Class show and tells
Ian Danton introduces his winning effort in our poetry competition, around the theme of tackling class-based inequality.
26 May 2022
As a young, naive and idealistic teenager in the late 80s I believed that the world was on track to a more accepting future. Equality was just a matter of time. Skin colour, sexual orientation, social class would not matter, and misogynistic values were on the way to being a TV trope. So I ignored them, gratefully accepting the gifts of privilege that being male, white, heterosexual, cis-gendered and middle class provided.
There was no moment of realisation, just a whiff of injustice at work, a sense of imbalance when being made chairman of a committee, the discomfort of realising my voice was so much more easily heard. However, gradually I realised something was not right, and it dawned on me that staying silent was actually part of the problem. There was no track, because we were already there. You can change the name of the station, and ensure the signage is sensitive – all cosmetic changes, but the foundations, bricks, cement and buildings have already been laid.
It is difficult, expensive and painful to rebuild from scratch. But rebuild is what we need to do. As the beneficiary of a first-class berth my role is to be an ally, an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobe, and use my voice (in whichever room I happen to be in) to speak out.
Writing this I know I can sound like a self-righteous prig! It is uncomfortable conversation at the best of times. It also has to be said I did not reach this place alone – thank you Reni Eddo-Lodge, Bernadine Evaristo and others for helping me hear.
I am still idealistic, not quite so naïve, and got to a point in my career as a retailer that I wanted to do something more alongside it. Two years ago I started a Masters in Psychology at the University of Derby online. It is an excellent course and working with the amazing people there has solidified my desire to work towards a PhD in Social Psychology (assuming I pass my degree!). My intended focus will be in looking for interventions to minimise prejudice and bias, a weakening of the mortar, and increase the volume on voices not so easily heard as my own.
Class was for so long almost forgotten in arguments about bias and prejudice, yet there is good cause to see it as the most important of the intersections with other forms of inequality. Who you know, and how you are perceived by them, is crucial in the tiny interactions, often silent, that take place outside school gates, before job interviews, and as you walk round shops.
Most of all, you grow up in a classroom. Confirmation bias has a field day in these situations and is both in the mind of the perceived as well as in the eye of the beholder. When writing the poem, I was back in the hall watching our children on stage, listening to the parents around me, hearing with a little more clarity in hindsight.
In my opinion, tackling those inequalities always starts with us. Reflecting and recognising our own bias. This then needs to be followed through in practice and in research. In research, especially within our listening mechanisms, be they quantitative scales, or qualitative interviews, recognising and mitigating for bias is challenging. The good news is that every step forward is doubly beneficial, because truly listening and hearing give the basis for more reflective outcomes. The bad news is the most difficult people to reach are those who are so used to not being heard – precisely those people of a lower socio-economic class. No point reflecting our own image (again!) so we need to work even harder to listen in the right places. It is not only in politics that these individuals feel disenfranchised.
Now the secret is trust, and that is hard won because we are already in deficit. Yet if we are authentic, honest and consistent we may still make a difference. Tokenism and gesture will continue to fail and just because it is nobody’s fault does not mean we should not be angry. We can use that energy to try listening again. So once again, it starts with us!
Ian Danton, University of Derby. [email protected]
“thank you children for those…..
“They carried themselves well…..
Words carry weight stealthily
Damage upon impact (intent?)
The third job, your mum holds down so you can heat?
”oh so sanctimonious”
“just don’t get him started on race”
(or sexuality, or ability, or gender, or….)
That is an intersection best uncrossed
“isn’t it awful daddy….”
“Sleep well son, you needn’t worry
Time is on our side”
and we slumber on