Thursday, January 08, 2009

Council Estate Christians 12: The problems with using class categories

I said in Council Estate Christians 10 that I would later talk about the problems with using the categories of upper/middle/working class.

Here's the problem:
The categories of upper/middle/working class don't really work, because:

1) We are inconsistent in how we use them.

2) There is no proper way to measure class

Sometimes people use class categories to speak of
education background,
sometimes occupation,
sometimes wealth,
sometimes culture,
sometimes an accent,
sometimes ancestry,
sometimes clothing,
sometimes housing,
sometimes values.

But these categories overlap too much to be useful:

For example:
Someone can have a posh accent, but have a low income job.
Someone can dress posh, but live in a council flat.
Someone can come from 'good stock' but be a drug dealer.
- these categories simply don't work to measure class:

My own story:

For example: I was brought up in a council estate in a single parent family, with a thick London accent - all these things supposedly make me working class.

But I then went to a Boarding school, and received a good education, including GCSE's, A-level's, an Honours Degree, an HNC, a DipHE, a Cert TESOL, and a DTLLS. Does this make me middle class? No one has ever said so.

I also adopted a public school boy accent at school to stop people taking the mickey out of my London accent. But in the holidays on the estate I used my normal accent. What class does that make me?

I've worked in factories wearing overalls, but I've also worked in offices wearing suits.

I've earned a good salary, and I've also earned a low wage.

I've DJ-ed, and mc-ed, and produced street music, but I've also gone shooting on rifle ranges.

I've been in street fights, but also been to posh dinners.

I don't pronounce my th's, and I use street talk, but I've also learned French, Latin, Greek, Albanian, and presently Hebrew.

Now, everyone who knows me says I'm working class. When I wanted to be an Army officer, I was warned of not relating too closely with the squaddies, and when I went to University the first time I was told by one of my lecturers, "You really are the epitome [or sterotype?] of urban youth." But at the same time, I've surely fulfilled a lot of the criteria for being middle class - haven't I?

So how do we measure what class I'm in? or what class anyone is in?
I don't think we can.

So why bother writing this post?

Because of the gospel issue that is at stake here:

Because people in Britain are always incorrectly thinking in terms of class. People are labeling one another, without sufficient grounds to do so. The result that concerns me the most is that people say,
"Well working class people can't really understand the Bible, so we need a different approach"
"Working class people are very hard to the gospel"
"Well, I just couldn't reach the working class with the gospel"

What's the solution?

I think part of the solution is:

1) To acknowledge the limitations of the so-called class categories.

2) To recognize that these categories are part of our British World View. We have presuppositions about class, we have a whole metanarrative about class, and this will effect the way we respond to people.

3) To seek a more biblical world view:
...a) To see that we are all from the race of Adam. That anyone we meet is another human from Adam (rather than a middle class or working class person). To see that this person's greatest need is to be in Christ.
...b) To see that when we become Christians we are in Christ, and our identity should be in Christ, as well as how we view other Christians.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female– for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (NET)

4) To think more about this. I'm not saying we should never use the terms working/middle/upper class, but I'm also not saying we should use the terms. I think we need to think about this carefully.