Notes on:  Reay, D., James, D., Crozier, G (2011) A Darker Shade of Pale: Whiteness as Integral to Middle-Class Identity DOI: 10.1057/9780230302501_6

Dave Harris

[Excellent and insightful analysis of the mixed motives of those WMC parents who patronise inner-city mixed-race urban schools. Not as polite or elusive as pieces about BMC]

63 London based families, revealed uncomfortable issues around Whiteness in multi-ethnic contexts. Some chose ethnically diverse comprehensives, for example but still 'remained entrapped in White privilege despite their political and moral sentiments' (1). They also still had 'middle-class acquisitiveness' seeking to find value in multi-ethnic others. Those outside the White middle class, both Black and White WC were 'residualized and positioned as excessive… They come to represent the abject "other" of no value'.

The point is to examine the normality of the middle class and of Whiteness, that is by those of us who are White. The literature on Whiteness is still largely not related to the UK. People like hooks have argued that privilege appears to be normative rather than something superior, and in race terms seems to be rooted in lots of things other than ethnic difference in skin colour. Whiteness also generates 'intense ambivalences and anxieties, as well as denial and defensiveness' (2).

Values are the key to White middle-class identity [attributed to Skeggs 2004]. They want to be persons of value and to make value judgements that have symbolic power in valuing others. Sameness is what is valued despite the emphasis on difference and diversity, so that most White middle-class parents in the UK choose schools where there are children like their own. However this sample focused on those who chose inner-city comprehensives that most WMC avoid. This produced ambivalences. They saw themselves as other than normal WMC attitudes and behaviours, often morally distant and yet they also 'inevitably constitute "the privileged other"' in those multi-ethnic spaces and so run 'perpetual risk of becoming enmeshed in a colonialist sense of entitlement' (3). The discomfort extends to the authors because they are also public-sector liberals in that fraction of the WMC, embracing cosmopolitan multiculturalism, and questioning the solidarity they feel with this imagined group, united in an adherence to the 'comprehensive ideal… Multi-ethnic localities'. They also feel that their own children are special and experience anxiety and fear. There is also 'a degree of instrumentalism embedded within the civic commitments of many of our WMC parents' (4), part of the general growth of instrumental action noted by Baumann or Beck in capitalist societies.

They used 'in-depth qualitative research methods' to research choice and ethical dispositions and their relation to identity and identification and the links with class fraction and ethnicity. Overall, they sampled 120 WMC families and did 250 interviews in three urban areas, London and to provincial cities. This paper is based on the London sample, the 63 families, 25 interviews so far which are 'saturated in the data' [an apology for claims of representativeness?]. 'Slightly over half of our sample were self identifiers' but they also assessed middle classness using the RG classification scheme and got information about parents' educational levels. In only one family were neither parents graduates. They were aware that these conventional approaches were just the starting point for understanding MC identity. Ethnographic interviews aimed at 'deeply held values and commitments, but also ambivalences, fears and anxieties about acting in contradiction to normative WMC behaviour' and they used a particular method outlined in Holloway and Jefferson 2000. They wanted to see how social privilege is maintained and challenged. They explored altruism first and then 'more problematic aspects of White middle-class omnivorousnes' (5).

Culture can be seen as a mobile commodity. Cultural differences need to be analysed 'in terms of their appeal to members of the majority White culture within educational fields' however (6). Many of their families felt passionate about producing well-rounded tolerant individuals and saw multi-ethnic comprehensive schooling as an important component. They hope their children will be socially fluent, adaptable, resilient as opposed to soft kids who went to selective and private schools. Multiculturalism was particularly important, children were expected to not become arrogant, to take their part in the [real] world. Comprehensive schools were expected to be 'almost a humbling experience' (7) to make children better equipped to respond to ethnic diversity, cultural openness. This is 'a case of putting rhetoric into practice', seeing engagement with difference as highly valued, showing their children that they meant all the stuff they said about valuing difference.

However there is a complex interrelationships between the moral and instrumental, the conscious and the habitual. Multiculturalism may be valued itself, and so might be understanding other cultures,, but they can also be held because they provide an advantage, 'an understanding of and proficiency in multiculturalist capacity… A powerful strand of calculation regarding the gains to be made' (8). Commitment and altruism and self-interest can be woven together, as one example shows, where parents were hoping their kids will be prepared for a particular type of modern metropolitan area and life as a professional. — 'The ethic of multiculturalism reflects the realities of professional life' and is perceived to be required by the global economy: it becomes 'increasingly a source of cultural and social capital' (9).

This is 'omnivorousness', where cultural omnivores [fancy meeting them here!]  'feel confident about using a wide variety of cultures from high to low'. One kid was a classic, being able to play classical music on the piano but also enjoying Black music and clubbing, and doing well at school but also enjoying multicultural activities, comfortable with Black and working class kids as well. But despite this mixing, kids remained 'firmly and primarily anchored in White middle-class networks' (10). This means that social mixing can also be seen as a way to display liberal credentials and secure a class position, and be a way in which 'this particular fraction of the White middle classes come to know themselves as both privileged and dominant (Razack 2002)'.

Cultural omnivorousness and inclusivity can also be based on instrumental and 'at times fearful impulses and attitudes'. Instrumentalism is never far from the surface. Parents reflect on the '"value added" gained in the confidence and self-esteem their kids get from attending schools where they can mix with the less privileged — in other schools they would only be average and might not be as confident. Fears arise from potential negative influences of White and Black working class peers or a negative impact on attainments from pupil peergroup cultures. These are 'simultaneously rational and irrational, and perfectly understandable' (11) and perhaps made more explicit than among the WMC more generally. However they do reveal the ways in which the BAME children are used symbolically, as others, as potent as the 'other "other"' (12), the WWC. This can sometimes work the other way, where ethnic minority children come to 'represent the acceptable face of working classness' and even of racial difference if they are '"exceptionally bright and very nice"… A paler shade of dark… From families "where the parents really care about education"… "The model minority"' [incidentally that phrase is attributed to Leonardo 2004]. Not all minority ethnic groups qualify, however — and some Black kids live in very working class areas like council estates.

Aspiring ethnic minorities have moral value 'despite, or we would argue, because of their ethnicity' often because they have as migrants 'adopted middle-class values towards education'. They stand out from the working class majority, both Black and White in terms of values which are perceived to be the same as WMC parents. They also aspire. They are not beyond the pale like WWC. They can help draw boundaries and a tribute value to the WMC and they are slowly achieving success despite deep rooted institutional racism in the labour market [Indian working class families are particularly cited].

However there is also a phenomenon of displacement among the WMC, accompanying 'valuing and validation of the multi-ethnic other'. One parent refers to '"White trash", "fascist parents", "Thatcher's dross" and "Muslims", who he saw as much worse than Black people. The contrast here is with the 'White "multicultural" self. Bourdieu describes something like this [in Acts of Resistance] as '"class racism"', where the worst off are stigmatised and higher classes are assigned moral superiority. Here WWC are 'residualized' seen as both excessive and having no value, the 'abject constituency of limit by which middle-class multiculturalism is known and valorised' [quoting Warren and Twine 1997 '"very White… Naked, pasty, underdone: White White"'] (14) an excessive, excrescent and other Whiteness.

Yet Black kids are still also seen as excess, as in the paranoia and fear about "big Black boys"', or fear of Black people in general. Both them and WWC trash are necessarily embodied as valueless.

So there is a hierarchy of values, the need to have the right ones, shared ones and also to be of value. The multi-ethnic other needs to share WMC values in order to be of value, while those who reject those values come to represent excess and abjection and have no value. Some of the families did find genuine value in multi-ethnic inner-city schooling, in producing strong and egalitarian children, who could relate to ordinary people and feel a sense of social justice, although this might be 'optimistic', certainly more so than Skeggs. She sees WC culture as a mere resource for the MC to plunder and used to forge their own new identities in new markets, but this study shows that this applies only to a minority of ethnic working classes, those who only lack economic resources but still remain 'excitingly different' and have the same aspirations, hopes and desires. These offer 'acceptable aspects of working class culture'.

In some cases the WMC want their kids to be friends with ethnic others. Cynically, this can be seen as asking them to be 'a symbolic buffer between the pathologised WWC on one side and the traditional WMC, criticised for their separatism and racism, on the other' (16). Yet ethnic others can gain benefits as well by friendship groups with White kids — 'capitals can move in both directions' echoing the benefits of social mix in the soc of ed but in the reverse direction. Nevertheless the process is still 'symbiotic' and 'far messier'.

The processes of having value and getting value from are inextricably entangled. Multi-ethnic schooling is good for WMC kids in keeping them real, dealing with the real world, developing resilience and worldliness. But there might be a difference between value and use, the quality of a thing as opposed to the 'attribute of the thing's users'[a rather obscure definition traceable to Baumann]. The issue is whether the other is valued for its otherness, and whether otherness is nurtured and allowed to grow, something akin to love for Baumann, as opposed to taking. There is a 'deep irresolvable ambivalence' in the sample in relation to these two, a tension between the acquisitive self, commitments to civic responsibility and notions of the common good. Most paradoxically, progressive Whites claim credit for being antiracist, but this can be '"parasitic on the racism that it is meant to challenge"' [attributed to Thompson 2003] (19).

There is a danger that migrant cultures exist only for the dominant normal culture, and have utility only to enrich it. This seems to be Skeggs's view, where multiculturalism creates and manages otherness. Others write about ethnic surplus value which enable further enrichment of the WMC, gaining more advantage, including 'valuable multicultural global capital'.

In many the actual narratives it's hard to separate doing the right thing from getting the best for their child, partly because the second one is already interwoven with ethical behaviour. Tensions appear if the one occurs at the expense of the other, although that doesn't seem to be that common, and attendance at inner-city comps do seem to make White kids more tolerant and understanding. Nevertheless, there is something about Whiteness that remains connected with absence, an empty identity needed to be filling in, something needs to be added to it. Omnivorous practices can do this and produce attractive 'alternative WMC identities — streetwise, globally knowledgeable, tolerant, inclusive, young… Better prepared for a global economy' (21). Sometimes this can be problematic if WMC children are too enthusiastic in adopting other identities — luckily most of them seem to be out of both dip in and out of Black culture.

Critical social science identifies 'hidden instrumental strategies and power relations behind apparently innocent and disinterested action and, on the other hand… [Uncovers]… Genuinely unintended advantages deriving from ethical behaviour' they had hoped initially to find WMC sending their kids to inner-city comps as a fraction 'characterised by altruism and civic responsibility' there are those qualities but there is also 'a degree of instrumental strategies and we had not anticipated' (22) and this confirms bell hooks on the American MC who still protect their own privilege and see it as a sign that they are chosen or special at the same time as celebrating diversity. The parents in this study did not see their children as particularly special, but nor did they seriously question their privilege even though it was apparent. They continue to use their capitals to get more for their own children, sometimes accompanied by commitment or practices to improve educational resources for others — but on the whole 'actively seeking to enhance the common good was not normative', so largely this group were '"a class in and for itself". Theirs was a multicultural but only rarely a socialist egalitarianism'. They could see the dangers of cultural otherness but not the injuries of class especially those 'termed "chavs" or "White trash"' (23).

Can there be an innocent WMC? One that does not increase distance by occupying separate enclaves, or make use of local ethnics to gain global multicultural capital? A strategising capital accruing self 'can never be completely held in abeyance', so attending inner-city comprehensives 'becomes yet another, if slightly risky, but exciting way of resource in the middle-class self'. A particular example illustrates this best, a parent particularly sees the value of social fluency, self-confidence, knowledge of the real world, professional success in a multicultural global economy. They feel this tension themselves, 'how to rescue the WMC from their relentless acquisitiveness' including their consumption of 'all the "right on" capitals including multiculturalism' (24).

Overall the parents do not see cosmopolitanism as some '"globally shared collective future"'. It is more a matter of '"consuming the desired other" in an act of appropriation… Acquisitive valuing… Mostly a partial and narcissistic valuing… Primarily about recognising a more colourful self in the ethnic other'. This residualised is a 'hyper- Whitened WWC and an excessively Black WC' who are both symbolically other. This is in 'in effect an excluding inclusivity'. The unity in this identitiy is constructed by power and exclusion creating the 'two Black working classes and the two White working classes as unacceptable "others"'.

This is an impossible situation where little can be done to improve it individually. They are trying to behave ethically in a situation which is structurally unethical and radically pluralistic. There is a wider structural injustice which produces moral dilemmas and moral inconsistencies. So ethical behaviour is only ever partially achievable. To some extent this 'is a case of entrapment in privilege' and points to the need to dismantle economic and social privilege to permit ethical behaviour.

We should develop critiques which show strategic negotiations against a background of structural injustices, as problems of capitalist multicultural societies. Need to recognise the complexity of Whiteness and the need for more empirical studies in terms of how it is actually experienced by different fractions and in different contexts. Even though people might share the same skin colour 'they are not "equally White"'. The WWC might be 'perceived to be excessively pale;… Too White to possess dominant cultural capital', but the WMC in the study 'accrue valued (multi-) cultural capital by presenting themselves as "a darker shade of pale"' (26).