In The Times today Trevor Philips argues that in Britain class is a bigger discriminator than race. I don’t want to rank prejudices and for what it’s worth see all too many cultural dividers around. Race, Class, Gender – and a dozen more. But Class is certainly high up this gruesome list.
Shaw rightly said how we speak is a huge divider. Accents are not infallible evidence of social class, but they are pretty good. Factor in dress and manners and you can pretty precisely place someone’s background in a few minutes. Joan Bakewell, from a working class background changed her speech on the train from Liverpool. My employer back in the 1960s unquestionably discriminated and selected white middle class males ahead of any other group.
Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about discrimination. Race is important. You can, like Bakewell, change how you speak. You can educate yourself to smarten your intelligence. You can adopt behaviour that the culture you’re in sees as the norm. But you can’t change your race.
The hair straighteners and skin whiteners don’t work. And race brings a culture with it including, sometimes, religion and family norms. The various anti discrimination movements try to make us believe that those who are different from us matter. They are right, black lives do matter and we need more activism, not less. More “taking the knee” not less. And those at the top, especially those who are themselves from a minority, should be in the front line.
Priti Patel has made her position clear. She is of course of East African Asian heritage. Her family fled discrimination to make a home in Britain. She grew up in a Hindu household so she will be quite aware what being an immigrant and not of the mainstream religion, as well as not of the dominant white middle class, means.
I don’t want to discuss Patel here – I find her Hard Right stance on everything puzzling (given her background) but that’s not the key point about discrimination.
That point is the irrationally of prejudice combined with the fact that it is inculcated into British society. If people are different far too many of us denigrate them. Perhaps it’s idealism but I welcome multiculturalism and believe it enriches our society. And if a group is marginalised because of their colour we should all protest – it’s not “gesture politics” , it’s a cry for human rights.