Monday, 28 November 2011

Alienation, racism and the white working class

A video is doing the rounds on YouTube called "My Tram Experience." In it, an obviously racist white woman rants against a carriage full of black people. Exposure of the video on the internet has led to a 34 year old woman being arrested by British Transport Police.

The video has sparked a lot of outrage and offence, which is quite understandable. This wasn't a somewhat right-wing rant or a Daily Mail editorial - it was unadulterated racist venom directed at people that this woman decided weren't British on the basis that they were black. Even without the racism, she was aggressive and abusive in a way that simply cannot be justified. Moreover, there is a high likelihood that she was drunk when this incident was filmed.

But though most people would be horrified by this woman's outburst, the fact remains that the views behind it are incredibly widespread. This point was reiterated today by a survey from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which found that white working class Britons "felt they were a forgotten community and had been ignored by policy-makers at local or national level." Citing both "neighbourhood change" and "the impact of immigration," they said that they "felt they had been unfairly treated by government, especially in terms of allocation to social housing." At the same time, they resented "the popular stereotype of being stupid and benefit dependent."

On the cultural side, the report found that many white working class people "stated that cultural identity – as evidenced in social clubs, public-sector housing and pubs – had largely disappeared, replaced by communities (minority groups and newly arrived immigrants) who had no allegiance to the neighbourhood, identity-based organisations and services." This tied in with the fact that "In employment, social services, community development and most notably housing, there was a strong and consistent view that residents lost out to minorities and new migrants."

It isn't hard to see how these views develop. Indeed, that the Mail today reported this with the headline "White working class Britons 'don't get a fair deal compared with ethnic minorities'" itself demonstrates the media role in putting a racial spin on issues. But it's not entirely media propaganda, and there is a very real issue of marginalisation and alienation that needs to be addressed.

The problem is that said marginalisation comes ultimately down to class, not race. As one example, the social housing stock is depleted because of both Thatcher's "right-to-buy" policy in the 80s and the continual sell-off to private landlords, whilst there has been no re-investment in the market. At the same time, even though housing is allocated on a need basis, that refugee families are amongst those with a greater need skewers people's perceptions - amply helped by the tabloids and right-wing propaganda.

The real issue is a class one, with profit being put before need - further exemplified by compulsory purchase orders and the sell-off of land to developers in the name of "regeneration." Not to mention that there are 651,000 empty houses in England to 61,000 homeless households. Clearly, there is something other than immigration at the heart of the matter.

But the sad fact is that most white working class people don't see that. What they see is a relentless attack on their community and local culture whilst refugees and migrants are shoved into the same deprived areas - and then the government and media tells them it's a matter of nationality and immigration. The left has long abandoned them, the middle class liberals sneer at them as "chavs" and all the while everything they've ever known is torn down around them. What else are they to believe?

This doesn't excuse the woman in My Tram Experience for a second. As I said before, she is clearly racist and her behaviour aggressive and abusive. But whilst the video on YouTube may leave us shocked at her actions, we should be more shocked - and angry - at the social order that is leading ever more people to think like her.