Is Inverse Snobbery A Problem?

Is there really no bigger snob than a member of the working class?

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No one likes a snob. That’s a given. But, recently, I’ve noticed that people have started to attack the so-called ‘inverse snob’. That is: those of council estate who look down upon those of country estate. But, is the inverse snob really any better than the normal snob? Rich or poor, is it ever acceptable to criticise someone based on their background?

Journalist Tony Parsons certainly doesn’t think so. In last month’s GQ, he even went so far as to suggest (albeit in jest): “there is no bigger snob than a member of the working class.” What’s more, our very own Cantab, David Mitchell, recently wrote a column for The Guardian entitled: ‘Tory toffs should be criticised for their policies – not their background.’ But, are they right? Is inverse snobbery really abhorrent? Is it even an every day problem?

Snobbery isn’t necessarily about class. In fact, more often that not, it can be about education. As students at Cambridge, we are all victims of inverse snobbery. Imagine the following, all-too-familiar situation: you’re at home, you’ve just met someone new, they ask what university you go to. A sense of dread fills you. You know they won’t take well to the response you have to give.

Just recently, I met a friend of mine for a few drinks in the pub. She told me she was bringing a few friends from her work with her. Fine, I thought. Great, even. And it was great, until one of her friends turned to me with sullen, beady eyes and said, in her slow, drawling, Birmingham accent: “So you go to Cambridge?” I’ve never heard five words contain so much potent condescension towards an institute of education.

Illustration by Amy Jeffs

“Well, yes,” I replied, my eyes desperate, my face contorting into an expression that quite clearly screamed: “Please don’t judge me.”

“Is it full of…” she said, still slowly. “I’m trying to think of a nice word…” I felt my heart pound as my nemesis struggles to find a nice word to describe what she eventually described as: “toffs.”

My initial response, which I manage to suppress, was to ask her whether she comes from the 1970s, when the word ‘toffs’ was last a popular piece of vernacular. Instead, I spluttered something about how most people are very nice and, well, I suppose it depends on who you meet. I then excused myself to make a quick toilet break, and downed my pint at a speed that is probably socially inappropriate outside of ‘Down It Fresher’ situations.

So, what did I take from this experience? Well, one thing is for certain: it certainly wasn’t a one off. My mum always jokes about how any Oxbridge grads who go on quiz shows get made fun of. When someone who has the audacity to study at Oxbridge, go on a quiz show and FAILS to know the answer to an arbitrary quiz question, the host jeers, and the audience laughs along. And, sadly, this sort of behaviour characterises the prejudice from certain sections of society that we will always have to endure.

And maybe being able to jet off to the Maldives in April to spend time with Nigel and Shirley in their villa makes up for the occasional money-related jibe those of a ‘higher’ class encounter. It is no classless society we live in, so let’s stop deluding ourselves, and give the (somewhat anachronistically named) ‘working class’ a break.