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White British Working Class

March 30, 2014

Thinking about how to listen to minority voices, and by minority I don’t mean what’s defined as ethnically, religiously or culturally a minority in the UK, but a broader definition of minority to mean people with opinions or beliefs that do not conform to the wider society. Specifically, those who believe: foreigners are scroungers, rude with no manners, take our homes and jobs, can’t speak English etc. These are the people we, as a society, need to listen to, and I will explain why.
These particular comments were listed on a slide, part of a talk at a conference I just attended at Centre for Social Relations at Coventry University. The speaker had researched a particular area in the UK (to remain nameless here), interviewed two groups of people: white working class and Muslims (possibly an odd categorisation, but let’s skip past that bit too for now). Without going into the study itself, these quotes stood out for me. I saw these are as experiences, stories, even facts, in the perceptual sense; this person truly believes in these statements. I heard these presented in a familiar, somewhat mocking way, as belonging to an uninformed, politically incorrect opinions of underprivileged community members, with an underlying message: this is what we are dealing with, so what to do to fix them?

I believe in innate human creativity. To me, that’s a fact. If not the statement itself, the belief in the statement is fact. If I was told this is wrong, or that I mustn’t believe or express this belief in public, for fear of persecution or marginalisation, well, I don’t know how I would feel about this. I accept that my belief sits amongst other beliefs that may or may not agree with mine, and that’s OK, for both me and society as a whole (as far as I’m aware!). So that’s what I’m with: how can we listen and include these minority voices in society? And I refer to them as minority voices, because I choose to believe they are a minority.

We seem to feel, in the media and on the whole, self-righteously that these statements are to be mocked, educated and possibly eradicated, for the greater social good. There’s a danger if we as a society, the greater community, do not listen; cannot find a way of some form of dialogue, where these voices are heard- not just seen to be heard- and then, only then, can we engage these voices with the other minority groups, and work on framing these beliefs alongside the majority’s. If all we’re doing is saying: you are wrong, politically incorrect, offensive, unhelpful etc. then we risk extremists in power dragging this section of society into a hole, where we cannot access them for a very long time, or ever.

At the particular area researched, at the aforementioned presentation, the researcher noted strong support for the BNP. I don’t believe that’s the reason for the statement, I believe the BNP and their equivalents, took the role of empathic listener. Whilst the majority, including the media, lumped this community as ‘white working class’, the BNP listened to them as unhappy individuals, as an integral part of the community, as people who need attention. And we all need attention when we are unhappy, so a Gold Star to the BNP. Yet, societies as a whole has made these unhappy citizens into easy prey for political party’s agenda, which can only benefit from pushing these statements further towards the extreme, and implement the beliefs into action.
I parallel this with extreme Islamic groups, like Al-Muhajiroun, who tap into unhappy youth, possibly as the name indicates, lacking a sense of belonging. Unhappy citizen is listened to, passionately fed a purpose, a way forward into a better world, their presence and contribution is celebrated…et voila! I’ve grown my beard, packed my backpack to Syria to do my bit for the world (be this, the The Hereafter).

I’m someone who was not born in the UK, arrived into this country barely speaking English, and belong to a faith that currently strikes fear into the hearts of the majority (and, inevitably, heavily featured in research on UK social relations at this weekend’s conference). And I’m moved to find ways of listening. Otherwise, those of us working on social relations simply become a club, preaching to the converted.

As well as listening, we need to find means of expression to incorporate what we have heard, to check if we have understood correctly, and then to express where we see ourselves standing.
On a micro-scale, in comparison to this spiel I’m on now, I found therapy ways of speaking helpful in adopting language that facilitates dialogue amongst people of difference in a workshop setting, for example, speaking from the first person, if I was to say: I find foreign people rude. Instead of dumbing the speaker with societal judgement, we can use this as a great basis for dialogue: Really? I want to know more, please, tell me more! What’s the story behind the statement? I ask myself: What’s my experience of ‘rude’? If that’s rude, what’s ‘polite’? I ask: Does your ‘rude’ match mine? Have you experienced me as rude?

We validate that experience by listening, and witnessing the distress, anxiety or fear that can be behind underneath the statement. We can connect on a human level.
The person making the statement may not need validation. We, those interested in including that particular person, need to validate their statement for ourselves as facts. The belief is a fact we need to take into account. This may not be the same kind of quantifiable fact as the hard evidence, the statistical data and objective conclusions I heard so much of at this weekend, but it is a truth. A true belief this person may want to act on, like I act on my belief in ‘innate human creativity’, and in fact, this is largely how I do what I do, because of that belief, as well as a whole host of other hippy dippy believes that I resiliently stand by. How can I hope to be listened to when I cannot listen to others?

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