‘Chavs’ Are Citizens Too

2


Britain casually stereotypes its poor, urban youths as a criminal underclass, but this damaging act of alienation should not go as unchecked as it currently does.

One of the strangest features of our society’s enourmous, expanding middle-class – which the majority of us now see ourselves as part of – is its bizarre attitude towards Britain’s poorest citizens. It seems to be acceptable in an unsettling number of circles, publications and people’s mindsets to stereotype poor, inner-city dwellers as ‘asbos’, ‘hoodies’ or ‘chavs’.

This outrageous offence implies criminal activity on the part of people who are not convicted, and is highly alienating. The middle class was utterly dumbfounded that some of their fellow citizens could be so alienated that they could enact chaotic vandalism during this summer’s riots. But this same class has spent years alienating them, by enforcing – both explicitly and implicitly – the pernicious division that has been developed between our poor, urban families and the rest of society.

If ethnic or religious groups were treated with a fraction of the negative assumptions and stereotyping that poor, inner-city young people are, there would be outrage. Just because a prejudice is less familiar does not make it any less obnoxious, dangerous, or socially divisive.

Unfortunately, Britons tolerate the propagation, by certain newspapers, of an unremittingly negative depiction of inner-city youth, based loosely on few facts. In an awful example of newspapers’ irresponsibility, this summer The Express printed a picture of Mark Duggan’s mourners reaching out in prayer towards his coffin.

Their inflammatory caption was “in chilling scenes, youths… lined Tottenham’s streets with their arms outstretched in a ‘gangsta salute’ to ‘fallen soldier’ Duggan”.  A measure of the success of these newspapers’ smear campaign is that Britain now thinks David Cameron, who insists that our society is ‘broken’, is the best man to lead us.

In everyday life, our nation also tolerates mockery of its poorer citizens: an equally discriminating and alienating offence. Comic characters such as Vicky Pollard make us laugh at poor, uneducated, ill-mannered people for the sole reason that they are poor, uneducated and ill-mannered.

If comedians mocked the unusual dress and strange mannerisms of African immigrants, we would not be so acquiescent in their use of discriminatory humour. So why are we when it comes to mocking the poor?

A Tory-led government seem likely only to reinforce the division. In a shockingly divisive statement after the riots, Ken Clarke did not condemn criminals specifically, but Britain’s “feral underclass”. No government should ever be allowed to be so alienating to any of its citizens.

Our society seems to have become structured so that a comfortable majority resents and mocks a poor minority. If we allow it to continue, we should expect to see more of the crime, political apathy, dissolution of communities and spectacular vandalism that this unhealthy division has already caused.  Alternatively, we could stand up to this prejudice and tackle it.

avatar

Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    There was recently a book published about this issue by Owen Jones (who was a guest on Newsnight the same episode as the infamous David Starkley incident) called ‘Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class’. I’ve not read it but it might be of interest.

    Funnily enough from my own experience, the term ‘c

  2. avatar

    There was recently a book published about this issue by Owen Jones (who was a guest on Newsnight the same episode as the infamous racist David Starkley incident) called ‘Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class’. I’ve not read it but it might be of interest.

    From my own experience, the term ‘chav’ seems to be falling out of use a bit. Previously it seemed to be frequently used everywhere, even by those that some might deem a ‘chav’, but I’ve heard it less often now. That’s not to say that the prejudice associated with the word has disappeared though, as when I do hear it, it normally comes from someone who’s relatively affluent and ignorant.

    With regards to Vicky Pollard, I agree that the character is based on a negative stereotype but it’s arguably defensible given that in Little Britain, Lucas & Williams are fairly balanced in that they have characters that ridicule the higher classes as well. Harry Enfield had his ‘slob family’ but there seemed to be genuine affection and warmth behind those characters. More problematic for me is something like Harry Hill’s dreadful song ‘I Wanna Baby’. Normally I really like Hill’s comedy but in that instance it’s nothing other than just sneering at the less privileged, and this is coming from a comedian who has a clean ‘family friendly’ Saturday tea time persona.

Leave A Reply