Race, Class and Institutional Prejudice
A “new working class” is emerging from the ashes of the old traditional stereotypes of manual labour in traditional industries. That's one of the conclusions of a new joint report by CLASS and the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust. A combination of government-imposed austerity and the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal is forging shared conditions across working-class, minority ethnic and migrant communities. The report blamed a “punitive culture” in public services caused by a combination of austerity and four decades of a narrative that demonises working-class and BME communities.
The report, called “We Are Ghosts”: Race, Class and Institutional Prejudice, found that:
• Most interviewees, white and minority ethnic, experienced interactions with public services as punitive and disempowering: from stop and search to benefits sanctions, housings evictions to immigration house raids, from job centres to social services.
• Identification with the term ‘working class’ was weak but shared pride and belonging to local neighborhoods were strong. This provided avenues for community-led solidarity in the face of adversity, after almost a decade of Conservative rule.
• Many interviewees felt that the example of people from poorer backgrounds like Alan Sugar rising to the top couldn’t fully apply to them because of a rigged system that held them back.
This year-long study, including interviews with 78 people across 14 London boroughs, found that this new working class:
• Firmly rejected the ‘dehumanising’ way that public services were delivered to them and resented the impact of gentrification;
• Recognised that they were part of a multi-ethnic local community, with strong forms of solidarity across difference.
The two think-tanks are calling for:
• Policy-makers to re-embed dignity at the core of policy and re-build the safety net for all working-classes.
• A renewed focus on ‘race and class’ disadvantage and social justice.
• Fostering workers’ bargaining power.
• Ending the ‘hostile environment’ and designing universal public services with the basic premise that people deserve to be treated with care and dignity when navigating the system.
In addition, the report suggests that politicians should stop counter-posing race and class by pitching everyday people against each other, and instead set targets to improve both ethnic minority and working class representation in the workplace and across all institutions.
Dr Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “It's long past time that we stop presenting a narrow caricature of the working class and instead listen to their experiences and design better solutions for the injustices they face. Migrant and ethnic minority working class people have been just as left behind and vilified in public discourse, in turn leading to a 'punitive culture of services' whether in terms of the hostile environment immigration policies.”
Dr Faiza Shaheen, Director of CLASS (Centre for Labour and Social Studies), said: “This research was born from a desire to fight against the weaponisation of the term 'working class.' For too long we have allowed the term to be used as a way to divide the multi-ethnic working class, creating a hierarchy that only sees the 'authentic' working class as white, male and in the North of England while simultaneously demonising the white working class has lazy and racist.
“The findings in this report highlight just how wrong the dominant narrative on the working class is. Interestingly, not one of the 78 interviewees mentioned Brexit. It's time we drop the class mythology and bring working-class communities together to rebalance power in this country.”