Notes on: Ball, S., Rollock, N., Vincent, C. & Gillborn, D. (2011)  Social mix, schooling and intersectionality: identity and risk for Black middle class families, Research Papers in Education, DOI:10.1080/02671522.2011.641998

Dave Harris

[One of those based on the ESRC project. Qualitative semistructured interviews and 62 parents who self define as Black Caribbean. Some had partners outside of their ethnic group and these were included. Participants were recruited through announcements on family education websites, contacts with Black professional networks and social groups, and snowballing. They use class classification based on Goldthorpe's service class and the National Statistics Socio-economic classification 1 and 2. {and also some insights from Bourdieu}. The research team was two men and two women, three White and one Black, respondents were asked to indicate a preference. They were sent copies of the interview transcript; none wanted to make changes although some elaborated or clarified the responses. Other variables included age, domestic circumstances, education and income: most earned between £36k and £50,000, 49% held a Masters degree. They are nearly always first-generation middle-class and have been upwardly mobile, whose parents have had high aspirations and expectations. They have high aspirations and expectations for their own children and education is a key asset

They used a combination of Bourdieu and CRT. They assume that racism is normal and everyday life and that its workings can be understood 'through the possibilities and limitations of various forms of capital that are available to families and deployed within particular social fields — like school' (3). Race is socially constructed and so is racial difference. There is little on race and class positioning in Black families with some exceptions. Their argument is that the Black middle-class (BMC) operate in similar respects to their white counterparts, but do so to avoid or respond to racism]

The usual assumption is that Black children are working class, but these middle-class ones are interested in social class mix, including friendship groups and how this might be linked to concerns about racism and educational achievement. Some gender differences are also 'signalled'.

There are complex intersections between race and class in relation to interactions with schools. These affect school choice and friendship groups and some aspects of relation to gender. Social mix, ethnic and class and sometimes gender is a significant concern when choosing schools and choosing where to live, and friendships are monitored. Parents' own experiences frequently played a part. The same can be found with WMC parents, although their own racial identities invisible. With BMC there is 'a clear recognition of issues of racism and racial identity' (4). Social mix is where class and race and gender intersect and can be a site of tension and tussle. It involves seeking out others who are like us and avoiding those not like us, finding people you're comfortable with. It can also be a 'surrogate indicator' for white privilege or issues relating to diversity, antiracism, or factors which help minority ethnic achievement or not. It involves social risks and social learning.

A good mix meant ethnic diversity, with no single predominant ethnic group, lots of kids from families who place a high value on education 'which is usually related to social class'. Such mixes could minimise racism, create conducive learning environments, reinforce positive ethnic identities, practice tolerance and ways of coping with ethnic others, avoid bad influences. Sometimes there are trade-offs, for example with private schooling where a good social mix outweighs the perceived benefits. Children's preferences can be important. [Bits of transcript follow — one says there was a need to avoid schools which were 'quite heavily Asian' which was to be avoided as much as schools which were white]

There is a balance between high achievement and feeling comfortable and being yourself. There is a need to avoid bad mixes where one ethnicity predominates [euphemistic] or there are too many social class others. Parents talk of a safe zone in terms of ethnicity, but avoiding being cocooned as their parents were. The general context is different now because overt racism is less acceptable although subtle forms persist. Increased social diversity in London has helped although it's not eliminated white privilege or racism, so schools can be mixed more often although they can still be a predominant ethnic group.

Social class is important and a small group of parents 'explicitly use generalised stereotypes of the Black working class' (6) relating to low levels of interest for example. There was often a feeling of instability, uncertainty that they've got the balance right, some 'unease about middle-classness, which was viewed by some as a White social category'.

So there is strategising and risk-taking as among the WMC, but there are still clear differences. In coding, they identified three groups of issues [they used 'detailed hand coding… Coding discussions… Using techniques of constant comparison (Strauss 1987)' (7). The three groups were: those who privilege the quality of education over the possibilities of being subject to racism or socially isolated '(often this led to the choosing of a private school)'; those who gave a high value to social mix as a form of social learning; those who balanced quality and mix 'often by virtue of their place of residence'.

The first set risked sending a child to schools with lots of white children or lots of middle and upper middle class students, often with low levels of race awareness, sometimes with overt racism or class humiliations. These have to be accepted and coped with to gain a good education. Parents themselves often feel out of place. Some private schools have better mixes than others. There are some reports of being Black as being isolated and suffering humiliation, having the school doing nothing to engage with issues of race or multiculturalism. In one case a child had suffered long-term impact and the school had been unresponsive [this might be the case where a complaint of racial bullying was 'reversed to make him the problem' (8) as Gillborn reports]. The parents was unable to change this 'despite the considerable social and cultural skills and resources she was able to bring to bear'. The kid did well in his exams but was still held back. The episode shows the limits even of substantial amounts of cultural capital and the need for Black kids to still remain resilient.

Another kid at private school, a girl, did find more of a mix but in social class terms even though visible ethnic minorities were in a minority. She got more positive attention. One parent moved their daughter to school with a greater ethnic mix. One parent moved the other way and sent her daughter to a private sixth form college because they were worried about low expectations in a local comprehensive even if there was a better mix, a typical 'compromise between advantage and identity' (10). One parent was afraid that her daughter would be '"a minority twice"', a bright Black female student. Another had a dilemma about whether to send her daughter to a private sixth form even though she had won a scholarship — a case of lacking 'class confidence', a common case of wondering what children could or could not cope with, whether they could mix.

WMC have a similar '"mixture of rationalities"', and doing what's best for your child is not always obvious, particularly when issues of race and racism heighten the tension. Some parents are afraid that too many Black young men, too much mix, will increase the danger that Black girls will be exposed to 'classist and racist stereotypes' (11).

The second set stress social learning and social development and are willing to risk comprehensive schooling even if children do not achieve as highly. They are worried about the temptations of the lifestyles of the street. Some see it necessary to operate in diverse environments. Ethnic mix is the more important rather than class mix but there is worry about '"bad influences"' (12) including 'significant numbers of Black "others"'', especially boys. This shows that the majority of the sample saw a Black identity as a positive one, clearly inflected by class, even though parents and children did not always agree. Gender is important [the remarks verge on the racist, worrying about 'boys with all kinds of strange names' or 'this all Black thing… I'm a bit worried about sending her into the wild']. This clearly references working class Black street culture.

At the same time, there was some ambivalence about being middle-class, but this was strengthened when discussing social mixing. This reflects earlier work on categories within the middle-class, based on values and the degree of acceptance of middle-class ideology — the '"middle-class minded" accept class differences between them and less privileged Blacks, but the '"multiclass"' maintain a symbolic and personal connection to low income Blacks (13). These tensions are played out in relation to school choice and children's friendships, and occasional tensions with friends over school choice. One parent is particularly torn between middle-classness and commitment to her ethnicity, 'between solidarity and advantage' (13), and this risks inauthenticity. This can be difficult and painful producing social division, forms of avoidance, potent emotions, and arguments between Black people.

Another respondent echoes this. She likes Lewisham with Black people, but wants Black people with high aspirations and positive notions about themselves. In order to get academic success she's thought about moving outside of London and wanted to encourage relationships with young people with aspirations, ideally Black ones. People in other locations find it easier to resolve, like one who lived in a provincial town [presumably where there were no Black people]: the parents still wanted them to attend schools with a better ethnic mix, but not if it was a low achieving school or one where there was a stigma about being Black, with a '"negative spiral of violence and crime"' as it was in London. This person denies that she is middle-class as well.

Not all respondents saw race and racism as significant, some had never experienced racism. They were more conscious of social diversity especially if they lived in London and did refer to ethnicity rather than class. They were more positive about the value of Black identity.

The third category found local schools that were good and socially mixed, and were pretty happy. The discussion at the end refers to the degree of resilience of children and how they can cope with being in a minority, 'in-family differences' (16) which have been found in other research on WMC families, although White parents do not have to monitor the experience of their children for racism or other forms of oppression.

Most of the children had ethnically mixed friendships the both best and close friends and others. Children the same family were often different. Such friendships were viewed positively by most parents although some felt sad. Some were suspicious of Whites. There were the same tensions between class and race. A small number wanted their children to develop more of a positive sense of Black identity and to make more Black friends. Several parents saw friendship patterns as quite different for their own children as compared to themselves, and saw they differences in the context. [Lots of quotes to show the 'extent of and positive view of socially mixed friendships' (17)].

There were some complex intersections, involving social class and also '"having to be a certain way to be Black"' [which seems to be a reservation mentioned by a parent about being suitably modest, not too posh, playing by the rules]. Speech still seems to be important as a 'marker of class which also has specific intersections with race'. It can confound racist stereotypes. They claim to have detected 'complex Bourdieurian[sic]  distinctions' here, based on 'a network of antagonistic oppositions', four-way rather than two-way, 'BMC and WMC, and Black and White working class'. These are also written onto the bodily hexis, and some forms are '"racially unpalatable"'. As a result, some children 'inhabit "intersectional bodies"' (18). So they don't speak posh. They might use teapots rather than mugs, they are worried about 'bad boys' and 'street cred'. Back to Bourdieu and forms of class and race recognition within respectability, which seems to be important for the BMC as well who are worried that their children choose the right sort of friends, worried on ethnic as well as class grounds.

Overall, social mix is a field of contestation involving identity and community, class and ethnicity. There are 'distinct patterns of strategising' over school choice, balancing low expectations against social isolation and hoping for social mixes. The notion of a respectable Blackness as opposed to stereotypical Blackness informs the strategies. Gender is also important. There may be similar struggles in the USA.

Intersectionality is clearly 'an effective methodology' (21) and intersections are both structured and structural, and 'an unstable ensemble of possibilities for identity… More or less realisable, imposed, opportune or strategically useful'. The context has changed. BMC might be more reflexive about the possibilities compared to WMC, possibly due to the ever present possibility of racism and the liminality that they occupy.

[A couple of pieces by Rollock, deemed as forthcoming in this piece look interesting: intersectional reflections on the liminal space of alterity: or how investment in being nice threatens the racial Justice project. Race, ethnicity and education and one with Vincent Gillborn and Ball. Middle-class by profession: class status and identification amongst the Black middle classes in ethnicities, and another one in Sociology — I might have these]