither did the white working class have any involvement with the culture of irresponsible lending by the banks, the City's culture of excess, the policies of Tory & Labour governments to run down council housing & the deliberate creation of a burgeoning underclass.
A necessary corrective to Alibhai-Brown's ill-considered, scattergun piece was unwittingly provided in a post on David Osler's blog, Dave's Part at the end of last week (http://www.davidosler.com/2009/01/the_white_working_class_and_th.html ):
"Political commonsense over the last two decades has insisted that elections are won and lost in a small number of key marginals, and manifestoes have been geared exclusively to swing voter concerns. If there are millions of ordinary people out there who think that New Labour has written them off as mere voting fodder with no viable electoral options, they are not far wrong. That, of course, potentially represents a colossal opening for the far right."
Osler goes on to highlight the changed character of modern racism & its contributory factors. Gone is the racism based on fading, sepia-tinted Empire images:
"This is instead a racism rooted in the collapse of social housing, a racism born of the disappearance of blue collar employment and grassroots trade union organisation, a racism of benefit cuts, a racism centred on the perception that nobody in a position of authority really gives a shit. You might even want to call it a racism of desperation."
Alibhai-Brown should discard her blinkers & recognise that "the white working-class" is not a homogenous lump, eager to swallow the latest tabloid story about asylum seekers. Those of us who have protested & campaigned against racism, be it in the UK or elsewhere, through working-class organisations such as trade unions will not accept her lazy slur.