Notes on:  David Gillborn (2010) The White Working Class, Racism and Respectability: Victims, Degenerates and Interest-Convergence, British Journal of Educational Studies, 58(1):  3-25, DOI: 10.1080/00071000903516361
NB my page numbers refer to an off-print -- add 3

Dave Harris

[This is an expanded account of his complaints found in his reply to Sewell about how the press see WWC kids with FSM as vicitims of educational inequality andcampaigns for racial equality. Some good examples here from press and radio.He also discusses adisourse of degeneracy, rebuking WWC as an underclass though, the old 'rough vs respectable' stuff.Both were needed, he says during the great financial crisis of 2008 to rescue liberal capitalism. So far, it is really about articulation in the Cultura Studies gramscian tradition,and how contradictory bits of ideology are brought together in a hegemonic discourse -- but Gillborn wants to define it all in terms of CRT, the normality of White supremacy and racism, and interest convergence. I just don't think it works -- the WWC are supposed to find comfort in thinking at least they aren't Black, but they run serious risks of being 'rough' and feeling the contempt of the WMC despite their denials? Bodily hexis is alway available and scores of other microaggressions. Do they really think there is a unified White interest when they see their neighbours insulted like that? Have they never experienced liminality and serious sy,bolic violence themselves, on the slightest pretext?]

This is about the intersection between race and class but through 'popular and political discourse during late 2008 (the timing is highly significant)' [so it is really about articulation]. The essential values of neoliberalism had to be reasserted via a 'victim discourse' which saw White people as particular victims, and a 'discourse of degeneracy' where an 'immoral and barbaric underclass' threatened social order. He wants to apply interest convergence from CRT as a way of mobilising White interests to provide WWC as a buffer zone to secure White supremacy. He means poor Whites.

The very definition of working class is one of the key issues at stake, WWC is a 'shifting signifier' (1). It might mean 'an undifferentiated mass of non-elite people', but sometimes there is a distinction between working class and poor or underclass. White supremacy particularly benefits by saying the WWC is innocent victims of unfair racial competition and as threats to social and economic order and we can use interest convergence to see the 'very real material and symbolic violence that WWC people experience' and see how poor Whites sustain White supremacy.

CRT began in US law schools and is now an important part of UK antiracist scholarship but it has been attacked by both left and right, most vociferously by 'self-proclaimed Marxist writers' who have caricatured it as homogenising all White people as privileged. This is untrue but CRT does 'view all White identified people as implicated in relations of racial domination', even though they do not behave in identical ways or draw similar benefits, 'but they do all benefit to some degree [!], whether they like it or not'. CRT is developing and has internal dialogues and debates but one key issue is intersectionality, drawing upon Collins with the idea of a matrix of domination and various other feminist writers. However it requires 'serious critical work and detail on the complexities and how they intersect'. This leads them to discursive constructions [which implies that the ruling class does the intersecting?].

Discussing White supremacy always raises the issue of poor White people. CRT does not mean by White supremacy crude and obvious race hatred, but rather a 'regime of assumptions and practices that constantly privilege the interests of White people... are so deeply rooted that they appear normal… Saturate the everyday mundane actions and policies that shape the world in the interests of White people' (2) [circular]. This is as central to CRT as capitalism is to Marxism, and patriarchy to feminism, but many 'in my experience most' White people find it impossible... To comprehend', even radicals. they point to the existence of poor White people.

But to CRT scholars, this implies that we cannot generalise to a group just because some members of the group are not privileged, and this in turn means that we should understand privilege at the level of individuals, and that '"poor and non-poor Whites share a close bond"' [citing Allen 2009] (3) [I don't understand the last bit --in the USA?]. However both MC and WC Whites benefit from a shared White identity, indeed 'the existence of poor Whites is not only consistent with White supremacy, it is actually an essential part of the processes that sustain it' and we can see this by looking at the discursive construction of the British WWC especially at this specific point in time.

Allen continues by saying we have to disrupt and unsettle discourses of Whiteness [so does somebody called Leonardo]. We can do this via the interest convergence principle of CRT — 'advances in race equality only come about when White elites see the changes as in their own interests' [citing Bell 1980]. This is not a rational and balanced negotiation, but a matter of protest and mobilisation so that taking action against racism 'becomes the lesser of two evils' in this process 'lower class White interests are likely to be the first to be sacrificed' as class interests of elite Whites become dominant. [Delgado also emphasises this apparently, to the extent that he sees racial remedies as evidence of class interests among Whites]. Non-elite Whites become 'a kind of buffer or safety zone' (4). [Surely meaning that WWC are sacrified in the name of racial tolerance, made to live in immigrant areas and suffer poorly resourced social services while WMC live in nice ghettoes?] The same goes for working class interests generally. We can see this in the financial crisis of 2008.

There was a global capitalist crisis which dominated news coverage, but there was also the theme of White anger as education statistics showed that poor and/or WC White boys were among the lowest achieving groups in public examinations. [He quotes headlines from the Express, Mail and Telegraph — and Times]. The same press also attacked poor Whites as a 'threatening and degenerate presence'. The WWC as 'victims of a minoritised racial Other is by no means a new idea' however.

'Regardless of the facts' if the WWC believe themselves to be disadvantaged [if the WMC believe the WWC believe themselves to be disadvantaged-- and see ghettoisation above] , then there is a threat of unrest and this requires action against minoritized groups, and this developed after the first rise in migration in the 1950s. It was clear that the violence started by Whites but migrants were seen as the cause of the problems and this led to harsh immigration controls directed at Black and South Asian groups. Mrs Thatcher similarly identified a threat to White interests and referred to swamping, but there is a long history of this dating back to Elizabeth I. This shows 'its enormous popular appeal'. It has been used to control minorities, including people already in the population, to aggressively assimilate them or disperse them, to pursue multicultural policies, or to renew English language teaching, and most recently, to see WWC children as 'victims of ethnic diversity'.

The focus has been on experiences and achievements of boys, often seen as a single homogeneous group, and since the mid-2000's, a particular focus has been WWC boys and their poor results. This does 'a great deal of ideological work' (6). One press story asserted that additional funding is available to help ethnic minority children, although they have to bid for this dedicated funding so there is no automatic privilege. There is a suggestion that the policy could fuel support for right wing groups and this again is a familiar argument, invoking the threat of racist violence. There is some distortion of official statistics which show that 'most groups in property achieve relatively poor results regardless of ethnic background' [and he cites some earlier work on differences between White students on FSM and more affluent Whites showing the gap is three times bigger than between different ethnic groups]. Yet the race gap tends to be highlighted. There is no warning of an impending class war, no call for action against private schools or the gifted and talented scheme.

There is even the suggestion that failing White boys is the 'fault of minoritised students and/or their advocates' [he has to talk up BBC News here as 'the most trusted news provider' (7) before condemning its story claiming that WWC boys were the lowest achieving group and quoting it blaming the race relations industry, claiming in support '"some of our listeners' and some experts, and downplaying a spokesperson giving a counter view]

White people as race victims has been found in the USA as well, and here a commitment to social justice has been recast as a competitive threat to White people, social justice campaigns become a 'sectional (racialised, even racist) activity' (8). The possibility that all ethnic groups might excel is erased [it is seen as a zero-sum game] and decentring White children was leading to racial violence symbolic and physical.

Statistics are poorly covered and are not shown as relating 'to the most disadvantaged fraction of the working class'. All the stories actually related to FSM kids, but this is not the same as working class kids — 13% of all pupils were in receipt of FSM yet 57% of UK adults describe themselves as working class [this is disingenuous]. The focus on FSM statistics has become pronounced in recent years even by the Education Department. This disguises the actual achievements of White students who do not receive FSM, and they are 'more likely to attain five higher grade passes than their counterparts of the same gender in several minoritised groups including those of Black Caribbean, mixed (White/Black Caribbean), Pakistani, Black African and Bangladeshi heritage'. This effects students of both genders, so that the largest inequalities are found among Black Caribbean non-FSM's. Yet the discourse now focuses on WWC with FSM, and there are calls for initiatives aimed specially at them.

Whiteness also draws from other discourses. The White poor have actually existed on the boundaries of Whiteness — Allen has the phrase '"White but not quite"' (10) [USA again?]. Class has always been important even though the definitions have changed, and there are class differentials in terms of matters such as health, susceptibility to crime. It is also discursive and historically specific, and includes '"elements of fantasy and projection" (Skeggs)'. We can see how they serve middle-class people, for example the distinction between respectable and undeserving working class people, connected to the regulation of women's bodies and the cult of domesticity.

In 2008 two prominent court cases dominated news and concerned welfare dependency and criminal behaviour. A woman from the North of England faked the kidnapping of her daughter in the hope of generating money. They sedated the kid. The mother was 'welfare -dependent, immoral and abusive', according to the press and 'a symbol of a presumed "underclass" threatening the very fabric of economic and social order' (11). Another case concerns the murder of a baby after prolonged abuse, with evidence of mismanagement by child protection services, interpreted as further evidence 'of the threat posed by a growing immoral and cruel underclass'. These are the 'familiar historic tropes of attacks on the social dangers posed by working class people. Sexual promiscuity, laziness and criminality'. The police, media and politicians 'scrambled to proclaim their disgust', and argued that these two cases were 'merely the tip of an iceberg of depravity' [and police appearances on TV and in the press are cited in evidence].

A moral panic ensued about the growing underclass and their 'personal lack of responsibility and effort'' and this was connected to educational failure. The answer was to discipline the working class by reducing social assistance and reforming tax laws. And people like Melanie Phillips attacked feminism for encouraging single parents. The old tropes of respectable versus undeserving were mobilised again. Efforts were made not to blame all working class people but just deviant ones '(unambitious, unmarried, unemployed)' (14) who lived on estates have no pride, no morals, knew their rights but not their responsibilities, and so on. Sometimes there are even 'national and racial 'inflections, including immigrants and benefit dependents as burdens. Politicians joined in to attack those on state benefits [with quotes from politicians including Cameron, who wanted to revive community, ]and even the Labour Party advocating social benefit reforms.

This shows that the old disciplinary discourses still persist only with a new flexibility, frequent caveats acknowledging respectable sections of the working class, which were themselves vague and shifting, and capable of being applied widely [indeed]

There is a parallel with the way in which African natives of empire were compared in terms of '"physique, stature, posture, facial mannerisms, intelligence, habits, attitudes and disposition"' (Nayack) (16) [so actually calling them White as well is '"a modern phenomenon"']. [Quite so --bodily  hexis is still important]

Overall, WWC is a more fluid and complex matter than is usually recognised. CRT offers important insights into it [although it is normally cultural studies type discourse analysis]. There were two contradictory discourses, as victims and as threats, and their effects were 'powerful and flow in a unified direction'. They celebrate WMC normality who become the 'normal, moral core of society'; they are anti-minority, especially featuring slippage between the 13% FSM and the majority means you can reject race equality policies and focus on general White group; it's anti-immigration; his patriarchy; neoliberal worldviews reasserted with the virtues of working hard and being ambitious, individualising failings.

Interest convergences useful in helping explain the operation of these discourses. They seem to split the White group and yet ultimately they secure White supremacy. WMC benefits are clear. The WWC benefits are more mixed but still remain clear — they may face a tougher time qualifying for benefits, but 'they know that their interests will be secure against those of minoritised groups because the solidarity that WMC ensures that the spectre of racial violence (both symbolic and real) will be mobilised if, for example their educational or employment prospects dip below those of key (especially Black) minoritised groups' (17) [but they already are below some fractions of those]. They can also 'always console themselves that they are part of the respectable class fraction' [but the WMC constantly dumps them in the degenerate section?].

The minoritised racial groups, educational policy becomes 'even more aggressively White focused', social welfare cuts have a disproportionately negative impact. Degenerate discourses arraigned White working class, but policy impacts probably hit minority groups the hardest. Overall CRT helps provide an important lens. WWC are beneficiaries of Whiteness especially in victim discourses but they are also more liminal because they can be demonised when necessary and useful, acting as a buffer, safety zone that protects the White middle classes, White but not quite [pretty tenuous links to White supremacy then]