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