British born rapper Professor Green followed the lives of several “white working class men” over the last six months, endeavouring to shed light on their struggle and how they have become “disengaged” from society. Though this documentary intended to disregard a supposed stigma and offer insight into a highly marginalised group, its narrative is hindered by a problematic tone that confuses being white and male as part of the problem.
The individuals shown in the two-part documentary vary in their circumstances, with some “wheeling and dealing”, with another man, Lewis, being a keen mathematician preparing for entry into Cambridge. There is a consistent air of disenfranchisement and marginalisation felt by these young men, which is blamed on varying factors.
Steve, an older “working class white man” feels that he has been abandoned by his country and starts to pedal a well-known rhetoric amongst the working class. He tells Green that “a lot of foreign people are living in this town..it’s demoralising”.
Just earlier in the documentary however, Steve is shown eating in a Muslim owned restaurant, and afterwards attends far right group Britain First’s rally in Rochdale as a response to the Rochdale abuse scandal. One man shouts “We won’t surrender to the P*** scum” as another women asks Green, “How could anything here be perceived as inciting hate?”.
It is clear that this specific group of the white working class spout this polemic as a result of disenfranchisement. This has been influenced by pro-Brexit and far right propaganda and has led to a scapegoating of people of colour, instead of looking at the government, which is to blame. David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, reiterated this by stating that “the combination of the post-Brexit rise in hate crime and deep race inequality in Britain is very worrying and must be tackled urgently”. A spike in racism and hate crime in England and Wales following the EU referendum vote suggests that, in some areas, a minority of people with racist attitudes have used the result to legitimise racism and hate crime.
As Green follows the lives of the various men, there seems to be a confusion that attributes the struggles of these working class to the fact they are white. While the working class can be marginalised and overlooked, their problems are not symptomatic of being white or male for that matter. It seems impossible to watch a documentary focusing on this demographic while overlooking the BAME (British. Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) working class.
The reality is that the disadvantages faced by people of colour are deeply rooted through systemic racism. These disadvantages stem directly from their ethnicity, unlike the thought that working class white men shown in the documentary suffer because of their whiteness, which in truth is generally regarded as a distinct privilege throughout various societies. A report published in August 2016 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed that since 2010 there had been a 49% increase in the number of ethnic minority 16- to 24-year-olds who were long-term unemployed, while in the same period there had been a fall of 2% in long-term unemployment among white people in the same age category.
Black people are also twice as likely to be in a form of unstable employment, with them being more than twice as likely to be in a temporary contract or employed through an agency. Further to this, those from an ethnic minority are still being held back in the job market. Black, Asian and ethnic minority workers with degrees are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than White workers with degrees. Further to this, with permanent school exclusion for Black Caribbean and Mixed White/Black Caribbean children in England being around three times the exclusion rate for all pupils, these groups are more likely to struggle after they have been victim to policies that are disproportionate in their outcomes. This is the reality of people of colour living in Britain as a whole, who are hindered because of their ethnicity, who are treated differently by governments and institutions and yet who are still prone to being overlooked.
White privilege is very real. It is not a tangible credential that manifests itself socially, politically, economically and that each white person carries on them. It is a a combination of societal privileges which benefit white people, far removed from what is experienced by non-white people who have actually found themselves in the same socio-economy circumstances. But why is white privilege important in this discussion, and how does it apply to these working class white men if they don’t have money? White privilege is NOT about the nature of one’s economic standing. It is white individuals having an advantage and being valued more in society than non-white people merely by the fact that they are white. For example, 16 percent of white children who are born into the poorest of US families will become a member of the top one-fifth by the time they turn 40? But for poor black children that number is three percent? Anecdotal evidence is also integral for understanding this.
There can often be a reaction to this rhetoric that asks: but why should I feel guilty? To clarify- you are not being made to feel guilty because you are white nor are you expected to blame yourself. But whether you acknowledge it or not you do benefit from being white, and it is very problematic if you are not aware of this fact and are blind to the privileges you have over people who are not white.
While there is a genuine cause for concern illustrated by the stories of the young men interviewed in the documentary, there is a recurrent theme of working class white men refusing to work apparently lowly jobs, as it hampers their pride. But as Green points out, this is an entitlement prevalent within this certain demographic. There comes a redemption however for David, a young white male whose upbringing was marred by domestic problems. He found temporary solace amongst Britain First but had now managed to find work as a roofer, where he was earning money instead of previously being on the dole. This is the counterpoint to everything previously shown in the documentary; a young white male finding purpose through employment and newly found romance, as he shows images of his new partner, Chloe.
There is no doubting that there are hardships present within the community of working class white men in Britain, but we must be aware that this is not a consequence of their whiteness. To suggest this sets a dangerous precedent that is rooted in white privilege and the inability for white communities to understand their privilege in a society that can oppress ethnic groups through systemic racism, while they have the capacity to benefit based upon the colour of their skin, whether they are aware of it or not.