I recently got approached about contributing to a publication about being a working class academic, I demurred. The reason is that I feel there is (or should be) a time limit on claiming to be a working class academic. After receiving a free degree, a free masters and a free PhD, I’d be embarrassed to tell a 21 year old today that I understood the situation they were in if they were considering being an academic.
However it’s not just the free education that makes me wary of providing advice to young WC people considering if they want to be an academic, it’s also my lived experience when I was your actual working class hero. Time for some family history…
So I grew up in rural Shropshire in a place called Ellesmere (come visit it’s lovely) – my Dad was a miner, then a lorry driver and then a sales rep and my mum worked in a care home. I’m the youngest of five and I grew up on a council estate called Berwyn View (where my parents still live). I attended the local comp and then went off to the local college to do a BTEC.
Good stuff for a working class academic narrative – however the problem is that I lived in warm clean house and we were never short. I have no idea how the benefits system work because I never used it and I have no idea of what it was to go hungry as a child because we had full cupboards. I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to go to school in shoes with holes in them or any of the other stuff that people often stereo-typically expect from a working class upbringing. The council estate I lived on backed onto fields, and in regards to crime, I do remember someone stealing some lollies from a shed when I was a teenager.
Fundamentally there is a gap in my lived experience and what people want from a WC academic or expect it to be like. So at times, when I follow the chat on twitter about being a working class academic, I often feel that my own personal history, and people like me, are seen as not authentic enough because it’s simply not miserable enough (I’ve never suffered from impostor syndrome as a result of being WC – sorry). When I’ve explained this to people they appear disappointed (Surely some drugs, poverty and crime in there? You know that’s all is to being working class) because middle class people get a complexity of experience but working class people have to conform to a series of rigid stereotypes seen via a prism of poverty.
This now reads as if I’m bragging but I guess it’s just me sticking a flag in the sand and saying I’m allowed to have my own personal history even if it doesn’t chime with others and it doesn’t make my origins any less working class or as I might have said when I was 18, if you don’t like it, you can ram it up your hoop.