I’m British, I’m white and from a poor working-class background in a Northern English city. I am lucky enough to have a university education. I passionately believe in social justice and that everybody should have the same chances for health care, educational opportunities, career advancement, and the right to work hard and prosper.
Now, like everyone on the planet, I have my biases and prejudices, too. But like everyone else I developed them as I got older. As a kid I was innocent and carefree. I grew up in what Americans call a neighborhood in a downtown part of Liverpool.
The Reality of Poverty
I had a poor but somewhat idyllic childhood, even though the area we lived in could be designated as a slum. Or house had an outside toilet, no bath or shower (I was washed in a sink overlooking the back/front yard), living literally down a back entry (the front door of the house being also the back door). We ran the TV off the light switch (there were no electric points in the house). And when it rained we had, I recall, about eight different utensils to catch the rain coming through the roof.
Yet my dad did many jobs, almost all I think low paid and dead end. But, this to me was not the result of prejudice or injustice, it was just a reality for my family, and no doubt many others.
For me, what constitutes the worst sort of prejudice and injustice is when wealthy people, or even affluent middle-class people, hold and express deeply unfair and offensive misconceptions about poverty and those living in or on the cusps of poverty. It is easy to just dismiss the type of people I come from, the laboring class, the people who drive the buses and serve your beer in the bar or coffee in the café. We are the people who clean toilets. Others are unfortunately unemployed.
We often are also the people who live in the projects (what we in the U.K. call council housing) or rundown and sometimes crime ridden inner cities with strains and social tensions of various kinds.
Too many people dismiss this class of people as dispensable, when ironically the people who clean toilets, drive buses or ambulances, and cook and serve school dinners, and so on and so on are actually the backbone of healthy societies. Everybody would know if people stopped cleaning toilets, but not too many people would notice or care if a few financiers or very wealthy CEOs of major corporations lost their jobs. Those particular individuals are actually dispensable, because there are plenty of people willing to replace them.
Too many people dismiss this class of people as dispensable, when ironically the people who clean toilets, drive buses … and so on are actually the backbone of healthy societies.”
An Arbitrary System
As someone from very much the lower rung of the English class system – poor but by no means deprived and having loving responsible parents – my view is that the whole class system is unfair. It lumps people, particularly those people perceived to be poor, working-class, uneducated and so on, as an amorphous mass of faceless people with problems that can’t be solved. The system then blames those people for the problems they face, particularly economic ones. In reality, the system favors some and discriminates sometimes very harshly, and sometimes even arbitrarily, against others.
I believe a more equitable society begins to come about when we refuse to accept poverty for ourselves or others, and we pursue social justice in whatever way we can. Some to write, some to encourage, some to teach, some to give what they can and others to promote justice, if even in their own small way.
We all have the power to treat others with compassion, fairness, tolerance and justice.