UK Politics

Classism and White Privilege

Classism & White Privilege

We must take responsibility for racism and view it as an insult to us all, and a stain on our society, just as discrimination based on class is an insult to all.

A concept central to BLM ‘debate’ is that of ‘White Privilege’. Referring to the socio-cultural advantage white people have over black people. Countless researchers have concluded that colour of one’s skin instantly acts as a signifier of their ‘otherness’. White privilege argues that white individuals do not have this signifier of otherness attached to their identity and are not held back by people’s racist views attached to this. By extension white individuals do not have this label and are therefor treated differently, and by enlarge, are privileged by this fact.

Yet, some white people find this sentiment insulting, and believe it erases their lived experiences. Classism is still alive and well in Britain, with many communities – particularly in the North – being hit hard by Tory austerity. The result of which has placed individuals, largely younger people, at a distinctive disadvantage due to their class. For some, concept of white privilege is perceived as an insult to their struggle.

My response to this is that these issues do not exist in isolation. And do not need to be placed in a hierarchy, they are complex and interlinked. They are the product of outdated social systems.

What’s important to remember is that individuals from BAME backgrounds also exist in a classist structure. The same disadvantages associated with class background also apply to BAME individuals with many living in lower social class groups due to institutionalized racism.

‘White privilege’ does not mean that all white people are wealthy or blessed with money and opportunities. Many white people experience severe poverty and lack of opportunities in the UK. All white privilege means is that the colour of your skin does not influence this. This comes from classism within the UK which is largely upheld by other wealthy white people.

What’s more, class background can and does negatively influence BAME communities on top of the negative impact of their race or ethnicity. So BAME individuals experience a lack of opportunities because of their class/background but on top of this face even more discrimination on the basis of the colour of their skin. A factor that does not influence the chances of white people when they apply for a job or go to school.

Unfair advantages to BAME individuals or sticking plaster attempt to achieve equality?

Another key element of the argument for ways in which BAME individuals are at an advantage compared to lower/working class white individuals is the existence of race or ethnicity based graduate, scholarship, workplace schemes. Proponents of this argument state that such programmes offer an unfair advantage to the BAME recipients. However, I must take issue with this for the following 3 reasons:

  1. This is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound of racial inequality. The number of these schemes are near to non-existent on the grand scheme of things. They are rare and must be fought for being highly competitive. They are not the reason you, a white person, didn’t get the job or scholarship you wanted.
  2. These schemes provide valuable opportunities for people that would otherwise be far less likely to succeed due to racial stigma being stacked against them. They do not offer an unfair advantage but an opportunity to reset the balance and level the playing field for already disadvantaged individuals.
  3. These schemes breed diversity. This is a valuable commodity, diversity in the workplace and education has been shown to breed positive change and often promote initiatives that help and support others that are disadvantaged by their background – including class background which negatively effects white individuals across the UK and world at large.

Final thoughts – more in common than you wish to believe

Its’s vital to consider that we have more in common than the wealthy elite would have us believe. You do not need to view racism and classism as an either/or scenario. Both issues need to be resolved. Individuals struggling due to either or both of these issues are deserving of support. The idea that BAME communities are looking for special treatment or are somehow responsible for your lack of opportunities is as tired a falsehood as ‘the immigrant stole my job’. These ideas that other social groups are responsible for your hardship is a tired old divisive technique used by governments and ruling classes to divide us and keep us fighting amongst ourselves.

To support BAME individuals is to support oneself, together we can and should work together to improve the lived experiences of us all. We are all deserving of a quality, happy and equitable existence for the short time we’re here.

Don’t think of it as us and them, but us all together against the outdated and unfair social system that still favours the superrich and super greedy.