BORN AND REARED in working class Birmingham, of Irish immigrant parents, I lived the first thirty-five years of my life in exclusively working class, inner city areas, of post-industrial British cities. Then I moved to rural Ireland and things became less defined.
Though, on getting up for an early shift for the last twenty odd years, I’m not fully convinced as to how much. Still, I’m always amazed about the ways class is discussed here in Ireland and the anti-immigrant protests of recent months have offered a startling example of this.
Looking at Brexit in the Britain and how support for it swept through disadvantaged, working class areas of the country, there has always been an easy assumption made about immigration by those who never experience it. For these people, hearing about the everyday prejudice immigrants face or hearing about the adjustments deprived areas have to make when there are new people, is like hearing about a country they’ve never visited.
In this way media commentators in Britain and in Ireland, the vast majority of whom aren’t and never have been working class, are like tourists in their own country. They are the comfortable lecturing the disadvantaged. The comfortable confused by the disadvantaged. When it really gets good, though, is when they talk directly about the working class.
The anti-immigrant protests in Ireland by, in comparison to the huge numbers at Dublin’s anti-fascist march, a sprinkling of people gave rise to a most peculiar narrative. In this version of events the people protesting had some kind of authenticity, some kind of justification, because they were deemed to be working class.
The condescension of this isn’t even laughable. And it works both ways. The observation on Brendan O’Connor’s RTE radio show after the huge rally in Dublin that most of the attendees weren’t working class seemed to be an attempt to suggest that therefore the anti-fascist rally lacked some kind of legitimacy.
Though suggesting a rally organised in large part by trade unions is not working class is, at least, good for a laugh. But then I suppose there weren’t enough tracksuits and hoodies there for certain people because, hey, what else do us working classes wear?
What is being talked about is people gathering outside buildings housing women, children and men and shouting ‘burn them out’. Saying migrants have raped someone when they haven’t. Spewing bile and prejudice.
There seems to be two things going on here. One, is confusing, deliberately or not, genuine societal concerns with genuine racism, bigotry and fascism. It is well documented that the protests outside these buildings were not about community concerns around housing or resources but were organised by the tricolour-waving Irish far right.
Secondly, for all those treading so gently and cluelessly around class, ask any working class person and they can tell you, working class people can be bigots too.
They can be racist and fascist. They don’t need the condescension of their economic environment being taken in to account when they are objecting to someone on the basis of their skin colour or faith. Hate isn’t legitimised by class.
Take, for instance, Tommy Robinson, as he too was in Dublin recently. Tommy, son of an Irish woman, is working class, isn’t he? Isn’t that part of his schtick? But he’s a bigot too, isn’t he? He’s a dealer in hate. Do you think Tommy Stephen Yaxley-Lennon came here because he’d heard working class people had concerns about housing? Or do you think he came because racists were making lots of noise?
I don’t know how many people at those protests outside of buildings housing refugees were local working class people with genuine concerns.
I don’t know how many of them were being manipulated by people with far more sinister concerns. But I do know that hate and bigotry, racism and prejudice, doesn’t get special understanding or status if a working class person commits it. That’s not how it works. And that’s not how working class people should be treated.
Joe Horgan tweets at @JoeHorganwriter