In our first meeting towards the production of a policy paper on social mobility for the working class we decided to deconstruct the definitions of working class and middle class. In order for this to be an effective exercise we had to do away with any political correctness and come clean with any ideas we had formed through our lives that are influenced by variables factors including our personal experiences growing up, portrayals in the media and popular culture. So as a word of warning the following text is full of generalisations as were our discussions (reflective of our lived experiences) as we attempted to unpack the ideas we have around the various classes.
We began by analysing the ideas we had put down for the working class and I think one of the first things we picked up on was how even though half of us were from different ethnicities and we identified as working class our ideas mostly reflected the white working class as opposed to being more broad and reflecting our own lived experiences as people of colour. We put this down mostly to media and political correctness around race and also the erasure and perhaps to some extent censorship of acknowledging the diversity and intersectionality’s around the working class. This interestingly lead to the discussion around ‘code-switching’ which is when often bilingual people “alternate between two or more languages”. However this doesn’t necessarily only apply to those who are bilingual but also those who have accents and who speak in different vernaculars depending on who they are speaking to. Additionally, football was discussed and how to some extent it can reinforce patriarchy, and how there needs to be more conversations around how this country became “great” and where the ideas of haring back to those “great” days stems from. A nostalgia for the past or something more sinister?
When analysing the words we all associated with the middle class we realised some were directly antithetical with the working class terms. Words such as the ‘gig economy’ vs ‘freelance’ and how these issues are more deep-rooted than we realise and led to discussions ranging from self-confidence to capitalism. Certain phrases that had been used in the recent elections were also discussed, terms such as the “Just About Managing” and the “Working Poor” as if there needs to be a dichotomy between the benefit scrounging poor and the working poor right? This use of language really makes us realise just how important it is for us to re-appropriate the idea of the working class and just how important positive representation and demystifying power is. We hope this exercise and the discussions that ensued will enable us to focus on being solution orientated in improving social mobility for those who identify as working class.