Notes on: Adjogatse, K.  and Esther Miedema, E. (2021) What to do with ‘white working-class’ underachievement? Framing ‘white working-class’ underachievement in post- Brexit Referendum England

Dave Harris

White working class underachievement has divided academics. This article tries to link it to the Brexit debate, arguing that the vote to leave has 'somewhat over simplistically characterised the decision as a a consequence of… the growing voice of the 'white working class' or the 'left behind'' (1), although empirical data showed that the leave vote was 'disproportionately delivered by the white middle-class'. Nevertheless it is a compelling backdrop and 'racial and ethnic undertones were strongly prominent throughout the campaign period 'particularly in the media' (2) [so they are still maintaining it was racism even though it wasn't white working class racism!].

The victimised white working class in education has appeared in the post-referendum, especially during May's office. There is some scholarship — Keddie 2015 and Gillborn 2010. They want to see it instead as a matter of identity politics and interest divergences, education is a zero-sum game, where initiatives targeting girls and ethnic minorities produce underachievement of white working class boys. Instead they want to apply Fraser on status subordination.

The term white WC has fluid boundaries, it means non-elite or deviant underclass. It has political value. In terms of educational underachievement, the category has appeared in the bottom two ethnic groups in terms of GCSE performance, and has been confused with FSM as in Gillborn. The debates largely centred on boys, or sometimes '"poor boys"'. Keddie has identified the crisis of masculinity and resistance to the feminisation of schools and this has been discussed by the likes of Reay.

Victimisation of white people is common, in the media [examples p.4). However, 'intra-ethnic group class gaps' like those between white kids on FSM versus those not on FSM are 'far more pronounced than inter ethnic group or gender gaps' (4). This leads to a conclusion that white WC kids are '"not discriminated against because they are white"' [quite so — but doesn't this deny Gillborn's emphasis on race?]

The usual assumption is that resource redistribution is the answer, things like various targeted achievement grants like Aiming High, but this can be questioned because it does not tackle structural causes and assumes a zero-sum game. This particularly perpetuates the view that white WC are the victims of support provided to other ethnic groups, a view supported by Angela Rayner, apparently. Fraser is different by stressing parity of participation.

CRT offers a different approach, and refers us to 'a "system of advantage" rather than…  individual prejudice' (5). Racism is systematic, normalised and advantages white people, but directs attention to socio-economic and historical contexts. Studies of class and gender have de-emphasised the racial nature of inequality. Current debates about white working class boys look at 'intersections of class gender and race, in direct contrast with CRT scholars and activists', but in doing so, they 'focus their attention on historically privileged rather than marginalised gender and race' (6) [weird — so they ignore new forms of prejudice and marginalisation? But that doesn't cover gender? Unless they mean newly discovered forms brought to the attention by new interests like CRT?].

Apparently we are going to focus instead on interest convergence and interest divergences, which are central both to CRT and the present article. Convergence argues that advancements in justice are the result of a convergence of interest between whites and nonwhites, while divergence is less cited and refers to positions where racial interests 'are seen to diverge' and this 'highlights the psychological wage that poor whites draw from their sense of racial superiority despite continued economic marginalisation' [and the references for this are below --- easy case though) [I don't see what it has to do with the psychological wage argument — apparently, it helps to portray poor whites as 'victims of multiculturalism', blaming ethnic minorities for inequalities and using white WC underachievement to oppose further antidiscrimination policies, because poor whites need to be placated-- so this is what the white elite attributes to the working classes? White working class people do not perceive it as a wage themselves?]

BellDerrick, [?] A., Jr. 1980. “Brown V. Board of Education and the Interest-convergence Dilemma.” Harvard Law Review 518–533. 
Guinier, L. 2004. “From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy: Brown V. Board of Education and the Interest-divergence Dilemma.” The Journal of American History 91 (1): 92–118. 

The Runnymede Trust believes that white working class underachievement is 'constructed by politicians, anti-immigrant groups and the media' often in way which blames black people and leaves the stratified nature of Britain out. [Well they would]

[They are in effect testing out claims made by some that Brexit will offer a chance to remedy the education system being overburdened by immigrants. They insist that 'immigration was framed as affecting access and quality at the expense of "natives"' (p.7) and that areas of sustained low economic growth were more likely to vote leave — all this is indirect evidence that seems to persist despite the data they began with that white middle-class people delivered the vote!. They quote May's rhetoric on FSM kids]

They go on to use Critical Frame Analysis to look at the representations of policy problems and solutions, analysing how questions are used to suggest problems and solutions, interpretations that ' "structure[s] the meanings of reality"'. They analysed Department of Education consultation paper,, one by the Knowlsey Council [predominantly white WC area and also the 'worst performing LEA in England] a report by a think tank and a report by the Social Mobility Commission.

Not very promising results for them — for example they find that the government consultation paper 'appears to take an approach which is more in line with the [Fraser's] notion of "status subordination" insofar that the recommendations are not aimed solely at the benefit of a particular group' (9) , but it does recommend selective schools as well. Nevertheless, it is 'difficult to clearly position the text as demonstrating interest divergence' although 'some commentators' have obviously tried. The Knowsley Council report does frame the problem as a white WC issue and talks about low expectations, so it can be criticised for failing to look at factors like gender and only making limited reference to ethnicity, euphemised as '"disadvantaged areas"' (11). They did think it gave encouragement to 'the moral panic around white working class boys'— it was even published in the Daily Mail which shows 'the reach of this discourse into popular thought'(12). The third document by the Sutton Trust is much better with consideration of intersectionality, but even so, they entertained the poor boys narrative which the media focused on. The Social Mobility Commission report was also intersectional and identified common challenges and different needs, although again it received selective treatment in the media.

Overall, the documents were only limited, in discussing transformative changes, especially the first one that stuck with selective schools. There was at least a 'potential for interest divergences to emerge' (14), and a definite manifestation of it in the Knowsley paper, albeit via euphemism. The authors were cross about the support for new selective schools. However, none of the documents particularly stressed the debate about angry left behind white working class kids although media did.

They try to argue again that the timing of this debate is significant as a distraction to the crisis of neoliberalism and the unexpected mobilisation of the white working class after the Brexit vote, which has nowled to  disappointment. They still think that the plight of white working class boys 'is construed in oppositional terms to that of ethnic minorities and girls' (16), [despite finding very little evidence for it in official documents], so they think more work is still needed.