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When there are academic and policy discussions on race and cohesion, the views of white working class communities seem to be pretty low on the agenda. How can this be right? I grew up in an area like this, and I think the people who live there deserve better

At worst, a range of stereotypes most of us are very familiar with have reduced them to a cultural laughing stock. Mocked as being stupid, living in sink estates and gullible supporters of the extreme right, they appear to be have been ignored by policy makers, politicians and researchers. At best they appear to be a hidden group that have not merited serious research.

So JRF's new report White working-class views of neighbourhood, cohesion and change was commissioned because JRF recognised these negative views and was already committed to engage with these communities. Based on the views of white working residents living in three different neighbourhoods in three different cities the report has some clear messages for people in power.

 

  • Those interviewed feel let down, left behind and the 'last in line'.
  • They feel ignored by politicians.
  • They think debates about matters that they feel passionately about - such as housing, immigration and neighbourhood change - are stifled.


The policy of community cohesion was seen as something 'top down', not connecting with their daily experience of life and many government initiatives in the equality area were seen as 'political correctness'.

Although discussion was peppered with racialised language, people would be shocked to be accused of being racist. And although newcomers were often blamed for problems accessing social housing, neighbourhood decline and the closure of pubs and social clubs, those interviewed rejected extremism and actually wanted to build better community relations.

So rather than the popular portrayal of a feckless mass, annexed in dysfunctional housing estates, our research paints a much more nuanced reality. People were diverse in terms of ethnicity, income and tenure and emphasised values of hard work, reciprocity and mutual support.

What can be done? Well government needs to start listening again to the white working class. It has to engage with groups and the issues. More transparency is required to make clear the way public resources are allocated and grassroots opportunities created for people to share common concerns and solutions. This can both help people recognise what the reality is of resource distribution and hopefully encourage more engagement.

Racism is never acceptable. This report demonstrates that it is not the domain of the white working class either. Extremist parties have been shunned by residents. These are super-resilient places, with people who simply want to be heard, valued and treated fairly rather than forgotten. Hopefully this is a message that will be heard and acted on. And the people I grew up with can stop being stigmatised and left to feeling 'last in line'.

Written by Professor Harris Beider
Monday, 28 November 2011 10:10

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