Rayner shamefully pits race equality against white working class kids



The white working class must not be set against their Black neighbours

'White working class boys left behind because of "negative impact" of focus on ethnic minorities and women, Labour's Angela Rayner', ran a newspaper headline today.

The main thrust of Rayner's comments was that the education system did not make the white working class feel as if their ‘culture' was valued and, she concluded, this meant they did not aspire to achieve a good education.


Worse still, she suggests that tackling racism is somehow detrimental to the white working class, clearly pitting one group against the other.

In an interview in The Spectator, Rayner was asked whether white working class boys were ‘bottom of the heap'. She replied:

"I think it's because as we've tried to deal with some of the issues around race and women's agendas, around tackling some of the discrimination that's there, it has actually had a negative impact on the food chain [for] white working boys. They have not been able to adapt. Culturally, we are not telling them that they need to learn and they need to aspire. They are under the impression that they don't need to push themselves in the way that maybe the disadvantaged groups had to before.”

How can tackling racism and sexism be detrimental to working class white boys?

There are three problems with this answer. First, it greatly simplifies the complexity of the race penalty.

On the one hand it fails to identify the condition of the white working class as being due to neglect by governments and the elite.

On the other, it fails to recognise that disadvantage suffered by visible ethnic minorities is the result of racial prejudice.

Second, the answer falls squarely into the dangerous trap of pitching the white working class and ethnic minorities against each other, when in reality they share common cause.

And third, it promotes what has been termed ‘white tribalism', by implying that white culture is no longer valued in Britain, a sentiment that gives rise to feelings of embattlement and claims that a traditionally white and Christian country is being taken over.

The reality is that historically the UK has always been diverse and that today multiculturalism is a strength, not a weakness. The weakness is a lack of social mobility for all working class people, Black and white.

It is a great shame that on the day that news of A. Sivanandan's passing was broken we are dealing with comments that so misunderstand the relationship between race and class.

The facts on free school meals and ethnicity show that there is virtually no difference between the rates of white and Caribbean boys attaining five or more good GCSEs – around 30% for both groups. The communities that are lagging behind are gypsy and travellers (7%).

It is also wrong to compare the white working class with entire communities regardless of whether they are working class or not.

I'm sure Rayner is not trying to suggest that white working class children should be performing better than ethnic minority children of all classes combined, but she needs to be careful that her comments are not seen in this light.

Multi-ethnic working class have shared interests in social justice, and being given the opportunities to succeed, that are denied them.

But they also share more day-to-day social interaction than the white middle class do with Black communities.

Indeed studies show there is more social interaction between white and BME working classes than between the white working class and the white middle class.

Everyone should feel proud of their heritage and culture, but nobody should be bottom of the heap.

We need political action to open up opportunities and investment in working class communities for the benefit of all who live there, and an end to the austerity that denies public services and safety-nets to the entire working class.

Lester Holloway