I wasn’t really aware of the concept of class drag until my first year of university. I was at a dinner party, and the topic of benefits came up. A boy dressed head to toe in an Adidas tracksuit, with a chain slung around his neck drawled ‘I just don’t know why I should pay benefits for someone who fucked up their own life.’
My mum paid our rent with widow’s benefit after my dad died and there I was, sat at a dinner party with someone who thought that my mum was clearly morally degenerate in someway, or at least guilty of poor decision making. Believing that people who rely on benefits are stupid, or lazy, or undeserving relies on a very specific kind of wilful ignorance. In my experience, this kind of ignorance goes hand in hand with privilege.
None of us have any control over the family that we are born into. It’s not my fault that my family isn’t rich, and it isn’t Prince Harry’s fault that his is. But, it is your responsibility to educate yourself about the lives of people less fortunate than you. If you can sit there and argue that poor people are poor because they’re stupid, you don’t understand, or aren’t attempting to understand poverty. In a world where so much information is available and people are speaking up about inequality, you just aren’t listening.
When you combine this kind of flagrant disinterest in the effects of the class system with attempts to masquerade as a different class, it gets incredibly problematic. You can tell who’s wealthy and privileged at my university because they’re often trying desperately to look like they aren’t. I’m talking about trainers that are falling apart paired with eye wateringly expensive Canada Goose jackets.
And I get it, minority and working class cultures come up with innovative, creative trends. But these trends often provide an outlet for identity in a political, social and economic landscape filled with dead ends. You can’t demonise a culture and nick all the cool stuff from it at the same time. Wearing broken shoes is different when you can’t afford to buy new ones.
If you are attempting to mask the privilege that has enabled you to reach an elevated position in life, that demonstrates that you understand the injustice of the class system. Why don’t you want people to know that you’re posh? Is it because it’s more interesting to be working class, or is it because you know that if you weren’t posh, you might not be here?
I can’t sit here and say that everyone who subscribes to these trends and ideologies is thinking about them as much as I am. After all, they don’t have to. But it’s incredibly hurtful to interact with people who don’t realise their own privilege, or who realise it and attempt to mask it. I’m not asking you not to be rich, I’m asking you to be aware of the fact that you are. If you really want to be working class, it’s a little more complicated than wearing clothes from charity shops; try paying your own rent.