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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 14:34 GMT
Q&A: White working class in Britain
White man and black woman in the BBC's white season
The BBC's White Season, which explored the issues facing Britain's white working class, concludes this week.

Philosopher Julian Baggini answers your questions on the issues raised by the White Season.

The season of programmes on BBC2 put the white working class in Britain under the spotlight. It explored their concerns and asked why some sections of this community feel marginalised.

To research his recent book, Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind, Julian Baggini spent six months in Rotherham looking into the attitudes of local people. He aimed to get an insight into the mindset of a typical English town.

Below are his answers to your questions.


Working class identity originated in the feelings of community that accompanied old-style industries. Now those industries have largely disappeared from the UK, is it still meaningful to refer to a working class?
Paul A, London

JULIAN BAGGINI: No social identities are permanent, and the working class is no exception. However, the percentage of people who identify themselves as working class has not dropped that much: in 1964 it was around 66%; in 2005 it was 58%. Clearly this identity is still meaningful for the majority of people. What has changed is that people feel this identity less strongly than they used to.

In the first programme, a family had quite an animated disagreement about whether they were working class or not. It made me wonder if the term "working class" actually means anything anymore. Rather than think in class terms does it not make more sense to refer to varying levels of purchasing power?
Paddy, Dalkeith

JULIAN BAGGINI: It used to be the case that social class was generally strongly linked to income but that has changed. There is still a sense in which we can talk about a working class culture. No matter what their incomes, people from working class backgrounds still have a sense of being different to the middle classes, and it's usually a difference they're proud of.

Why do people choose to be working class? With effort they could better themselves, get educated, get off the dole and get a well paid job.
QB, UK

JULIAN BAGGINI: The mistake is to equate "working class" with "unemployed". Most working class people do make efforts to earn a good living and advance themselves, and most succeed. The typical working class person has a comfortable life.

According to these programmes, the white working class are lazy, illiterate, racist and devoid of culture. Haven't the BBC spent a week marginalising the very people they were supposed to be focusing on?
Stephen, Canterbury

JULIAN BAGGINI: I can't speak for the BBC, but it is true that too often the white working class is cast in the role or uneducated, often criminal, urban poor. The media focuses too readily on extremes rather than the norm, so for "working class" read "sink estates" and for "middle class" read "a WI meeting in the Shire Counties".

More than ever before, working class people are branded as lazy and greedy. We work hard but are told that only migrants are good workers. Wouldn't you feel marginalised if all your rights went out the window because of overseas staff who never complain?
James Clarke, Wales

JULIAN BAGGINI: When people complain about overseas workers "stealing our jobs" they are usually dismissed as racist xenophobes. But the trade unions will tell you that there are real issues around unscrupulous employers who prefer migrant workers because they don't know their rights, and are prepared to work for less, in worse conditions, than long-term residents. We should listen more carefully: sometimes complaints about foreign workers are just prejudice, but not always.

We could do with a refresh on the positive sides to our culture and heritage. Why is it that the only air time given to this section of the community it is to listen to us moan about how bad it is to be white and British?
Aurora, London

JULIAN BAGGINI: People who say we should be more positive about patriotism sometimes miss an important point, which is that it's not very British to show off. Self-deprecation is the British way, and moaning a national pastime. North American style flag-waving and saying "God Bless Britannia" would not be in keeping with the national character.

I welcome different cultures and races into Britain but all I see is a non-integrated society. How have we got to the point where everyone feels so resentful and invaded?
Rebecca Valentine, Bournemouth

JULIAN BAGGINI: This is a controversial topic. Many now believe that good-intentioned efforts to accommodate difference, such as publishing information in community languages, actually put up obstacles to integration. This is not what minorities want. For instance, a BBC poll in 2005 showed that 82% thought immigrants should learn English, but among British Muslims that figure was actually 90%. What we need to realise is that we can respect what makes us all different while at the same time making efforts to ensure that we all participate equally in what makes us the same.

It seems far easier to successfully make the transition to working class status in the north, whereas people seem isolated in drab "middleclassdom" in the south. Should people in the south be entitled to free training by "working class life-style coaches" to allow them to escape the confines of their class-envy misery?
Stephen Jones, Cambridge

JULIAN BAGGINI: In a strange inverted snobbery, middle class southerners often like to portray themselves as being more working class than they are, as though this makes them more "real". In contrast, convention means that coming from the North automatically makes you "authentic", so middle class northerners don't have the same problem. The social signals that identify our class are becoming more and more complicated, and no less absurd.

Every individual probably belongs to a group that they feel is ignored, whether it is based on race, class, gender, sexuality or religion. Why can't we forget about these useless labels?
Mark, London

JULIAN BAGGINI: Problems only arise when a label comes to identify the whole of what we are, or when belonging to one group sets you too far apart from others. A country without labels may sound good, but it is not possible nor desirable. A country without pigeonholes, on the other hand, is one worth striving for.

Julian Baggini is the author of Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind (Granta). www.julianbaggini.com

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