Cambridge’s appropriation of the working class makes for bitter social division
Nobody likes a phony, as Holden Caulfield would say, and as the U.S electorate’s distaste of Hillary Clinton would demonstrate.
Phonyism, a word I’ve now coined, is particularly dislikable when seen in attempts to emulate a different class.
Everybody knows how embarrassing it is when the Mrs Bucket’s of the world swarm to M&S to buy shit that they could get in Aldi for a fifth of the price in order to ensure that Sharon from the Book Club won’t whisper about her over a glass of Prosecco.
But even more embarrassing is when the middle class model themselves on the working class. Judging from my experience of Cambridge (a painfully middle class place), where this practise is rife, most are unaware of the levels of unease they are reaching.
My grandmother, a Rusholme ruffian, born to an Irish single mother, used to ride her bike to work with no tyres. She was not just working class, she lived a life of utter poverty. She was homeless and abused. She worked for fifty one years, and then, four years ago, used up her pension to pay for me to go to a private school for three years, where I had got a bursary and a scholarship. This is my family – what I come from.
I come from workers. I come from graft and oven chips and staunch Labourites. When I went to school I realised how different I was to some people, and, at school, I realised a lot of people with a lot of money pretended to be the kind of person that lived on the bad side of town. Then, when I went to University, the same thing happened. It’s a phenomenon isn’t strictly limited to Cambridge, but here, I feel it sting all the more.
This university is the educational extension of the country’s class system. It breeds a social, academic, political elite oozing privilege, which when it hits yellow summers fosters white tie and quietly sips on champagne. It is the home of people who are not like me or my friends. I was told that Cambridge harvests the brains of the future and that in getting here, I would reach summits that previously required visas. I was told I would not only to be amongst the elite, but would also be accepted by them.
Cambridge fell short of its promises, and affirmed only one thing to me about this caste class system: it is solid, it is untouchable and there are doors in which we will never enter. In other words, in Cambridge, the middle class dominate and the working class are left feeling different.
However, the more I began to understand this, the more one thing became incredibly apparent: the key holders to these doors didn’t want to be those people. They wanted to wear streetwear and use our words and listen to grime in Fez, reviving memories of Upper Sixth where they smoked bud for the first time in their mates’ North London basement. They aspire to emulate a class without feeling any of the true consequences of being it. The middle class yearn to disprove their privilege when surrounded by affirmation of it. To them, to be working class is to be cool, and to be middle class is to eat hummus and rot in the city. To the working class, particularly in Cambridge, it is to have little money and to feel alien.
Perhaps it stems from embarrassment; a sense of weariness of judgement from those who truly grafted their way into this institution. Perhaps it is just their aesthetic. Perhaps it’s because it is what is cool. Irrespective, it is not theirs to own or appropriate. They attempt to purvey an image of themselves as the kind of person who they mock; the scally, the chav, the guy with the pimped out Ford. They used to shit themselves when you walked past these people on the way back from their girls grammar school. Now, you want to be them and you never, ever will be.
You cannot choose which elements of working class culture suit you. We are not here for your entertainment, or for your gain. We cannot shed our upbringings, our families, our small homes. You can take off your Roshe’s at the end of the day and you are still wealthy, privileged, educated. You still hold the keys to those doors. We are left outside. Our accents are funny. Our opinions in supervisions are endearing. Our holidaying in Magaluf is just ‘so us’. Our streetwear is scruffy, whereas yours is “ironic”.
The past year, I found myself frequently looking around The Maypole, in the ADC, thinking to myself, “just fucking do you”. I like my accent. You should like yours. Don’t pretend to be like us. So many people are too embarrassed by who they truly are, but they shouldn’t be; enjoy your privilege. For me, I was nurtured on the words of the Gallaghers, and their words sunk into my subconscious over years and years. “I’ve got to be myself. I can’t be no one else.”
Sometimes, I think a lot of people can forget that.