Luke John Davies
Originally posted on a now defunct blog on Nov. 15th 2016.
I have watched the statuses of my friends following the election of Donald Trump with something approaching despair. Some people seem to be saying that we’ve neglected the needs of the white working class and must now focus on them. Others that the white working class has implicitly accepted racism and misogyny by voting for Trump/Brexit and that to ‘pander’ to them is to do the same.
My concern with both of those positions is that they are complicit in the idea that society is a zero sum game — that we have to choose to either talk about and act on race and gender OR on white working class insecurity. All that does is reinforce the Right’s notion of “them or us”.
It seems to me that if we on the left accept the parameters of the Right that its an either/or choice, a them and us, then we’ve already lost. We need to talk about race and gender and class together – apart from anything else a lot of individuals are affected by all three. There is an argument to be made to the white working class that they should be allying themselves with the BAME working class because they’re both facing similar problems. That is an old argument, it’s an historically successful argument, and it’s an argument that for some reason many of us in the UK have stopped making.
We need to return to making that argument. We need to return to pointing out that fighting racism and sexism leads to more employment and a better, fairer economy, which in turn leads to greater demand, a better economy and brings jobs to all in a community. We need to recognise that expressions of white working class culture are not inherently racist, and can happen alongside expressions of BAME identity without tensions or conflict — look at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony which celebrated the industrial working class AND the Suffragette movement AND the arrival of the Windrush all in one joyful pageant. And we need to remind ourselves that issues like problems in healthcare and education cut across both white working class and BAME working class communities alike.
Fighting inequalities is everyone’s battle because racism and sexism hold back our whole society, including white men. Obviously not to anywhere near the same extent. Obviously that doesn’t mean white men (including myself) will understand, or at least never fully, the experiences of racism or sexism or homophobia that victims have had. But if parts of our communities are held back by prejudice then our whole community is held back, so the whole community has not only a moral duty but also an enlightened self-interest in stamping it out. Being an ally makes all of our lives better too.
Not talking about this kind of solidarity in our communities leads to the Labour Party – overwhelmingly now middle-class – lecturing white working class people and condescending to BAME working class people rather than making common cause together with both groups. The central tenet of our belief on the Left is that we achieve more by our common endeavour than we achieve alone. That insight is correct. It’s time we started living by it again.