The ‘Culture Wars’, ‘Attack on Britishness’ and the ‘White Working Class’ Problem

Some tell me there’s a ‘culture war’ going on and, to be perfectly honest I don’t know what that means. I can just as easily go buy fish and chips and see Morris Dancers as I can go buy pad thai and go watch a Swedish crime drama, or read a novel by a Japanese Author.

They tell me there’s an attack on ‘Britishness’ but, what the fuck even is that? They still show a Jurassic Park film, without fail, every weekend, on ITV. Wallace and Gromit do adverts now, that’s an attack on Britishness but I don’t see people complaining? Tikka-masala hasn’t vanished off the face of the Earth and there’s no swarm of beige-folk desperately paddling our damp, twisted island through the straits of Gibraltar to park it near the Middle-East in the Med. You wouldn’t complain if they did! We’d end up off the coast of Israel, with a banging climate, growing oranges and lemons in our back gardens! What’s this attack on ‘Britishness’?

Oh they don’t want people waving the Union Flag at the proms because it might upset people? Well it upsets me anyway, as a British person. It always has. Because there’s nothing I like less than being represented on the world stage by mindless flag-wavers when our country has produced some the most nuanced artists, celebrated scientists and undoubted finest ever people. That twat in a suit with his made-in-China Union flags at the proms can fuck off. He’s an attack on my Britishness.

Maybe it’s just that I’m not ‘patriotic’. I’ve never really understood the notion of it anyway. I’m a biologist, though, so I don’t necessarily take pride in my ancestry. We all evolved out of the same bubbling puddle of pseudo-piss. One person being ‘better’ than another because they were born in a different country is not patriotism it’s fucking stupidity.  We all share a common ancestry that goes way, way back until we were just molecules in ooze.

If there is a culture ‘war’ it’s a quiet one that mainly involves pockets of people quietly getting on with their own things much as usual.

But, I suppose, the radio turned our once silent houses loud with the goings on of the country, our televisions then opened us up to the sights of the world and, with the internet we can now interact with them all.

The world opening up, especially so rapidly, can be a scary thing, in many ways. Your once quiet little corner can suddenly be flooded by people, activities, foods, sights, sounds, smells, music and politics from other places. Issues that barely seem to touch your isolated little burgh can be projected on the news as the most important thing of all time and issues that barely affect you can be made to feel like they should affect you, they should be foremost in your mind.

But a culture ‘war’ – I don’t think there is one.

If there is it’s a phony war, a proxy, two sides (both equally rich, regardless of nationality, skin colour or religion) each vying for a slice of something and looking to get some hopeless idealists embroiled in it to fight for them, to fight for their enrichment.

If it’s a ‘culture war’ they’re wanting it’s World War I – utterly redundant other than for the few people who own everything to renegotiate which one has bigger bollocks than the other and quite where the boundaries of their scrota lie.

Of course then you have the ‘white working class boys’ problem – and, an undeniable problem it is. I can’t even snark at that. Three of those words apply to me and one of them only doesn’t because I was a problem so long I’m not a ‘boy’ anymore.

I have had conversations, read articles, noticed all the speculations, pontificated, evaluating and rationalising the situation – “Why are the white working-classes voting against, working against, their own self-interests?”

They are voting for the side that, for good or for ill, whether its lies or not, is advocating for them.

Fewer than 5% of students are classified as being from ‘disadvantaged white’ backgrounds according to the National Education Opportunities Network. But why is that?

For a young Indian woman, the British son of Nigerian born immigrants, a middle-classed disabled person of non-binary gender, going to university might be something to aspire to, something to believe in, something to work towards.

But what about when you grow up on a housing estate where all your mates take the piss out of you because you like to read books?

Aspiration itself is a decidedly middle-class phenomenon, but in white communities is there the same anger at the injustice? Is there the same chip-on-the-shoulder that other ethnic communities might have? Is there the same desire to become part of, to take ownership of, something only rightfully denied them by discrimination?

We’ve discussed learned helplessness before. Well what if, on a massively social level, learned helplessness can become a thing. A lack of aspiration not through laziness, through lack of want, but through repeatedly learning that to try is to fail. What if you have seen, say, a family member work harder than anyone else you have ever known in your life and they are still squandering their days away in the same council house as you?

If any group exhibits a social learned helplessness it is the white working-classes. I know, I’ve met them. I know, I am them.

From Milgram, through Zimbardo and onto Sapolsky – it is rare not to find a psychologist or anthropologist who expresses the importance of obedience and acceptance in your community.

Going out and finding a new community – now that takes a rare, pioneering bravery, and many, and heart-breaking, are the anecdotes of people of lower-incomes entering worlds they have been ill-prepared for.  

The white working-classes are so quick to vote away their own rights, sign their names on the dotted-lines of their own death warrants not because they’re stupid, uneducated fools who just hate foreigners more than they like themselves.

It’s because they’re in a mire, a shit pit, full of explosive gases that could explode at any minute – and then a bunch of rich people approach them, say “Some brown people are coming with matches to burn you all up, we can stop them, just agree to do as we say.” And they agree, because they’re already in the pit and the only thing they feel they can do is stop it getting worse.  

Yet I am white.

I am male.

Yet I have no power. I have no position of authority or responsibility.

I have no job, no role in ‘society’ at all. I am literally not a stakeholder in anything, beyond my own survival.

I have little to no wealth. I live benefits payment to benefits payment.

The PS5 that so many are moaning about not being able to buy on launch-day I am preparing to save for potentially two years for.

My council persecutes me for existing as a peasant in an area they want to attract the wealthy to. 

My government persecutes me for a condition I was born with, had no say in and has cost me more in opportunity than it will cost them in taxes.

I have no formal educational qualifications.

My most valuable possession is a van that, much likes its owner, isn’t getting any younger and is fast breaking down.

Sure, police don’t bother me as much as they would if I had darker skin.

Some of my political views when I was younger, if I was an Asian, Muslim lad, would have had me flagged up as a potential danger of ‘radicalisation’.

But this, my friends, is not what privilege looks like.

And I certainly didn’t vote my rights away.

The danger I see with this constant debate is it becomes male vs. female, black vs. white, anglo vs. ethnic, Muslim vs. Christian, vegan vs. meat-eater, cis vs. trans.

All the while I just keep imagining that somewhere out there someone profits off this divide and conquer – because someone always does. Newspapers, with billionaire owners, promote stories of this culture war. Websites, with multi-millions pound revenues, encourage the anger and outrage. If there is a division out there, someone is profiting of it and if there is a division someone isn’t profiting off you can be damn sure the sharks’ll smell it and come to turn it into bank.

I think back to my time spent living in one of the most deprived areas of Cardiff, where black, white and Asian families all mingle and merge. What divisions are springing up in places like that, now? What latent racism is being brought to the fore, stirred up for political advantage of some rich twat who only cares for the colour of money? For all of Boris Johnson’s seemingly harmless foppery, he’s a dangerous man. He, somehow, inspires people.

What divisions are stoked in society, against the white-man, against the working-class brexiteer, against the uppity-woman, the old-crone who won’t shut up, the feisty young black fella, the shady muslim, the obnoxious Christian, the transphobic author, the gay journalist, the trans activist, what hatreds are being stirred up not because there is a ‘culture war’ but because there is money to be made in the selling us the paraphernalia, the weapons, of one?

I have mentioned Robert Sapolsky’s name above. His book, Behave, is one that I will link to and I think everybody should buy and read.

He has travelled the world and engaged many cultures and understood many of the best and worst of human behaviours but one of the most disturbing chapters is on the Rwandan genocides. This will be a massively over-simplified narrative but essentially after Belgian imperial occupation the population of Rwanda was assigned three main tribes. The majority were Hutu (around 84% of the population) the minority were Tutsi (around 15%) and there was the super-minority the Twa tribe (around 1%).

By the time of the Rwandan civil wars in the early 1990s, divisional rhetoric, stirring up hatred and suspicion of the Tutsi, by the Hutu majority government, began. Preparations were made and Hutu communities were training in ‘self-defence’ and given access to weapons such as machetes.

Why do I think of this when I think of our current situation?

Because an enemy was made out of neighbours, from nowhere, for little more than political gain and it led to neighbours slaying neighbours, the spilling of neighbours’ blood, hand-to-hand, no tanks had to roll in, no automatic weapons were needed, no mass mobilisation of military was required, just normal, everyday people would beat other normal, everyday people to death in the street, in their homes, in their places of worship, for a ‘culture war’ – invented, propagandised, for power and for profit.

By the time the violence ceased an estimated 200,000-800,000 Tutsis, moderate Hutus or those who tried to protect their neighbours, and members of the Twa tribe had been killed.

It happens easily, it starts with a division, the division is stoked for profit, the profit is made but the fire still burns, the original stokers either lose control of the fire or something happens to spark it, and spread it and the next thing you know Cardiff race riots, Brixton, Tottenham or, God forbid Kristallnacht and Rwanda are happening on our streets.

When I hear ‘white-working class boys are being left behind’ I know it is true. But I know the inclusion of the word ‘white’ is there for a reason, to contrast with black, to contrast with colour, to separate these concepts. To give Daily Mail readers something to spit their tea out over and go “These bloody foreigners are at it again!” When the biggest perpetrators of inequality have always been and will always be the wealthy.

The biggest communities suffering will be ‘working-class’ regardless of skin colour, as the research mostly shows.

Inequality exists, and I feel the full force of it. I may as well be a piece of shit on somebody’s shoe for the ways I have been treated by some people, some who have professed to care for me, to want what’s best for me.

I have been discredited, removed, ostracised and alienated for not doing things the ‘right’ way, when I’d never been taught the right way. The only way I know is hustle and grind – The rules where I’m from – not that rules matter much where I’m from.

I’ve also been excluded for not having enough money. For not being able to afford a ticket to this show or that school trip.

During my university education, for all the minimal accommodations made for my disability, they barely touched the sides and I dropped out yet again.

Inequality is.

I am not discriminated against because I am white, I don’t want the rhetoric, the politicking and the nastiness to get it to a place where that is the case.

But I am definitely discriminated against for being poor, for being working-class, for living in a council house and for being unemployed – and that is true regardless of your skin colour.

There’s no ‘culture war’ going on here, just the same bullshit keeping the poor person subservient and the rich people wealthy.

There’s no ‘attack on Britishness’, just a desire for a respect to truly reflect the multicultural aspect of a nation that, at one point, went around the world stealing bits of it for itself.

There is an attack on the poor. Regardless of colour, regardless of sex, regardless of gender.

There shouldn’t be.

And we need to make sure we are showing the same love and compassion to all of them.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

An overly curious lovechild of Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs and the kitsch pen section of Paperchase. Karl is on a mission to expose the seedy underbelly of academia, and thus making it appealing to wrong 'uns.

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