Friday, March 14, 2008


Much debate around the BBC's White season, which seems to be less about race than it is about creating (or pandering to) grotesque stereotypes of working class people. Seamus Milne of the Guardian wrote a well-argued piece yesterday:

You'd never know it from the way these things are discussed by politicians and the media, but most people in Britain - 53% at the last count - regard themselves as working class. And however hard it may be to agree on definitions of class, that majority is reflected across a range of statistical breakdowns of modern British society. Getting on for 40% of the workforce are still manual workers, for instance; add in clerical workers and you're getting on for two thirds.

I'm not sure it's so hard to agree on definitions of class; indeed, I've suggested before that "the working-class person is he or she who has nothing to bargain with except his or her labour power – the very labour power which will create profit for his employer." But such archaic Marxisms are unlikely to appeal to the BBC, which expertly commissions a range of programmes, from drama to comedy, which show working-class people as salt-of-the-earth, on-the-make dimwits.

The BBC series has nothing whatsoever to do with race, nor any sensible notion of c lass. "It's not a case of woman v man / It's more a case of haves against haven'ts," sang Jarvis Cocker on "I spy" in 1996. We all knew then - didn't we - that the imminent election of a New Labour government would harmonise these class boundaries. Ten years on, the conception of the working class is more sickeningly bourgeois than ever, and our most exciting predictions (white working class = basically and unredeemably racist) are, happily, allowed to come true.


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