Notes on: Rollock, N., Vincent, C., Gillborn, D & Ball,S.  (2012). 'Middle-class by profession': Class status and identification amongst the Black middle classes. Ethnicities 13 (3): 253 – 75  DOI: 10.1177/1468796812467743

Dave Harris

[Another one from the ESRC study -- see link for details]

There seem five distinct groupings: 'comfortably middle-class'; 'middle-class ambivalent'; 'working class with qualification'; 'working class'; 'interrogators'. There is considerable fluidity and hesitancy. The BMC is relatively new. Respondents have had similar working-class trajectories and similar experiences of racism. They will find it 'not straightforward' to be Black and middle-class.

There is not much British empirical work on race and class positioning within the Black families Daye (1994) found 'marginalisation and exclusion' created dissidents between perceptions of race and class positioning BMC as outsiders and this helped protect Whites competing for high status occupation. Maynor and Williams (2011) found that Black professional women denied that any privilege accrued from their class position.

Some American research has noted '"normative" requirements for being middle-class' including speaking standard English living in the suburbs and accessing good schools, with necessary economic underpinnings and overcoming old racial segregations in the past. That often refers to clerical and skilled manual positions, however [this British work refers to the service class, it seems]. The American work uses intersectionalism to see how class articulates the Black racial identity. For example Moore (2008) pursued a three-year ethnographic study and found two kinds of competing middle-class identity — multiclass and middle-class minded [mentioned in the earlier paper]. The former were less secure but could operate in a range of social contexts and '"code switch"', (255) maintaining connection to low income Black people. The latter came from more established middle-class families, accepted class differences and found themselves in locations where there were more middle-class people. Again, categorisation was different — more respondents determine themselves or were based on demographic information like college education or income, and generally, the US Black middle-class is older and larger.

Intersections in the particular British context is important. It would be wrong to presume a 'fixed, homogeneous Black identity upon which class is imposed'. There was variation in terms of the importance of ethnic identity and no neat correspondence to opinions about class position. However all agreed that they were from Black Caribbean heritage with immigrant parents.

The majority were children of migrants from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s who came with high expectations only to experience 'class downsizing' (256) and racial discrimination in employment housing and policing which prevented '"common consciousness of class"' with their White colleagues. There is no race equality legislation and a tendency for the education system to 'readily" treat Black kids as educationally subnormal. As a result, Black people became 'a distinct fraction of the working classes', although they fought back. One result was the growth of credentialism, combined with continued disadvantage in the workplace, especially for Black Caribbean women.

[The research is described as in the earlier piece, and differences with the American groups are noted, making direct comparisons difficult. This time they have met using qualitative software program Nvivo in the coding]

Of the five groups, the working class and middle-class identifiers were the least ambivalent but also the fewest in number. Middle-class identifiers referred to their income, the size of their home, occupational pastimes. The majority of respondents were middle-class ambivalent and they regarded themselves as middle class but with some degree of reservation, which matches the class identification of the WMC, although for different reasons. Working class with qualification are those who initially label themselves as working class but then qualified this to better reflect their personal circumstances for example saying they have acquired middle-class values, or that they have working-class parents. The interrogators were unable to align themselves with any position but offered 'considerable reflection and thoughtful analysis about the meaning of class' (259) and their relationship to it, sometimes going back to their childhood and upbringing and their transition to the current state: the notion of the BMC was a contradiction in terms.

The boundaries were not fixed, however nor 'marked by respondents' location' and there were similarities across the groups. As a result the analysis is arranged thematically and there are 'moments of tension, ambiguity and sometimes conflicting perspectives held by the same individual' showing that participants have to work to make sense of their class position and that class is relational contextual and dynamic [Ball is quoted here, not Bourdieu -- ie it is simple confusion rather than positive closure? although there is a mention of 'ongoing incidences of exclusion from White middle-class spaces'].

Some had read about social class in sociology classes. Some mentioned 'various forms of capital'(260) related to norms of different countries [and there is a reference to Bourdieu here]. So mobility in the Caribbean means different things than it does in England such as 'good family' or 'social standing' [one respondent explicitly referred this to Bourdieu and cultural capital, where class cultural capital is greater than economic]. Others had lived abroad and one enjoyed a better lifestyle overseas not available to her family in the UK even with the same occupation. These are people who referred to multiple identities.

Many participants saw 'working class' as a childhood identity, associated with hard work, 'honesty, integrity and goodwill… "Moral capital"' (261), often at odds with middle-classness and sometimes Whiteness. One respondent notes that his identity was particularly affected by racism since he came to Britain, and this affected his affiliations away from class. Others compared their position with the BMC in America, Canada or even Africa. Success in British society specifically was seen 'to rely on "class specific forms of sociability"' (262) [relating back to Ball 2003]. Oddly, this makes Whiteness less visible, especially in views about America.

Four respondents saw themselves as unambiguously working class. Sometimes this meant they lacked higher level qualifications or were struggling financially. Sometimes it referred to working-class values and lifestyles which included having integrity, loving your family, working hard and other 'evidence of moral capital' even 'embodied heroism', values handed down from previous generations. These are still shared even by those who identify as middle-class, by way of 'continued sympathy with and commitments' (263). This helps form 'a collective Black identity', assisted by a struggle that's been racial and economic, 'which make up the shared "moral imagination"'. This is often assertive even by those who define themselves as middle-class through stories and memories from the past. They see absolute separation from the working classes disloyal and dislocating, and this is found in Reay's (1997) work with White women. It was also partly due to an absence of automatic financial security even despite professional achievement — some MCB still saw themselves as only one or two paychecks away from being working-class, financially fragile.

We see a clear difference between objective and subjective and effective measures of class, some resistance to middle-class identification. This makes them agree with Bourdieu's metaphor of a flame, inconstant edges

There are references to forms of cultural capital, judgements and values turning on the difference between lager drinkers, TV watching, tattoos, and where you go on holiday — '"exclusionary boundary work"' [Lacy apparently] to set them apart from working class others, performing and not performing class distinction as in Bourdieu. It often turns on modes of consumption. Such distinctions seem to be prominent among those who are financially secure, although one still defines herself as working class 'in quite crude economic terms her occupation serves as her only means of income' (265). She also seems to have [some class imagery derived from work relations] — Black people work in the canteen and tend to be cleaners, so she recognises 'a glass ceiling beyond which set a White middle-class majority'.

This particular individual also refers to isolation, a matter of class distance from friends with whom they'd grown up. Another participant shows one result — '"middle-class ambivalence"' (266). She is middle-class only because she is a professional head teacher, and is uncomfortable with associated claims of status or judgements of worth — being middle-class is pretentious. She has the same leisure activities as her '"ordinary"' colleagues. She finds difficulty with the questioning and displays hesitation. Perhaps the small size of the BMC is a problem in Britain. The same problems of isolation arise when discussing friendship groups and social events, the difficulty of hanging on to working-class friends, the insecurity at being at dinner parties and having polite conversations with middle-class people, seen as 'challenges to Black authenticity'(267) as well as distinctions of class. There certainly are aspects of '"class contempt"' [Reay's term again] that help preserve middle-class homogeneity, and racial homogeneity, although some BMC have enough cultural capital to navigate these terrains, although possibly at the expense of having to abandon Black working class friends. Overall it's difficult to find ' a legitimate site belonging in which to be comfortably Black and middle-class' hence the difficulty of accepting the label.

The challenges were recounted 'sometimes with bemusement, sometimes with pain'. They often wanted to continue to embody the moral capital of the Black working class which includes an understanding of humility, community and collective struggle, while accepting advantage of financial security and the capacity to better exercise choice including over their children's futures. They do not wish to be associated with privilege and individualism, hence some discomfort at dinner parties [and a nice anecdote about  WMC parents taking ages to choose an ice cream in a queue while others waited, a reference to a 'casual, presumed privilege and indulgent parenting style' (269)]. The same goes for dislike of White middle-class people who get upset over ridiculous things like talking at children's performances and so on. This is sometimes accompanied with mockery of accent. This can leave BMC at the edges of White middle-class spaces like children's performances.

The reactions of the WMC are also important. They can monitor access to spaces and treat others differently once they do gain access, a form of exclusion which includes 'psychological devaluing and subjugation of the experiences, perspectives and knowledge of our respondents' (270). Respondents have mentioned this [close to micro-aggressions here], where opinions are not taken seriously, assumptions about their background made, ignorance about child raising is assumed, extra confirmation is required, stereotypes are perceived and these are both raced and classed. In at least one case, 'her middle-class embodiment and cultural capital is met with confusion and bafflement by White school staff' (271).

Overall, there seems to have been considerable complexity despite five broad groupings. Respondents have spoken of indirect positioning, patterns of identification and this identification, inclusion and also 'liminality'. There is no easy way to be both Black and middle-class. They do not want a class position that values individualism and privilege, which they see as embedded in Whiteness and is also directly at odds with their own moral values based on the working class youth. The WMC sometimes form identities in opposition to the working class counterparts, but for the BMC there is more reluctance to do this and to identify with the middle-class. WMC gatekeepers have an important role, seemingly reminding respondents of the pervasiveness of racism whatever their class. The BMC is still relatively new relatively small in number and 'widely dispersed residentially across the UK' (272). They are still seeking a 'legitimate space with sufficient economic and financial leverage' to impose their own version of being BMC and effectively challenging White resistance. As a results they are not yet a distinct class fraction.