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Class and Racism

The UK’s class system has been under a lot of scrutiny for decades if not centuries. What positive implications have emerged from this continuous examination? Personally, I believe that very little change has occurred. The dishonour individuals face when recognised as a member of the working class, in comparison to someone from the upper-class is dehumanising. Alongside this social stigma, classism arguably stems from unconscious bias and racism which remains a massive barrier for many people.  

Is racism linked with social class?

The use of overt racial slurs is frequently associated with working-class people both in the media and on TV shows. Commonly cited phrases may reference “foreigners coming into our country and taking our jobs” or stating that “of course they aren’t British” when discussing someone of the BAME community. However, blaming the working-class for the continuation of ignorant and offensive behaviour is, in fact, false and misleading.  

Racism comes in numerous forms and there is no class from which it originates, with the exception of colonialism. It is defined as “prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Moreover, the extent of someone’s racism is not dictated by their social class, but by their individual character, and their deliberate choice to remain ignorant by continuing to make derogatory remarks. 

Racist and bigoted views can be more discreet and implicit through the use of microaggressions. These are often associated with middle and upper class individuals who have a “good” reputation to uphold. For instance, a recent study emphasised how it is “more prevalent among the middle and upper classes” to feel as though they have a superiority complex, thereby, resulting in condescending “human tendencies” which can cause “inequalities”. 

What is a microaggression?

Microaggressions are intentional or unintentional statements or actions which communicates hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes towards stigmatised or culturally marginalized groups. To illustrate, sly remark such as, mocking or mispronouncing ethnic names multiple times, or often making a stereotypical “joke” which can target someone’s appearance, accent, culture, or tradition.

These microaggressions are extremely painful for the receiver and they often have a long-lasting effect on their self-esteem and sense of value. As a black woman who grew up in a predominantly white environment, I have received microaggressions on multiple occasions. It’s the comments which seem harmless that create the biggest insecurities. Just because someone doesn’t intend to come across as racist or offensive doesn’t make the joke or statement any less racist.

Does nepotism from privileged households overrule talent and skill? 

While racism may not be inherently linked to social class, classism has also led to corruption when it comes to job opportunities for applicants from a working class background. According to a recent journal article by Policy Press, “Russell Group graduates from professional or managerial families with a 2:2 are more likely to enter top occupations than working-class graduates with a 1st.” Conclusively, those who aren’t privileged are instantly at a disadvantage. 

Black people are also less likely to earn or gain more than their white counterparts. They may even be prevented from receiving a high-earning corporate job which is less to do with their social class, but instead to do with their natural 4C afro-hair. It may sound absurd, but employers still deem black people’s natural hair as less professional. Consequently, unconscious biases often precede racist practices- such as hair discrimination- which become embedded and normalised within organisations. As a result, it is explicit that there are excessive and implausible barriers, particularly to those who are both BAME and from a working-class background. 

Although the difference in employment rates between the white ethnic group and all other groups combined went down by 5%  between 2004 and 2019, data records show that 78% of white people were employed in 2019, compared with 66% of people from all other ethnic groups combined. Furthermore, it is evident that diversity and inclusion needs to be prioritised in the workplace. The only way to tackle racism and classism both within and outside of the workplace, is to not only acknowledge the problems, but to also encourage the integration of people from different backgrounds, in order to learn from one another. 

group of people sitting beside rectangular wooden table with laptops

The other perspective

Though controversial, it can be argued that those born into privilege can be just as criticised by society as those born into poverty. This is once again to do with unconscious bias and preconceived opinions which can be very detrimental. However, the extent of disapproval an individual may encounter due to their social status is subjective. 

The customary take on the class-system has been heavily upheld by the conservatives who retain the most power in society, including through the government and corporate jobs. The idea of reform in the class system is deemed to be unconventional and thereby unachievable. However, I believe that this is a very narrow-minded view. Although classism and racism are two separate things, they both share a similar level of harm to the receiver when demonstrated. One may contend that dismantling the class system is practical way to tackle classism, however, in terms of a solution for racism there is no clear answer. 

People need to become more attentive to their words and actions and make a conscious effort to overcome the biased views that are often taught from a young age. To create change we must be the change. To use our voices, to have these discussions with friends and family, or even strangers, and most importantly, to not be complacent.

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