Dhaka, Bangladesh
It's not the 'white working class' the real home of bigotry

It's not the 'white working class' the real home of bigotry

New research this week has undermined the widely held view that to be prejudiced you must be poor. It turns out that, rather than the working class or the poorest, it is middle-income earners - those on salaries of £25k-£50k - who are more likely to feel threatened by immigrants: Muslims, Gypsies and Travellers. Tell me something I don't know. For years, we have had a deeply divisive and incorrect conversation about the working class. We constantly hear the working class is white rather than multi-ethnic; that it is the white working class who disproportionately voted for Brexit, even though that is factually incorrect; and that it is among the white working class that we find the majority of British racism. The white working class has become the group that gets blamed for everything, and is simultaneously told that they should blame immigrants for their problems. It's perfect when you think about it: the middle and upper classes can pretend they don't have any prejudices, while the working class fight among themselves instead of blaming the bosses and policymakers. I've always been suspicious about the white working class narrative. Having gone from a relatively white working-class neighbourhood in East London to the University of Oxford, I experienced first-hand the prejudice that exists among the elite. Like the fellow student who asked me, "Why do black people cause crime?", and someone who now works on policy who told me that he couldn't speak to my friend from home because he couldn't stand her strong cockney accent. And then there's all the evidence that it is the white middle class who are making the decisions that result in structural barriers to equality. After all, it's not the white working class making hiring decisions that mean it takes black graduates months longer to get a job than their white counterparts. It certainly wasn't the white working class who came up with racist policies like the hostile environment or austerity, which has disproportionally affected the poorest women of colour. Who was it that designed and ran the various xenophobic Leave campaigns? Anna Soubry telling the world that Theresa May doesn't like immigrants shouldn't have been a shock to anyone - there are clearly many bigots in high places. Of course, you can be in certain working-class jobs and on £25k a year, but the truth remains that racial prejudice is not confined to one social class. Politicians from Thatcher to Blair have tried to wish away class differences in economic and political power - they were wrong, but so too are those who argue that class is a defining feature of racism. Prejudice has no class. Politicians trying to win over the working-class vote by pandering to the right are barking up the wrong tree, and they are also losing the growing ethnic minority vote. On the flip side, some on the left need to recognise that increasing wages or tackling regional or overall economic inequality is not going to magic away racism. To do that we need a nationwide cultural project including telling people the truth about the British empire. We also need to stop using immigration as a political football. The same research showed that nearly four out of 10 people believe immigrants threaten Britain's future, with 31% worried about Muslim people, 41% believing Gypsies, Roma and Travellers pose a slight or major threat and 6% concerned about Jewish people. For a multicultural country with a colonial history, these numbers are a sign that we are doing something very wrong. Instead of looking around to point fingers at the white working class, it is time we started looking inwards and upwards.

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