This podcast series, ‘What’s the Yorkshire Tea?’, delves into the trends and goings on in and around Leeds. The current episode opens up a discussion into whether discrimination has a line drawn at classism as the University of Leeds hockey team is punished for a themed night out that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Full Text of Podcast:
This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Leeds Beckett University. Good afternoon to any listeners out there, welcome to this week’s episode of ‘What’s the Yorkshire tee?’
So, recent news(1) this side of the River Aire comes hot from the University of Leeds hockey team who have landed themselves in deep water after holding a ‘chav themed’ social night out. The Facebook event included a dictionary definition of a ‘chav’ as “a young, lower class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour”.
However, the ‘ASBO themed’ evening rightfully drew heavy criticism, leading to action from their Leeds University Union ultimately resulting in the team being barred from this year’s Christie Cup and the team captain being dismissed.
The disciplinary action has even gained attention from Team GB hockey gold medallist Samantha Quek who also studied at University in Leeds. She posted an outcry on social media(2) claiming that the “young girls should feel very hard done by” and that a “sense of humour required ASAP!”
But, the whole incident calls into question why such mocking of lower class individuals is acceptable. In a time where there is ever growing condemnation for racism, sexist and homophobia, why is eradicating classism not on the agenda too?
In his book “Chavs, the demonization of the working class”(3) Owen Jones recalls a particular anecdote of a dinner party with a joke about a chav shopping in Woolworths being made, bringing laughs along with it. Jones then poses that: “If a stranger had attended that evening and disgraced him or herself by bandying around a word like “Paki” or “poof”, they would have found themselves swiftly ejected from the flat.” So why is hatred of the working class socially acceptable and why are they the one group in society that you can practically say anything about.
Samantha Quek herself claimed to have attended a similar ‘chav-themed’ night while she was at uni showing a recurring chav-hate fad amongst privileged youths. Even Prince William has taken part in one during his time at Sandhurst. Apparently even in the twenty first century royals can dress up as their working-class subjects for a laugh.
So. What is the point in this bit of fun at the expense of others? These others whose experiences the bourgeoisie will likely never encounter or understand, let alone experience for themselves. It is easier and more convenient to demonise the people at the bottom to justify the unequal society and it’s in the bourgeoisie’s interest for a resistance to classism to be kept off the agenda.
If the individual characteristics of the chavs can be blamed then it doesn’t have to be registered that society is very unequal and rigged in favour of the middle and upper class.
It’s easier to pretend that it is superior talent that has afforded their places at university than it is the privileged circumstances that brought them a superior education. The hockey teams event page even referred to themselves as “good honest and noble” and “educated fair maidens studying in one of the country’s grandest universities”
So.. while Ms Quek thinks that the hockey team is hard done by it begs the question how hard done by the girls would feel if they too were born into an inherited class that offer les overall advantages. Less social capital, financial capital and also cultural capital.
By laughing and acting as if class is a lifestyle choice and that poverty is a joke rather than something that imprisons people and shatters life chances is like a new form of social Darwinism. We do no start the race of life evenly and with increasing income and wealth disparities, working class children face diminished life prospects. Its them who live out the consequences of policies that systematically advantage the few at the expense of the many.
As it stands there aren’t many formal attempts, if any actually, to gain the same momentum for classism as there is for other manners of discrimination. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a bleak future for equity.
Only since the 60’s did the word ‘racism’ appear more in English dictionaries (Leech, 2005). Now there are ever increasing numbers of people being committed to its eradication (Goldberg, 2009).
The condemnation towards the classist behaviour of the University of Leeds hockey team hopefully means an end is near for chav hate with less tolerance to perpetuating negative stereotypes of the working class and a move towards social equity responsibilities.