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    Do white working classes have culture?

    by Sunny on 9th May, 2007 at 2:11 pm    

    A frequent complaint of readers on blogs and elsewhere in the right-wing press is that white people in England are not allowed to express their own culture values. That somehow ethnic minorities are stopping them. Apparently multiculturalism is to blame.

    Of course this is quite more bizarre given: Britain outside London and parts of Birmingham is still overwhelmingly white; many seasonal newspaper claims of an attack on “our way of life” turn out to be rubbish; and I can’t remember a single case of an ethnic minority actually stopping a white person from cultural activity. Unsurprisingly, when I ask a complainer how minorities are destroying their culture, I get no reply.

    But there is a problem - that of middle class attitudes towards working class and ethnic minorities cultural practices. And the two are increasingly intertwined.

    It seems to me that many middle class liberals and conservatives quietly make the assumption that white working class culture is of little value and therefore not really worth recognition or protection. While there are constant discussions around arts funding and promoting “post-enlightenment values”, comparatively little attention is paid to community spaces, sports facilities and other local establishments. Community solidarity has become a dirty phrase.

    The blame could be attributed to increased social and geographical mobility, more individualism or even New Labour ignoring the concerns of the white working classes. But oh no, ethnic minorities and multiculturalism are to blame apparently. It is they who are purposely trying to destroy the public services, we get the impression.

    To this extent the right-wing papers are worse, paying lip service to the idea that white culture is under attack while only to sell more papers through sensationalism rather than campaign for anything useful. They know it is all too easy, yet completely futile, to blame minority communities, yet they do it anyway. They build up frustration and resentment by finding easy scapegoats without exploring the underlying issues. But we (should) know all this anyway.

    Where many middle class liberals get it horribly wrong is with the idea that culture is only something that ethnic minorities have, not white working classes (their own “culture” is simply lifestyle), and that it’s a static organism that needs protection. This is where multiculturalism fails.

    This attitude, which many in the past would have labelled Orientalism, is part of the new scourge of liberal racism. It is also the view that while “ethnics” have great food and music, their conservative and patriarchal attitudes should be ignored because, well, that’s how they all are.

    This patronising version of multiculturalism frequently works against liberals of minority backgrounds because there is an assumption that they are “unrepresentative” of the broader swathe of nutters and the only ones worth listening to are the angry conservative men. Why else would Faisal Bodi be asked to write on forced marriages, or Germaine Greer think Monica Ali is not authentic enough, or Tony Blair think gang violence was part of “black culture”?

    And this attitude impacts women too. Writing for Catalyst magazine on Canadian multiculturalism, Zohra Moosa explained how such attitudes play out there:

    Canada has some of the most advanced asylum law in the world, under which gender-based persecution is recognised as a legitimate basis for making an asylum claim. Women can therefore apply for asylum if they are being assaulted by their husbands. However, in order to make a convincing case, women may need to play into stereotypical, racist renderings of ‘their culture’.

    For example, South Asian women making claims sometimes have to rely on concepts that they are, as Sherene Razack says, ‘victims of exceptionally patriarchal cultures’ to convince officials that their lives are genuinely at risk. This then allows ‘white Canada’ to conceive of itself as the culturally superior rescuer of the Other from backward ‘cultural dysfunction’.

    In the Independent last Monday Johann Hari made the same point how multiculturalism is betraying women. But the problem here is less about government policy and more about condescending attitudes of the middle classes towards ethnic minorities.

    Liberal journalists and commentators are understandably unwilling to demonise minorities given there is already much implicit and explicit racism in the rightwing press. But this protective behaviour can frequently tip over into a patronising exchange if the same standards are not applied that they would to their white counterparts.

    The norms and values of any imagined community, whether based on culture, religion or race, are never static or homogenous. They are constantly being negotiated, fought over and carry baggage from history, religion and soci-economic factors. If that can apply to whites, why not brown or black people?

    We see this play out when so-called community leaders are molly-coddled by the media on the basis that their culture, as defined by those ‘leaders’, should be protected from attack. Anyone of the same background challenging those attitudes can be labelled anything from ‘traitor’ to ’self-hating’ or of a ‘colonial mindset’ from the same leaders, while being ignored by some liberal commentators afraid of demonising anyone. For the Daily Mail and Telegraph types this presents an open goal because some of those criticisms, especially around religious extremism, are valid.

    Day after day I see ethnic minorities being blamed for “destroying the English way of life”. They do nothing of the sort. The problem for them, and the white working classes, is the snobby attitudes of many middle class commentators and policy makers. Blame them.

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    69 Comments below   |  

    1. ChrisC — on 9th May, 2007 at 2:27 pm  

      “Unsurprisingly, when I ask a complainer how minorities are destroying their culture, I get no reply.”

      Well one obvious reply might be that a culture of free speech is being slowly replaced with one of (self) censorship, cf the MoToons.

      But your main point seems spot on.
      There is no end to the condescending racism of the smug lefty middle class.

    2. Unity — on 9th May, 2007 at 2:56 pm  

      >>> Do white working classes have culture?

      Yeah, it’s those naan bread things with little bits of spring onion in them. 80D

      Sorry, couldn’t resist it.

    3. soru — on 9th May, 2007 at 3:11 pm  

      As I said on CiF, there has to b