Trigger warning: image contains experiences of racism:
Let’s talk about being mixed race.
‘What are you?’ is a question that is asked all too often when people can’t quite put their finger on ‘what’ we are.
Of course, it’s a pretty objectifying question- I’m a who, not a what.
Sometimes people even suggest that mixed race people will ‘bring the world together’.
Yeah, that’s not how it works.
The drawing above illustrates some of my experiences of racism, and hopefully some of the complexity of being Chinese, Scottish, Irish, and Spanish.
A name for Britain:
Leah Simone Campbell Chan is my name.
陳詩朗 is my name.
But Chan is their name.
陳. Chan. 陳. Chan.
Born in Hong Kong,
But not a Hong Konger.
Grew up in England.
But not English at all.
I’m as mixed as
the confusion of a white person
Trying to say my name.
I’m mixed up about my name.
I could be a Geordie.
haha is ya da Jackie Chan?
He is and I’ll tell him to chin ya.
Me mam gave iz Campbell
‘Just in case’.
That’s her maiden name.
She got it in Scotland.
Told me never to call her mam.
Divven’t have a Geordie accent.
Nee one will take you seriously.
At least Leah was easy to spell in school.
Looks good on the register.
Maybe they won’t even realise that I’m not quite
陳詩朗 is my name.
Chan comes first.
That’s what they see first.
詩朗, you are bright, artistic, poetic.
No one sees 詩朗 .
Is that your real name?
I can’t say that.
So, what are you?
Are you like, Asian?
You must be really clever.
Leah Simone Campbell Chan is my name.
陳詩朗 is my name.
They’re two different names for the same person.
You can call me Leah.
That’s what the register says.
You can’t call me 陳詩朗.
I can’t call me that either.
They never taught me how to say my name.
They never say my name.
I taught myself my name, it was given to me.
It would be rude to return it right?
I’ll go back to my own country,
Even though I grew up here.
Chameleons in the city.
Make a name for yourself.
But I can’t say my name.
It’s better, if you just call me Leah.
Trigger warning: discussion of racism.
‘Do you eat dog?‘
Let’s talk about racism towards Chinese people in the UK.
So, growing up as a half-Chinese kid in the UK wasn’t easy, and the all-too-familiar, all-too-dreaded question of ‘do you eat dog?’ came up a lot.
The way that people view the practice of eating dogs in China as barbaric has always been something that confuses me- how is this any different from eating a cow, pig, or chicken?
It is not uncommon for me to receive comments like this when I have challenged such views:
This comment, taken from a vegan activist concerned about the exploitation of dogs in the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, echoes a dehumanizing narrative about Chinese people, and calls for violence against Chinese people that is justified by this dehumanization. What is striking about this is that such an idea is ostensive of the very same oppression that vegan activists seek to dismantle. Either that or people have been listening to far too much Morrisey. The very idea that violence towards Chinese people is justified because we are a species separate from humans, or as Morrissey put it- a subspecies- is at the heart of justifications of the consumption of animals. Contradictory, I know.
Being Chinese during the pandemic:
Concerns about what Chinese people eat became ever more prominent with the outbreak of Coronavirus, leading to many portrayals of Chinese people as barbaric, uncivilized, and diseased. It doesn’t help that leaders such as Trump have referred to the virus as the ‘Chinese virus’, and his friend, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has left this unchallenged.
Around the world, Asian communities are being targeted with a rise in physical and verbal attacks towards people who are Chinese or perceived as such.
I’ve been told by someone in hospitality that ‘no offence but my friend refuses to serve Chinese people’ as a result of coronavirus. I, like many others, have dealt with the anxiety of going to restaurants with family, wondering if our seats in the corner of the room were strategically placed away from other customers.
Point of view: you’re out and about and need to use the toilet facilities, so you find one and try and enter, but a man comes out and starts shouting at you- he says there’s only five people allowed in at a time and denies you entry. There is no sign indicating this and the man clearly doesn’t work here. You argue with him, and notice that six people have left the toilets. The man then turns to a lady who is waiting around and says to her, ‘it’s ok you don’t have to worry about getting coronavirus’.
This is not hypothetical- this happened. It is happening.
Imagine walking down the street and having people attack you, spit at you, cover their faces as you go by, laugh, whisper, and jeer. Some of us don’t have to imagine this. Some of us live it.
You would think at least with having to stay home, you’d be safe there. Unfortunately not.
As people turn to social media to stay connected to loved ones during this trying time, some people turn to social media to share their fears and opinions about the pandemic. I noticed that my newsfeed was flooded with people blaming China and Chinese people for the pandemic. I was shocked, but not surprised.
What did surprise me was that many members of a community that I had felt very much a part of- the vegan activist community- were contributing to the problem. This is not to say that racism did not exist within this community unrelated to, and before, the pandemic. As I mentioned, it is not uncommon for me to experience comments such as the one shared earlier. However, the frequency of such incidents, and the amount of people participating in these incidents became a lot more prominent.
Racism in the Vegan Movement: Black Lives Matter (BLM), Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV), and intersectionality:
A particular activist group drew attention to themselves on issues concerning racism during the protests that responded to the racist murder of George Floyd: Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV). AV had criticized the use of a decapitated pig’s head by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters during one of the protests, and in doing so provoked anger and alienation amongst many people. Whilst I am not condoning the use of animals to protest, it remains a question as to why the use of horses during this protest was not challenged, and why the specific focus was on BLM protestors, at a very important time for the movement. Meanwhile, AV were silent on the racist and systemic oppression that Black people face, until someone on their social media team claimed that systemic oppression doesn’t exist in the West. The ability of AV to place animals at the centre of a conversation about racial justice is a privilege that not all can afford, and a lack of sensitivity about this led to the alienation of people affected by issues of racial justice from the group, the vegan community, and veganism itself- vegans, non-vegans, and vegan activists alike.
Whilst both the post and comment have been removed, with an apology from AV’s co-founders, the organization remains notorious for its anti-intersectional stance on animal rights activism, with much outrage over issues with transphobia, racism, and sexism. Personally, I believe that the path to true liberation is to bridge the divide between the human and animal, recognizing that humans are animals as well. Therefore, the dismantling of speciesism involves the liberation of both human-animals and non-human-animals, an intersectional fight that recognizes the messy entanglements of oppression.
It is worth considering whether an anti-intersectional stance is bringing about liberation for animals more successfully than an intersectional stance. People who support an anti-intersectional stance often argue that intersectionality damages activist movements through the dilution of the cause.
Yet, if we are not aiming for total liberation and then are we really dismantling speciesism, or are we perpetuating it? If we are not being intersectional and then how are we being inclusive to the diversity of people in the vegan community- or who could potentially be part of the vegan community? Anyone looking to maintain a good activist praxis should be reflective of their approach towards activism.
Experiencing racism and responses to this in AV:
I’m not going to lie, when I first became vegan, I did what a lot of people do and jumped straight into activism without asking any of these questions. I became a member of AV amongst several other activist groups. For anyone who doesn’t know, AV is set up in ‘chapters’ (local groups) in various locations worldwide, with praxis regulated by the co-founders. As a result of this hierarchical structure, the anti-intersectional approach is implemented by the AV chapter organisers. This has been a problem in my own experiences of participating in activism at a time when racism towards Asian communities has increased.
I have seen a number of vegan activists from my local AV group posting racist and xenophobic anti-Chinese content online. These activists have often shared misleading information suggesting that China and Chinese people are to blame for the pandemic. They have suggested that Chinese people are ‘at it again’ in creating ‘round two’ of lockdown because of their ‘barbaric’ eating practices. Other activists have gone further in claiming that humans are the virus and that coronavirus is Earth’s karmic retribution- a dangerously eco-fascist narrative rooted in white supremacy especially as the people who are affected the worst by the pandemic are disproportionately BAME communities. None of this content is unique to vegan activists, and many non-vegans share such views, but coming from my local community who I had previously felt welcomed into for the most part, it was heartbreaking to see.
Of course, when I have been able to do the emotional labour I have challenged activists whose posts have been problematic, I have received messages such as this:
For someone who is defending their post as what they believe to be ironic and oppositional to racism, this person sure has no problem using the c* word casually in conversation, or perpetuating monolithic portrayals of Chinese people eating animals- and I have no idea why the word Chinese is in quotation marks. There’s a lot to unpack here.
The old ‘I have Asian friends’ pass. It’s good to know this person is aware that not all Asians eat cats and dogs? Aah, now it’s not as ok to use the c* word so it’s in quotation marks, despite having casually said this word earlier. Also am I meant to be thankful that this person did not use this word in their post? Well done.
Whilst some of the activists have removed the posts, others have removed me from social media, or I have had to remove them. However, I have approached the organisers of my local AV chapter with the hope that the racism I was experiencing, and witnessing would be addressed. The first time that I approached the organizers was back in April. I was told that:
“While we can’t from an organisational standpoint comment on anyone’s activity outside of our group page or our events and workshops, I can promise you any instances of racism at any of these will be tackled immediately by myself or one of the other organisers.”
In June, after a conversation in the group page where I commented on AV’s apology about their approach to the BLM protests, I received a message from one of the organisers letting me know that they stand with me on issues surrounding racism, and they seemed genuinely interested in having an open conversation about this. They proceeded to ask me ‘what is the internal racism, specifically?’. At the time, I appreciated that this organiser was trying to understand the racism that I have experienced so that they could attempt to make changes, but it was emotionally exhausting to be asked this. Having to retell stories of racism, and also having to put yourself in a more vulnerable position by identifying individuals is anxiety inducing, and whilst I want nothing more than for the racism to end, should it really be the case that we have to do this so that change can occur?
AV may be anti-intersectional, but they claim that any discrimination or harassment will not be tolerated, and so it really should be the case that there are measures put into place to support this. How hard is it to do the bare minimum and address racism by writing a post that discourages activists from proliferating such views online? How hard is it to set up workshops that let activists know that discrimination is unacceptable? How about a system that supports individuals who want to report such issues without having to feel anxious that they will suffer consequences for speaking out?
At this point, I was upset that no action seemed to be taken, and I made a public statement that ‘I no longer feel like I can stand with the organisation AV, at least not for the foreseeable future’. Although I had truly felt that the organisers I spoke with were well-intentioned. However, I received a message from a fellow activist who also complained about racism in AV and they showed me a conversation with an organiser, in which they had said:
Confused is an understatement. Why was I being asked to describe the racism I experienced if it was already known? I also had not named any names. How can AV be anti-racist and not tolerate discrimination when they refused to recognise that racism perpetuated by activist members online was just as valid a discrimination to address as racism that occurs at one of their events? I was also shocked to see that my experiences were being diminished to beliefs. I didn’t want to deal with this.
The issue remained unspoken about between me and the organisers for some time. Until now. I noticed that I’d been removed from the online group- and even though I knew I didn’t want to participate, there was a troubling thought in my mind: was I removed for publicly speaking about AV and racism? I had noticed that other members who decided to not participate any further had not been removed and so it certainly felt this way. I messaged the organisers and they have told me that this is not the reason at all and it is simply due to me not wanting to volunteer anymore. I asked why what has happened has not opened up conversations about racism, and they told me that a lot has changed and that the people involved in the BLM post and in the social media team who I mentioned earlier no longer work at AV.
This is of course some good progress.
They reiterated that there was nothing that could be done without any more information about the specifics of racism within AV being shared. After seeing the message to a fellow activist, I was even more anxious about sharing any sort of specifics.
A call to action:
This is my response to everything that has happened- to share as much of my experience as I’m willing to– and a critique of what has happened with a call for action.
So how can we improve our activism? I truly believe that an anti-oppression, total-liberation approach is the best; and this must be intersectional. Whether you’re fighting for animal rights, protesting against racism, or smashing patriarchy, spaces to protest can’t be inclusive unless they are intersectional, and if they’re not inclusive, and then we alienate potential allies and existing members of our communities, in addition to perpetuating the very oppression we seek to dismantle. We need to be reflective of our practice as activists and show up for those we stand with.
Until AV addresses the many problems that need to be addressed- which go beyond racism- and then I won’t stand with them as an activist, but I hope that they can make the changes necessary to allow for people like myself to feel safe within activist spaces.
My intention in writing this was not to be divisive but to share my experiences of racism and activism, so as to critique mainstream activism practices and in doing so open up a conversation about ways to improve our activism. We need to form solidarity with one another against oppression in the fight for total liberation within and beyond the animal rights movement.
If anyone is interested, myself and a few people that I know are looking to set up a horizontally structured and intersectional vegan activist group.
The information provided in the link below was compiled by Beth Leigh, a friend and vegan activist who wished for this to be shared to highlight some of the issues within AV:
Other examples of racism from vegan activists- AV and non-AV activists.
An amazingly moving article in which a friend of mine describes her experiences as a fellow mixed race person, please take the time to read this!
“No, but where are you actually from?”
Throughout my life this question has been poised to me many times. Each time, I can clearly describe the emotions enthralling me – anger being the most prominent one. Trying to argue and justify that ‘I am from here’, yet still being constantly questioned until I finally cave in and answer what they’re really asking me. Exhausted that they do not believe I could possibly be ‘like them’. Because let’s face it, they’ve already decided for me.
I remember each emotion every time I’ve been called ‘half-caste’. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Disgust. What am I half of exactly? ‘Half pure, half impure’? Half bad? Yet, whenever my skin begins darkening after 5 minutes in the sun everyone is the first to say how ‘jealous’ they are of my tan and ‘how do you get that dark?’ – always shocked when I explain my ethnicity.
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Racism in 2020 towards Asians has increased globally, but most people have been silent. The systemic oppression of Black people occurs everyday, and yet it took the gruesome murder of George Floyd going viral for people to take action. Of course, there are many who have been speaking up about these issues for some time. This short poem reflects and expresses my personal feelings about these issues. It is not a poem to breed any hate, but to express frustrations, and the want for people to genuinely ‘stand by’ people of colour, (POC), and Black Asian Minority Ethnic, (BAME) individuals everyday.
“It is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist” – Angela Davis. Right now, many are protesting against systemic oppression in support of Black Lives Matter, often using techniques in defence against police brutality inspired by those techniques used in Hong Kong. People are using leaf-blowers, umbrellas, and traffic cones to defend themselves against teargas! I was speaking to family about the HK pro-democracy protests, and one of them said to me, “when I first came to the UK, I thought it was going to be different, I thought, ‘here is a place of freedom’, but here is just as bad”. Our family has experienced much racism here in the UK, and due to the outbreak of coronavirus, this has become more so for all Chinese appearing individuals. When BAME and POC face much discrimination, and then we really need to ask ourselves ‘do all lives matter?’, and yes they should. However, the reality is that not all lives are given equal value, and are systemically oppressed. Not all people treat BAME and POC as equal.
So what can we do?
– challenge racism everyday.
– show solidarity on social media, and beyond this.
– protest (although right now be super responsible about this, and realise that the ability to protest is a privilege in itself).
– donate to the people, organisations, and grassroots movements affected by and/or fighting to put an end to racism.
– Educate yourself if you are a white person, and don’t expect POC and BAME individuals to do this for you, we don’t owe you an explanation or the emotional labour.
– Listen to and support POC and BAME individuals in everyday life.
– Check your privilege.
– Write to MPs.
– Sign petititions.
– Find creative ways to do activism, and build communities and safe spaces.
All Lives Can’t Matter until Black Lives Matter.
Follow these links for more information and actions in support of #blacklivesmatter and against racism: https://docs.google.com/document/d/10… https://blacklivesmatter.com/ https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life… https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsand… https://greenandblackcross.org/guides…
Music in video: Algorithms by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive, CC BY.
Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are the hosts of the much loved podcast My Favourite Murder, and in this book Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, they present a dual memoir which offers life advice with a true crime twist.
The book starts with ‘Let’s Sit Crooked & Talk Straight’, and introduces the journey of the authors in producing their podcast and book. It is then split into 8 main sections, and a conclusion:
1- Fuck Politeness: In this section of the book, one of the greatest life lessons that Georgia and Karen have to offer is ‘fuck politeness’, and it looks at how we need to unlearn the need to meet other people’s expectations. I really enjoyed how the lesson was taught through the story of true crime where we can protect our own safety in these situations by not being polite. Ultimately, we unlearn so that we can learn how to act in our own best interests without being a jerk.
“So how’s about we kick things off with some thoughts on one of our favorite Murderino battle cries: ‘Fuck politeness’ Fuck the way we were socialized. Fuck the expectation that we always put other people’s needs first. And while we’re at it, fuck the patriarchy! Yeah I said it.”
2- Sweet Baby Angel: the authors tell us how we’re all born sweet baby angels until life happens and it can harden you up until your ‘halos crack or rust’. Here, we are told that self-care is super important- and they’re not wrong.
3- You’re In A Cult, Call Your Dad: It’s true, life does have many cults, whether it’s the cult of being polite, Western beauty standards, or popularity. Karen and Georgia offer advice on ‘how to not drink the Kool-Aid, Even When You’re Spiritually Parched’.
“You should always have people in your life that will call you on your bullshit- like, for example, when you’ve joined a cult. But they’ll also then help you get out of said cult, even if they think you were dumb for joining the cult to begin with. And likewise, you should be there for your friends and family when they make dumb mistakes”
4- Send ‘Em Back: This section is introduced with the realisation that almost every serial killer has had a major head trauma as a kid. The term send ’em back is the suggestion that you should send your kid back if this happens (they’re not telling you to literally get rid of your children don’t worry). They suggest that there are a number of red flags to look for, just in case, and a number of things that mess us up as children too, besides head injuries.
5- Don’t Be A Fucking Lunatic: This section starts off by exploring party culture through Karen’s experiences, and by sharing these experiences the authors hope this can help us learn from their mistakes and ‘be a little less of a lunatic’ with some drinking dos and don’ts. Georgia then offers top ten realisations that she had in therapy.
6- Get A Job: Having a job is so important for self-sufficiency in our capitalist society. There are jobs we don’t like and jobs we do like. Here, Karen and Georgia offer advice on both.
7- Buy Your Own Shit: No one can take better of you than you- this chapter is all about providing for yourself. It’s important to spend responsibly though, and although Karen and Georgia talk about the personal reasons for doing so, I think in a time where our climate is so badly affected by mass consumption, we need to be sustainable in the way that we consume.
8- Stay Out Of The Forest: ‘Life is filled with conceptual forests that we’d do best to stay away from’. Karen and Georgia talk about some of the dangers they have faced and how they coped with it, as well as risk taking behaviour that can take us into the dangers of the forest.
All in all, I thought this was a really cool book, you can tell the authors are passionate about true crime and it’s pretty cool that they moved away from the typical self-help book structure to make it an enjoyable read for true crime lovers just as themselves.
The princess saves herself in this one is a brilliant collection of poems by Amanda Lovelace.
The collection of poems is split into four sections:
- The princess
- The damsel
- The queen
These sections of the collection put together the different parts of Lovelace’s life, and explore all sorts of themes such as love, abuse, grief, health, healing, and empowerment.
The simplicity of the writing makes the poetry accessible to everyone, and lacks the sometimes bourgeoisie elements that the poetry we are exposed to in school has.
A major critique is that I found some parts too much of a reminder of tumblr-like posts, something which I personally am not a fan of, but perhaps this will appeal to younger readers.
All in all it can be a very relatable read, and the journey is mostly empowering, talking about Lovelace’s own experiences with dealing with the many things that life can throw your way.
I love the way she uses fairy tale imagery juxtaposing our expectations, shaped by society, and the reality of things.
‘I didn’t realise I could be my own knight’.
Greta Thunberg sparked the school strikes for the climate when she decided to do a strike on her own outside the Swedish Parliament. She has inspired millions of young people, and whilst receiving much admiration, she has also faced much criticism.
The speeches included in this book are:
Our Lives are in Your Hands– a speech addressing the climate march in 2018. Most striking was Greta’s comment on the disregard for her generation’s future:
“So please, treat the climate crisis like the acute crisis it is and give us a future. Our lives are in your hands.”
Almost Everything is Black and White- a speech delivered to Extinction Rebellion in 2018- Greta called for civil disobedience with the well known phrase:
“It is time to rebel”.
Unpopular- a speech delivered at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2018- Greta critiques the inaction of UN leaders towards climate change and declares that:
“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time. We’ve come here to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”
Prove Me Wrong- Greta addresses the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2019- she asks that ‘you prove me wrong’ for the sake of the future, and for the WEF to stand on the right side of history by pledging to do everything in their power to push their own businesses and governments in line with a 1.5 degrees celsius world.
Our House is On Fire- in yet another address to the WEF at Davos in 2019, Greta announces that Our House is On Fire, and thus highlighting the urgency of the climate crisis to the WEF.
“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
I’m Too Young to Do This- Greta responds to criticisms over social media in 2019, and talks of her entry into activism so as to emphasise the integrity of her activism to those who have criticised her and her family.
You’re Acting Like Spoiled, Irresponsible Children- Greta address the European Economic and Social Committee, once again critiquing the inaction towards climate change and pointing out the urgency for action now.
“I am sorry, but saying everything will be all right while continuing doing nothing at all is just not hopeful to us. In fact, it’s the opposite of hope. And yet this is exactly what you keep doing. You can’t just sit around waiting for hope to come- you’re acting like spoiled, irresponsible children. You don’t seem to understand that hope is something you have to earn. And if you still say that we are wasting valuable lesson time, then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction. And since our time is running out we have decided to take action. We have started to clean up your mess and we will not stop until we are done.”
A Strange World– Greta dedicates her Goldene Kamera Film and TV Award to ‘the people fighting to protect the Hambach Forest. And to activists everywhere who are fighting to keep the fossil fuels in the ground’. She speaks of the strange world that her generation are having to inherent, and how the actions of adults do not make sense in the context of climate crisis. She states that this is the only world we have and finishes by pointing out the crossroads we are at in history, and in the shaping of how the crisis will pan out:
“We are failing but we have not yet failed. We can still fix this. It’s up to us.”
Cathedral Thinking– Greta addresses the European Parliament in 2019, and repeats that we need to act as if our house is on fire, pleading for members to listen to the scientists.
Together We are Making a Difference- Greta addresses an Extinction Rebellion Rally in 2019, with great gratitude and a message that:
“We are the ones making a difference. We, the people in Extinction Rebellion, and those striking school for the climate, we are making a difference. It shouldn’t be like that, but since no one else is doing anything, we will have to do so. And we will never stop fighting, we will never stop fighting for this planet, and for ourselves, our futures, and for the futures of our children and our grandchildren. Thank you.”
Can You Hear Me? – Greta addresses the Houses of Parliament (UK), in 2019, and massively critiques the UK government’s handling of the crisis, offering examples of where things are going wrong, and calling them out on the business as usual approach that they have had. She represents the concerns of her generation when she says:
“We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back. I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me”.
Personally, I think Greta is not only a brilliant advocate for the future of our planet, she is an outstanding role model for young people. For too long youth voices have gone unheard, often with adults telling young people what they think- such as in the riots of 2011. Greta Thunberg addresses this.
Although, it must be mentioned, that there are many brilliant young activists who fight for our planet who are not given the same attention or praise, and we must ask ourselves- why is this? People like Jamie Margolin, Mari Copeny, Xiye Bastida, Isra Hirsi, Kevin Patel, Elsa Mengistu, and Nadia Nazar,
This book is a brilliant insight into the lived experiences of people who are working class in the 21st century. It is a fascinating reframing of the more traditional assumptions of what it means to identify as working class, as well as who gets to identify as such. If you want to learn about class structures in Britain and then this book is a must!
As the editor Nathan Connolly informs us in the introduction, this book came as a response to a tweet calling for writing which reveals working class voices on the state of the UK at a time when tensions were high due to the EU referendum.
It is true, within popular discourse, there is most certainly a lack of representation of working class voices, that is not to say that people who are working class are absent from the media, but they are presented in ways that are not true to reality. Even more shocking is the lack of working class voices in academia, perhaps as a result of a perceived ‘elevation’ of those academics who have came from a working class background to a middle class lifestyle that is associated with those who have been through the higher education system.
Indeed, Connolly ends the book with a chapter aptly named ‘You’re Not Working Class’, which reflects on Connolly’s own class identity. In doing so, Connolly neatly summarises the intentions of the book, as well as providing a critique of the ways in which people who are working class have been viewed:
“Delegitimising the working class is a step towards removing working class voices. If we want working class writers, actors, politicians, and judges – and if we want those institutions to understand working class life- then we need to expect the working class to be educated and intelligent, perhaps even cultured, perhaps even partial to a high-street coffee chain latte. Otherwise, we’re just telling them to know their place” (Connolly, 2017).
The essays in this book include:
The First Galleries I Knew Were Black Homes, by Abondance Matanda- Matanda explores the intersections between her identity as a black working class women and her own experience of seeing the representation of this identity in British culture.
The Pleasure Button, by Laura Waddell- Waddell explores the relationship of class with food and its emotional ascriptions.
More Than Just a Dream Land, by Yvonne Singh- Singh reminisces over the importance of the seaside in Singh’s own life, and in doing so highlights the significance of this space for working class individuals. The gentrification of the seaside is critiqued as a destructive force, ridding the hope and freedom that the seaside has symbolised for so many.
The Death of a Pub, by Dominic Grace- Grace displays a great deal of nostalgia for the cliché ‘Great British Pub’, and how the loss of these spaces affects working class communities.
Britain’s Invisible Black Middle Class, by Sylvia Arthur- Arthur comments on the experiences of Black workers in Britain by tracing their own employment history, with the hope that future generations will claim their place in the world rather than this place being assigned to them.
An Open Invitation, by Kit de Waal- de Waal critiques the lack of working class voices in creative writing, commenting that often many of these writers peer in on working class experiences from a privileged position. Most striking is de Waal’s conclusion that “there are stories already written which deserve to be read and new stories that will remain lost or untold until something changes”.
Navigating Space, by Durre Shahwar Mughal- Mughal talks about her experiences as a working class, Welsh Muslim woman, and how this shaped her experiences of becoming an academic writer, viewing her own presence in different spaces as a ‘necessary disruption’.
The Benefit Cuts, by Sam Mills- Mills critiques the violence of austerity brought about by Conservative governance, and discusses working class experiences of austerity which Mills fears will make the gap between the rich and the poor become a gulf.
One of Us, by Andrew McMillan- McMillan writes about the intersectionality between his working class identity and identity as a young gay man, critiquing common narratives surrounding these identities, and the need for plurality.
Glass Windows and Glass Ceilings, by Wally Jiagoo– Jiagoo discusses their experience as someone who is working class as well as a Housing Benefit Officer, and the impact of this ‘double life’.
Heroes, by Catherine O’Flynn- O’Flynn reminisces over growing up and fitting in with a subculture.
Disguised Malicious Murder, by Rebecca Winson– Winson refers to Engel’s, (1844), essay on The Condition of the English Working Class in England, highlighting that ‘when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and unnatural death…its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder’. It is through this lens that Winson critiques Austerity and its violence towards the working class, having a detrimental impact on mental health, and mental health services. Such violence is justified by narratives of self-affliction and a culture of blame that is placed onto the working class.
Where There’s Shit, There’s Gold, by Ben Gwalchmai- Gwalchmai details the experiences of the rural working-class and critiques the lack of representation in British media.
The Housework Issue, by Cath Bore- Bore talks about her experiences as a cleaner, and how working class women have been lied to, whereby the “fabrication that if we work hard, do the right thing- whatever that means- then we’ll be ok and get the good stuff”.
Living on an Estate Gave me a Community I Never Knew I Needed, by Gena-mour Barrett- Barrett compares the experiences of growing up on an estate and then moving elsewhere. “The truth is, I felt safer living on our rundown estate among people I trusted than in a house, isolated and alone, among people I didn’t”.
Hop Picking: Forging a Path on the Edgelands of Fiction, by Lee Rourke– Rourke explores the ways in which working class voices have been made passive.
Reclaiming the Vulgar, by Kath McKay- McKay talks about reclaiming the vulgarity that has been associated with the working class.
The Wrong Frequency, by Kate Fox– Fox explores issues surrounding stereotypes based on accents associated with class identity.
The Immigrant of Narborough Road, by Alexandros Plasatis- Plasatis talks about being “the fucked up immigrant with a PhD who worked in factories, exploring the new working class England”.
Education, Education, Education, by Peter Sutton- Sutton discusses the education system, and the idea that the working class can “grab an escape route via education”.
Growing Up Outside Class, by Sian Norris- Norris discusses the experience of growing up without really being able to belong to a class, emphasising the sense of belonging that is brought about from being part of a class, and yet the isolation from this as a result of other parts of one’s identity.
What Colour is a Chameleon?, by Rym Kechacha- Kechacha explores issues of social mobility, class, and colonisation, and how you can adapt your ‘tongue’ to be a ‘chameleon’.
And of course, the final chapter- You’re Not Working Class by Nathan Connolly.
Overall, this is an excellent book, and as the writers are speaking from their own experiences to comment on the class system in the UK, they do not claim authority over all working class experiences, and instead hope to inspire others to speak up about their experiences as well!