Vicky Newham

Isn’t bashing the middle class still snobbery, just inverted?

6 Comments

Dear everyone,

OPEN LETTER FROM ME

I’ve been following the recent kerfuffle about James Blunt and privilege and being ‘posh’. I haven’t read every single piece written but I did chuckle over his reply to Chris Bryant (here) and I read Suzanne Moore’s piece (here). This letter isn’t about James Blunt (although I mention him later). And it’s not about the arts. What makes me uneasy whenever I read articles about people who are ‘posh’ is the amount of feeling which so often lurks beneath the comments, most of it unpleasant. It is as if being ‘posh’ is a sin. It’s social leprosy. Eew. How disgusting.

I’ll give some examples. I am often reading “Oh, it’s too posh for me” about places, bars and institutions. And “Oh, she’s so posh”. And I see comments about food which is posh. Quinoa is one of the favourites. Yes, the cereal which has been eaten in South America for thousands of years. If the reverse were said, “Oh, it’s too common for me” (not sure what the opposite of posh is – anyone?) or “Oh, she’s so …”, you get the gist, that person would be jumped on and accused of being a snob. Wouldn’t they? So why is it okay for people to use the word ‘posh’ in an extremely derogatory way? I don’t think it is.

It appears to be fashionable still to attack the middle classes. It reminds me of: being at Polytechnic in Kentish Town; French literature; Madonna; the Socialist Worker Party and long political essays about the bourgeoisie. It also reminds me of being at school and being bullied for being – apparently – posh. Middle class kids haven’t chosen to be posh. They haven’t chosen posh parents to enable them to have privileges. They aren’t ‘the enemy’. They are just kids. People. If people are behaving in a way which is anti-social, smug, boastful, unappreciative, un-empathetic, whatever, it may be fair enough to comment on their behaviour. But those comments are often rolled in together with others about social class: “It’s because he’s posh” or “Typical posh behaviour”. Accompanied by a tut, an eye roll, a look of disgust.

I have also noticed some hypocrisy to some anti-middle class comments. Many of the sneerers are clearly enjoying many middle class characteristics and benefits. Are they semi-posh then? Demi-posh? If they don’t eat quinoa because they think it’s not nice to eat, why can’t they just say that they don’t like bloody quinoa? Hate it, even? Why does it have to come down to class?

Suzanne Moore says quite a bit about envy in her piece. And I have often wondered what makes people sneer at those who are ‘posh’. I think it can be envy. I think it can be contempt. And I also think it can be a projection of the bits of ourselves that we don’t like onto other people – and giving them a good kicking. In addition, the posh of the world seem to have become a socially acceptable object for people’s anger and frustrations. A convenient group to pick on as there are fewer implications. Does it bother me because I was bullied for being posh? Yes. Of course. But it isn’t just that. It bothers me when people make any judgements about others. It bothers me just as much when someone is sneered at for being ‘fat’, ‘thick’, or any of the things that kids tease and bully each other over.

And the double standards bother me.

If it isn’t okay to say that someone or something is … er … un-posh, it isn’t okay to say that anything is posh. If the first is snobbery, the second is inverted snobbery. One isn’t more acceptable because it’s about social justice. Where is the social justice in sneering at and rejecting a kid because his parents were middle class?

I don’t give a shit whether James Blunt is posh. I don’t give a shit if he eats smoked quinoa. I don’t give a shit whether his music is rubbish. I am not defending him in particular, just using him as an example (although I think he gets a lot of unfair stick). What I am defending is the freedom to be different. Diversity isn’t just about ethnicity and (dis) ability and sexuality. If someone comes from a different background to you, guess what? They might still be a nice person!

I thought Blunty made some fair comments in his letter. I think what got him riled was the assumption that being posh necessarily comes with (career) advantages. No, you haven’t worked your butt off to get a break. You aren’t talented. You are just posh. And therefore you have connections. WHAT? You don’t? But you’re posh. And you don’t eat quinoa either? Not even the new, even posher, black stuff?

Could we please be a little slower to judge? A little slower to hurl out the accusatory adjectives?

Perhaps I should start a campaign: Befriend a Posh Person? Or a support group: Posh People Anonymous?

Next time you go to sneer at someone for being posh, maybe you can ask, what exactly is my problem with this person?

I would love to know what you think. If you call a person or place ‘posh’, what do you mean when you say it? Applied to a person, it implies privilege. Said about a town or a restaurant, I’m not so sure. Does it mean ‘for wealthy people’?

Love Vicky xxx

Author: Vicky Newham

Vicky Newham is a writer, living in Whitstable, Kent. She writes crime fiction, psychological thrillers and science fiction. Her main projects are novels, but she also writes short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction articles and some poetry.

6 thoughts on “Isn’t bashing the middle class still snobbery, just inverted?

  1. I think this reply by Chris Bryant is worth reading too, for lots of reasons, including the full story of what he said.

  2. Hi Vicky. There’s something in what you’re saying. Bullying of any kind is unacceptable, for starters, and being prejudiced because of class, in either direction, is wrong. All of that said, I do think there’s a social justice issue that makes the name calling and sneering at people considered lower class completely unacceptable, whereas I think using the word ‘posh’ in a potentially derogatory way is less problematic. It’s a bit like racism towards white people. It doesn’t really exist, if we’re being honest, and to cite racism as a white person when we’re actually extremely privileged by our colour, is a little bit disingenuous. No one ever got turned down for a well paid job because they were too posh. No one was turned away from University for being too posh, either. People with working class roots do struggle to get into the more elite Universities and into typical middle class jobs. I know very capable people with good degrees who are working in call centres, or in the admin departments of organisations being talked down to by people in positions of relative power who are posh but don’t have as good an academic record as they do themselves. That’s the way the world is and for James Blunt to suggest coming from a ‘posh’ background was detrimental to his music career is just nonsense. A bit like a writer from a well off background, who is supported by parents to have a ‘room of her own’ and not need to labour her days away in a call centre or factory or shop or bar, someone whose family is well off has an advantage in life no matter what she decides to do. It’s not all about contacts and connections, although it sometimes is. In most careers these days, companies expect young people to do months of work for free, often London based. That puts anyone from a similar background to me at a *huge* disadvantage. Finally, I completely disagree that people believe it’s not okay to say someone is ‘unposh’. In fact, I’d say the use of words like ‘chav’ and parody and jokes about lower class people are just about the last allowable prejudice in ‘polite’ society. In short, I don’t think it’s okay for people to call you names because you’re posh, but I don’t think people can say ‘but posh people are discriminated against too’ any more than that sentence is okay when you replace ‘posh’ with ‘white’.

    • Hi Nicola

      Thank you so much for reading my blogpost and taking the time to comment. I read the Bryant reply, just didn’t list it. Whilst the post expressed my views, it is interesting to hear what other people think – but we don’t need to all agree. Given what I wrote, you can see that I do think that calling someone ‘posh’ is just as unacceptable as calling someone ‘chavvy’. Both are forms of prejudice, in my opinion, regardless of whether the underlying beliefs and sentiments vary. I’m also not sure that ‘poshness’ is the same as racism towards white people, nor that racism towards white people is a fiction. To me, racism is racism: it can occur between and within any ethnicities. That doesn’t mean I think it is all the same thing, certainly not in consequences, but it is still discrimination based on race. That said, I think that racism towards white people can sometimes be less overt. Incidentally, do know people who have been turned down for things because they’re too posh.

      I agree that people with working class roots can encounter barriers. I haven’t read anywhere that James Blunt claims being ‘posh’ has harmed his music career. My understanding is that he said that it hasn’t been the automatic leg-up that people assume. I didn’t have time to cover every relevant point in my blogpost, or want it to get too lengthy, so I tried to stick to ‘poshness’. Of course I see – and mentioned – that people from middle class or wealthy backgrounds may have certain privileges, but not necessarily, and not always ones which help them with careers. I think that this can be a bit of a fantasy and needs to be assessed on an individual basis and the actual advantages carefully weighed up. To lump all ‘posh’ people together, and call them ‘privileged’ is not helpful or fair. It is also as if the perception of privilege and advantage are used to invalidate any complaint about the label ‘posh’. I don’t think this works.

      • Hi Vicky. I take your point that it’s a generalisation that someone perceived as ‘posh’ has privileges. But it’s also generally true that this is the case, and that they are in a position of relative power, compared with someone who is not perceived as posh. This is why I make the comparison to racism – not because I believe these to be the same thing, but because the power dynamic is similar. I see such a lot of prejudice towards people with an obvious working class background and such gross unfairness that it’s hard not see someone complaining about ‘posh bashing’ as being a bit blind to the potential advantages they do have.

        I do know how it feels to be picked on an called names for being ‘posh’ ironically, and how this can also be a case of mistaken identity. I grew up on an estate that is one of the most deprived places in the country, in Europe actually, and I still live a street away from there. I often get ‘you’re not from round here’, which I could put down to the years I lived in London, except I’ve always got that! I never spoke like most of the people did around me and I put this down to the fact that I read so much, and used the language from books. I was the eldest of six kids but people at school accused me of being a spoilt only child, and my now husband (who was at school with me) was convinced for years that my parents were professors! All very strange the assumptions people make. It used to make me feel self-conscious to be called posh but now I embrace it. I know I wouldn’t have done half of what I’ve done with my life if people hadn’t assumed I was middle class. The places I was offered at University, even getting onto a PGCE, and certainly my job working for ‘Barclays de Zoete Wedd’ in the City of London, these things would have been far harder to do, if not impossible, had I come across as being from the background that I actually am.

        So I’m not dismissing your experience as someone who was bullied for being posh – I’ve had issues with that myself – but I do think ‘chav bashing’ (like last night’s terrible TV) is far, far more of a problem than ‘posh bashing’ and that the two can’t be equated. Simply, it’s not an even playing field. That said, actually, it’s the ‘chav-bashing’ that more people take part in and that many, many people, from all sorts of backgrounds feel is totally acceptable. Just look at your facebook feed from last night and tell me I’m wrong :/

      • I was out last night so didn’t see any telly. What you describe sounds awful. I don’t feel qualified to comment on scale, though: whether there is more ‘chav bashing’ than ‘posh bashing’. I honestly have no idea. I simply think that they are both wrong. I meant what I wrote in my blogpost about wishing people could be slower with judgements. It wasn’t just about ‘posh’ people.

        I didn’t mention my own experience of being bullied for being posh for any reason other than I felt that I wanted to be honest. It contributes to how I feel and see things. But it also makes me sympathetic and empathetic towards people who are bullied for whatever reason. I still don’t see myself as posh at all. Perhaps because I don’t know what the word means! I have no problems with being middle class. I do, however, resent the sneering that goes on and people trying to make me feel guilty for being something I had and have no control over and choice in.

        On another note, I see you write crime fiction! I hope that we get to say hello somewhere. Your book sounds ace.

      • Ah, thank you Vicky. I also hope we get the chance to meet some time and good luck with your writing. From your bio it sounds like we’ve had some similar life experiences along the way. I hope to see your new psychological thriller out there soon enough. 🙂

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