Divide and Rule:Re-Post

I re-post this post because of the recent statement by John Denham that “ethnic  minorities are no longer always automatically disadvantaged”, which if you look at the comments on the BBC news website is full of racist postings.  This excellent Reader on this issue cuts the crap.

Working Class Youth - according to the The Daily Telegraph

Working Class Youth - according to the The Daily Telegraph

Over it’s eight essays, it shows how good old divide and rule tactics are still being used by the ruling classes and their acolytes to unfortunate good effect.

The themes include educational attainment, housing and the portrayal of the white, working class as a ethnic minority, rather than part of a multi-ethnic working class.

In the opening essay, Wendy Bottero makes the observation that the “white” working class are portrayed “as a council estate dwelling, single-parenting, low-achieving, rottweiler-owning cultural minority, whose poverty, it is hinted, might be the result of their own poor choices…and have the epithets ‘chav’, ‘asbo’ and ‘pramface’ (and hoodies) applied to them. While the very same commentators are also at pains to portray them as victims of a liberal conspiracy to promote the interests of (non-white) immigrants over theirs.

So : “…comparison to other groups is always in terms of their ethnicity, with Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets, or Pakistanis in Oldham. The distinctive social position of these groups is presented in terms of their ethnic identity, as cultural or religious difference, rather than by the very marked class inequalities that they also experience. This exaggerates the differences between ethnic groups and masks what they hold in common. By stressing the whiteness of the white working class, the class inequality of other ethnic groups also slips from view. This sidesteps the real issue of class inequality, focusing on how disadvantaged groups compete for scarce resources, rather than exploring how that scarcity is shaped in the first place. If we really want to understand disadvantage, we need to shift our attention from who fights over the scraps from the table, to think instead about how much the table holds, and who really gets to enjoy the feast.” Quite.

Shortage, or rather unequal distribution of social goods, such a educational resources, is one pressure point to divide the “white” and “non-white” working class.

… Just 24 per cent of disadvantaged white boys
now leave school with five or more good GCSEs.
This compares with 33.7 per cent for black
African boys from similar low-income households.
There were fears last night that the figures
could hand votes to the far-Right British
National Party because additional funding is
available to help children from ethnic minorities.
(Daily Mail, 13 January 2007)

As David Gilborn comments:

“There are several things to consider here. First, the misleading assertion that ‘additional funding is available to help children from ethnic minorities’: in fact, local authorities (LAs) and schools have to bid for dedicated funding towards minority education projects: the additional funds are not simply handed out, automatically privileging minoritized children as the story seems to suggest.

Second, the story argues that the results could fuel support for extreme political parties like the British National Party (BNP). This
repeats a line of argument that has featured in British political discourse since the late-1950s – when riots by white racists led to the first major immigration controls (Sic).

By warning of the danger of inflaming support for racist parties, what actually happens is that politicians and commentators invoke the threat of racist violence as a means of disciplining calls for greater race equality . Official statistics reveal that most groups in poverty achieve relatively poor results regardless of ethnic background… the achievement gap between white students in poverty (in receipt of free school meals – FSM) and more affluent whites (non-FSM) is more than three times bigger than the gaps between different ethnic groups who are equally disadvantaged… And yet it is the race gap that is highlighted both in the Daily Mail story (above), which warns of BNP mobilization, and in the attendant story in the Times Educational Supplement.It is significant that despite the larger class inequality, media commentators and policy advisers do not warn of an impending class war…”

Social Housing is in crisis.
The crisis is not, as the right-wing press would like you to believe one created by a influx of scrounging foreigners, but of a chronic shortage, created by the Thatcherite policy of “right to buy” and an absence of major new public housing projects.

Tensions between the indigenous (not necessarily) white population and recent immigrants is often exploited where housing is concerned:

“…there is always far more demand than
supply of social housing, and only people who are technically homeless, and/or have multiple social problems, disabilities, or dependent children, can aspire to be housed by local authorities in the short to medium term. The chunk of working-class families on low to medium wages who used to be relatively certain of getting access to council housing in the period up to the 1980s are now unlikely to enjoy that luxury…allocation is based primarily
on points systems like ‘needs’ and ‘bidding’.”

The upshot of this policy, combined with low social housing stock means that only the poorest 20% of the population ever can get social housing. The very poorest people are often the most recent immigrants. From the viewpoint of the established residents, for instance, on Bristol’s Barton Hill Estate, it may seem that new immigrants are given higher priority than people who may have been waiting longer. Some are, but on basis of need and income, rather than race. It is those politician’s (and those who voted for them?) who systematically dimnished available social housing who are to blame.

Other contributions include Becky Taylor’s and Ben Rogaly’s look at over simplifications of both the class-basis of racism – as likely to be found on a playground in an affluent middle class area as in a ‘sink’ council estate comprehensive – they mainly concentrate, however, on questioning the  over simplification of a white working class identity, stating that:

“Migration out of the United Kingdom is as important as migration into it in the making of its constituent nations and of the idea of Britishness”

“The essay draws on oral history interviews with 73 people who were (former) residents or workers in three social housing estates in Norwich. In it we use the term ‘indigenous’ transnationalism to
refer to the transnational practices of people who have not moved away from their place of birth but are related or otherwise connected to people who have done so.”

The complete set of essays is available at:
www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/pdfs/WhoCaresAboutTheWhiteWorkingClass-2009.pdf

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