The reason I wasn’t able to avoid it is because it caused such a furore amongst everyone I know and was subsequently posted all over facebook and twitter. There’s no denying that Katie Hopkins, whoever she may be, is a stuck up idiot but I know for a fact that a lot of the people who are now claiming the moral high ground have their own class issues. Scratch the surface and I reckon there is a core of snobbery running through all of us.
Snobbery or prejudice, if you want to give it its real name, takes many forms and is usually rooted in our own experiences. We have a tendency to see our way as the best way and consequently become more than a little but prickly when people challenge our ideas. I’ve had lots of conversations, for example, with working class parents of children with aspirations to go to university. Often they didn’t go to university themselves and tend to fall into one of two camps. They can see it as an amazing opportunity for their offspring, sometimes placing too much store in what a degree can actually bring or they can be dead set against it, viewing it as a very expensive waste of time. The latter are the ones who talk about the University of Life and maintain how they and everybody they know have managed just fine without any form of higher education. The thing is the University of Life may be more than adequate for a successful life but where’s the fun in that? University is, or should be, about so much more than education. It’s about finding out who you are and taking the first real steps into adulthood. My heart goes out to young people these days with the inordinate tuition fees and fewer and fewer places, which means that universities are dominated more and more by the middle classes, but I still think it’s worth giving it a try. I would say to any young person contemplating an application, forget obsessing about the best courses and instead base your choices around a vibrant, exciting city with lots of potential for having the time of your life.
According to the ridiculous Katie Hopkins, the Chardonnays and Tylers from working class backgrounds are less likely to succeed at school and she fears they may infect her little darlings with their feckless, lower class ways. Well, I’ve taught in affluent schools, where my students have been the off spring of Harley Street consultants and captains of industry and in schools where an employed parent is the exception rather than the norm. The only difference is one set of students have every advantage, including personal tutors to coach them through exams, whereas the others have the odds stacked heavily against them. On the surface the outcome seems cut and dried but it’s amazing how many of the so called privileged kids buckle under the pressure to succeed or rebel and refuse to engage with education.
Amongst the people I have worked with over the years (many of whom are now baying for Katie Hopkins’ blood) I’ve heard examples of snobbery from both extremes. There are those who refuse to work in impoverished schools, claiming it would be a waste of their skills, purporting that ‘those kinds of kids’ need social workers not teachers. And maybe some of them do but there are vast numbers desperate to learn, achieving amazing results and, were it a level playing field, worthy of pursuing a high level career. I’ve heard other teachers deride affluent schools, saying they wouldn’t want to work with stuck up, arrogant kids. That’s not been my experience, being the product of affluent parents does not automatically mean that kids will be arrogant. It may sound ridiculously simple but kids are kids. They all want the same things, to feel secure, listened to and valued, they’re no different to the rest of us.
Class in the UK has never been more relevant. The recession and mass unemployment has created a more prevalent underclass and the middle classes, clawing desperately to keep their own spoils, have never been more keen to distance themselves from the people who they see as responsible for all the country’s ills. After all it’s much easier to blame the single mums and the workshy than the greedy politicians and bankers. Fear of losing what little we have, makes us cling to our prejudices even tighter and we resent anybody we perceive to be threatening our status, be that immigrants or benefit claimants.
It’s not as if it’s anything new, it’s been going on for years. My granddad was an Irish immigrant and I grew up in an area where most families had an Irish connection. The older ones would talk about when they first arrived in this country and how they would see signs in pubs and other such establishments stating ‘no dogs and Irish’. Most of them found jobs in the then thriving steel industry but still resentment ran strong. The Irish people I knew growing up came to this country for work and each generation fared a little better. My generation were the first to grow up with the expectation of a comfortable childhood and a university education.
It’s not hard to see then that most prejudices are rooted in fear. The trouble is, by clinging to our prejudice, we are robbing ourselves of a myriad of opportunities and experiences. Prejudice may keep us safe in our comfortable, unchanging world but how stifling is that? If Katie Hopkins gets her way and her children only ever associate with people like themselves, won’t that simply limit their world view and rob them of potential friendships and experiences that could enrich their lives?
As I said earlier, it’s easy to take the moral high ground when prejudice rears its ugly head but we all have our peccadilloes. I have no wish to sound holier than thou; after all I have my own issues to work on. I find religion a tricky one, not benign religion but the kind that threatens fire and brimstone. I know where my prejudice stems from; I spent one of the worst weekends of my life, at the hands of religious zealots. It was in Guildford in 1981 – see it’s burned into my memory. I had been invited by an, up until that point seemingly normal, housemate to visit her family. They turned out to be staunch Tories, which paled into insignificance in the face of their religious beliefs. They spent the entire weekend telling me I would burn in hell if I didn’t embrace Christ. It was like being in a particularly dreary cult, we never left the house and they completely traumatised me for life.
Politics is another issue that’s hard to reconcile. I should know better than to judge people because my beloved old head of department was a rabid Tory, who would dismiss my own political views as childish prattle. A recent testing time for me was the death of Thatcher. There were times when I felt as though I was living in a parallel universe as history was suddenly reinvented and the old witch was well and truly airbrushed. Frankly, I thought the woman was evil and I would have happily danced on her grave. I still get chest pains thinking that I contributed to paying for her funeral. I make no apologies for that and would be a hypocrite to state otherwise. What I find difficult is that now the furore has faded away, it’s impossible to see people in the same way after they pinned their colours to the ‘official’ version of events, essentially dismissing the millions of lives that she destroyed.
The irony is not lost on me that there could be people reading this, silently simmering with fury, as their own prejudices kick in. That’s what makes it all so ridiculous and divisive. Maybe we just need to let it go and simply live and let live.