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The UK Race Class Narrative Report

Over the past year CLASS have been working in collaboration with ASO Communications on the Race-Class Narrative project, which captured the values and experiences of  diverse working class people up and down the country. Through our research we have developed a new narrative that builds solidarity across race and class to inoculate against the powerful few seeking to divide us, and win progressive change. Utilising the methodology of phenomenally successful Race Class Narrative project in the US, this project responds to the way dog-whistle racism is used by the hard right (but also some parts of the left and centre) to create a  divisive, “anti-woke” narrative of the ‘white working-class’ being ‘left behind’ while people of colour and migrants are showered with unfair advantages. We find ourselves in a situation where the right articulates and builds this coherent narrative of ethnonationalism, and progressives do little more than publicly object to this story. 

CLASS’s one-year project is funded by our supporting unions, including NEU, ASLEF, BFAWU, CWU, GFTU, GMB, NUM, NUT, PCS, TSSA, UCU and Unite the Union. We were also supported by the Robert Bosch Foundation, Unbound, Barrow Cadbury Fund. And to those who are supporting the next phase of the research: Barrow Cadbury Fund, Guerilla Foundation, People’s Action, and Marlene Englehorn.

The narrative is built from the grassroots, listening to multi-ethnic working-class communities through focus groups and interviews – especially those with intersectional experiences – and building a new set of frames, real-life stories and metaphors. 

The project aims to produce novel research that unifies and empowers diverse working-class communities through a narrative-led approach. Our new messages are empirically tested against current mainstream messaging for efficacy and persuasiveness, using the innovative method of dial testing. Together, this research will generate a new story to shift the discourse and support for our headline policy recommendations including: ​

Using the RCN Framework

Our research with 2200 subjects demonstrates the potency of the RCN narrative framework (already proven in the US by the original Race Class Narrative project and ongoing research and implementation) which uses the following core structure: 

  1. Value: Open with a shared value that explicitly includes people across lines of race and economic status, to build cross-racial solidarity.
  2. Problem. Narrate the problem & locate this problem in certain powerful actors. Be specific about what they are doing and how it harms us. 
  3. Solution. Emphasise how collective action helps us address the problem and implement the solutions that benefit us all. Communicate an aspirational vision, being specific about the outcomes we can achieve by joining together

Using Best Messaging Practices 

The report lays out a range of best messaging practices to ensure we can create maximum impact when we are talking about the issues that affect working class people’s lives

  • Tell a complete story using the RCN framework: lead with an inclusive value, then narrate the problem, naming the actors and motive, and how and who is harmed, and close with a solution embedded in a call to come together across our differences.
  • Lead with shared values, not problems: narratives that start with shared values have proven much more effective at shifting opinions toward progressive policy solutions. It engages people’s better selves – who they aspire to be – as they confront the rest of the message. Moreover, it begins a message by establishing the fundamental things most of us have in common – essential for countering divisive narratives.
  • Talk about people: In order to effectively mobilize people to take action, it is critical to name the people in power who are genuinely responsible and why they are causing the problem. We must juxtapose the handful of extremely wealthy and powerful people who make decisions against our common interests with the many of us who can overcome barriers and implement solutions through collective action.
  • Avoid negation: Decades of research demonstrates that attempts to refute false information can actually strengthen people’s belief in the claims. Testing shows that people remember the assertion and forget that it’s a lie. Instead, use the opportunity to present your own story in regards to the topic of the conversation, while calling out divide and rule tactics and their motive without repeating the lie itself.
  • Be explicit about the groups who are scapegoated and harmed. Always use clear, direct and people-centred language such as “Black and brown people”, “people seeking asylum” and “people left struggling to make ends meet.” For example, talk about “families left struggling to make ends meet” rather than “poverty” or “the poor”. Talk about ‘Black and brown people’ rather than ‘minorities’.
  • Be explicit about ethnicity and race. We need to actively talk about race and ethnicity in our messages in order to reflect and celebrate the intersectionality of working-class people. We must name groups of us who might otherwise be silently excluded and are often the targets of racial scapegoating (e.g. ethnic minorities, Muslims, people seeking asylum). And we must make our position on racism clear. Our base is deeply concerned about racism, and persuadables are more likely to believe that ‘talking about race is necessary for us to move toward greater equality’ (50%) than ‘continuing to address race is harmful as it only creates division’ (37%). Moreover, explicit reference to race engages people of colour while keeping white listeners on board – as it disarms our opponents from being able to suggest that advocates do not care about white people.
  • Create something good, don’t merely oppose something bad. We must stand for something desirable not merely against something deplorable. When it comes to describing our policy objectives, we tend to employ the language of “fixing” or “reforming,” or “improving” which suppresses motivation and long-term engagement. Instead, describing the good thing your policy, campaign or movement exists to create helps sustain the will to fight among your base and engenders interest among sceptics. Also, a “no” without a “yes” leads listeners to think we’re just playing politics as usual. It sounds like we’re just denouncing whatever the other side puts out to defeat them, not making a sincere attempt to see good policy become law.

How to talk about policies?

  • To bring about a better, fairer and more compassionate society, we need more than just a good story. Policies are vital. However, without the political will to enact them, we need to build public support and pressure our leaders to make them a reality. We strongly recommend that when making a case for policies they are:
  • Embedded as part of the call to action and solution in a complete RCN story. Start with the shared value that pertains to your solution, then narrate who/what/why is stopping us from making that value a reality, and only then put forward a call to action i.e., ‘when we come together across our differences’ followed by the solution ‘secure green jobs, good education, and a better future for all of us, our children and our grandchildren.’ 
  • Talk about the outcome of policies rather than the details of policies. For example, “people are paid enough to make ends meet” and “you’re at your new baby’s side,” rather than “minimum wage increase” and “paid family leave”.  Any policy is only as good as what it allows you to do. These are the terms and experiences that make things human issues, not policy debates.
  • Use clear, explicit, simple and people-centred language, instead of jargon. We want to ensure our message is memorable and shareable, using unnecessarily complex language makes this goal less likely.
  • Use examples of unity and winning to overcome cynicism: Other research finds that referencing previous cross-racial (and/or class, nationality, gender) solidarity helps abate cynicism and increase the desire to engage. We need better examples of solidarity to demonstrate that change is possible when people come together across race and class. 
  •  Use the rule of three.  When we are talking about groups of people or lists of desired outcomes and solutions, our messaging is strongest when we are specific and indicate the range we need with lists of three (e.g. “Whatever our skin colour, gender or where we come from”). Longer lists are difficult for audiences to process and they can make any omissions feel more obvious. The rule of three allows us to cover diversity in a way that is memorable to our audiences.

Use words that work

  • Working class
  • Black, white and brown working class 
  • Diverse working class
  • Families left struggling to make ends meet
  • People seeking asylum 
  • Working-class people whether we are Black, white or brown
  • No matter our skin colour
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Certain politicians, their billionaire friends and the media they own…harm / blame / spread lies
  • Certain politicians, their billionaire friends and the media they own are fuelling damage to our climate, selling off our NHS and slashing youth centres and schools
  • They are robbing people of a decent wage and refusing to contribute what they owe in tax
  • Certain politicians, their billionaire friends and the media they own  blame (e.g. migrants & people seeking asylum) for the hardships the wealthy few created
  • ABC spread lies about (e.g. migrants) to distract us from how their decisions harm us all
  • With our voices and our votes, we can demand better
  • Secure green jobs, good education, lively highstreets, first rate care, etc.