The Theft of Working-Class Culture
Your friendly reminder that working-class culture isn’t a trend for you to steal
I would like to start this by stating that I know privilege comes in many forms. Where you’re born, your gender, race, sexual orientation—they all, unfortunately, affect the quality of our life. However, the financial situation that you are born into is one of the most significant factors that affect your life.
On a personal note, I can appreciate every single privilege that I had in my life, but there are aspects that I find increasingly difficult to feel fortunate about.
As somebody who grew up in a Northern, working-class town, and whose early childhood was filled with hand-me-downs and money struggles, I’m always asked to speak on the topic.
Class, as a topic, is such a broad concept to talk about, whether it regards crime, money, or opportunities. However, something that is very rarely discussed is the theft of working-class culture.
The university experience
In my personal experience, I became truly aware of class differences when I entered University; you could spot the middle-class students from a mile away—they would be the ones screaming about how low their loans were, and complaining about how the students from poor backgrounds got bursaries.
It was an endless cycle of being told to feel fortunate that I was the first person in my family to get into higher education, and made to feel like I didn't truly belong. I would find myself in discussions about parent’s incomes, houses, and money on a daily basis. I’ve lost count of the number of times people insisted on showing me their parent’s house on Google maps.
I was also once informed by a lecturer that if I ever wanted a career in broadcast journalism, then I would have to lose the accent. I found that as I was pushed away from any type of opportunity, and automatically discredited, my middle-class friends were applying for unpaid internships—nothing short of a dream for working-class kids.
I could write another dissertation on how middle-class kids are automatically given better chances in life. However, my main anger during University stemmed from the fact that whilst I was being advised to disguise any indication of my working-class roots, other students were creating a “relatable” working-class persona, which only made them more likeable and sought-after.
Of course, I don’t think the middle-class students had any malicious intent, but claiming that they’re not that rich while attending schools that cost more than working-class people’s homes is hugely out of touch.
University was the first time that I had been around “the other half,” and it was shocking. They would spend the money their daddy gave them on drugs and alcohol, only to say that they don’t believe in giving money to the homeless because “they’ll spend it on drugs and alcohol.”
I was told that I didn’t understand economics (by men who had an equal understanding of economics as me) because I would have the nerve to believe in socialism.
Why does class matter?
As it is a topic that I talk about a lot, I often find people saying something along the lines of, “We’re all the same, regardless of money.”
I agree, this is a great mantra to live by—but if you ignore class, you simultaneously ignore all the struggles that working-class people go through. News flash: working-class people are ignored by the government every single day, and it doesn’t help. Not one bit.
So, let’s talk about the trend across the UK where middle and upper-class people will embrace working-class cultural signifiers whilst also possessing a visceral hatred towards actual working-class people, shown in the way they vote, speak, and act.
It’s the same people that glorify cheap drinks at Spoons and laugh about their dilapidated student home that would demonise working-class people for living in the exact same way. To be able to lionise cheap drinks and damp walls as part of an “experience” is a privilege in itself that needs to be addressed.
Even after graduating, the same people that I thought would grow out of their weird decision to fetishise working-class culture have only progressively become worse. Now, earning their own money, they continue to not only gentrify, but steal working-class culture for the sake of an Instagram post.
The big injustice - working-class culture and art
Working-class culture is filled with vibrancy, creativity, and political expression. As a community, we have no other option than to become opinionated—and express our opinions in creative ways. It’s the only way we would ever be seen.
Now, our fashion, art, and form of expressions are being stolen from us. They’re used in weird social media posts as a way for middle-class people to seem more progressive and exciting, especially during a social wave of feminism and socialism.
Many have argued that it’s a form of rebellion. The middle class are showing their distaste in their privileged, suburban upbringing. Which, in my humble opinion, couldn’t be further from the truth.
The middle-class people that I'm referring to love their entitlement. They’ll use their inherited money to buy urban clothes and stand in front of a graffitied wall for the sake of a great picture. They then proceed to judge a working-class single mum on benefits for wearing the exact same thing, living in that exact same neighbourhood.
Last week, I was scrolling through Twitter to find pictures of an artist’s interior of their house. It was bare, industrial, and mirrored a cardboard box. Of course, the entire design cost hundreds of thousands, and ultimately hit a new level of gentrification.
It’s almost like social media has placed a lens over our real eyes. When we see working-class people living in these same situations, wearing the same clothes and showcasing the same mannerisms, society villainises them. However, when we see the exact same thing on social media, “performed” by rich artists or influencers, we celebrate creativity. Why?
What is working-class culture?
Britain has a strong history of societal conditioning. It has been reinforced into us from youth, that you don’t talk back to the privileged classes. The classes have been controlled by policies, laws, and beliefs for decades. Now, working-class people are becoming increasingly more educated, the world is getting smaller, and injustices are apparent.
The once controlled class is becoming more outspoken. We’re pushing for a fairer society—and the upper classes are terrified. Take one look at Alan Sugar’s Twitter to prove this.
Working-class culture is creative, brash, and unique. It’s a product of thousands of years of silence and struggle. And it’s being stolen right in front of our eyes for likes.
The absolute worst thing about playing class dress-up is that it does absolutely nothing to dismantle prejudice or hatred towards lower classes.
If you’re bankrolled by your parents, attended a school worth more than some people’s lifetime income, and were able to accept unpaid internships in London—own it.
Wearing unlabelled tracksuits and raving about Gregg's vegan sausage roll doesn’t make you a relatable human being. It’s offensive and embarrassing to watch.
If you’re heavily influenced by a working-class artist’s work—whether it be fashion or canvas prints—make sure to credit them, and showcase their work. Remember, we weren't all born on a pedestal.