Class Privilege: Still Taboo

09 March 2014
Social Justice Kittens, from Liar Town USA

I've always been a proud Novocastrian, even accounting for I've lived nearly half my life in Sydney. So my recent post expressing my mild dismay at the hipsterisation of Newcastle and pricing out of the working classes was written with the best intentions. It wasn't received that way; apparently a few of the cafe-attending sorts I wrote about were quite upset. Well, can't please everyone, and on I rolled. Meanwhile, a new curated Twitter account for Newcastle started; I was booked in to host one week, and really looked forward to it. So I was a little...put off to see the first three hosts posting more of the same "ooh, look at the gorgeous boutiques and cafes!" stuff I'd been writing about. There's a lot more to Newcastle than that, a whole world outside the mall where we're taking our groceries home on the bus. I wished for a different perspective, a host who was poor and angry, and said so.

Well, didn't that upset everyone. The creator of the Newcastle Twitter account informed me that my views were not what the account was about, and that my hosting services were no longer required; one of the previous hosts asked me was she meant to be offended, that she works hard to not be depressed and poor.

Don't mention the war class privilege!

If there's one thing many well-meaning, better-off lefties struggle with, it's the notion of class privilege. Mention white privilege to them and they solemnly agree how much work society has to do to overcome it. Mention class privilege - that they have choices not open to others because of money - and they get angry and defensive. But there's no denying it. The revitalisation of Newcastle does exclude many on financial grounds. It is bloody impossible to get a decent, inexpensive lunch in the mall. It's not just Newcastle, obviously; this happens anywhere urban renewal takes place. Look I don't resent people for being better off. I like reading reviews of restaurants I can't afford to go to, theatre events that are a pipe dream. I'm just tired of being told to shut up about the fact I and many others are excluded from this.

I really don't think those who haven't struggled with poverty have any freaking comprehension just how exhausting and grinding it can be. I replied to the tweeter who told me they work hard that "if all success took is hard work, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire". (Don't even get me started on the idea that depression is a choice). Someone else replied that they measure worth on the inner value of a person, and in that respect African women are richer than any of us. I could only blink at the privilege inherent in such a statement. I'm sure a woman watching her baby die of starvation in a Sudanese refugee camp feels comforted by the knowledge of her true worth. I know I tried calling up the power company and offering to pay the bill with my true worth, but they laughed at me and hung up. A comfortably off person telling the poor money doesn't matter is like a white person saying they "don't see someone's skin colour". Of course you don't, if you've never been made painfully aware of just how much it affects you.

We see this smugness everywhere. Just look at Jamie Oliver, lamenting the food choices of Britain's underclass, calling on people to shop at markets instead of supermarkets. Where to start with that? I love farmers markets, but they're a rare treat for us, with prices much higher than the supermarket, and usually open once a week only, not much use for getting something for tea on the way home from work (let alone by the time that they're open, the week's money could well have already been spent). I've seen Warren Mundine, the Uncle Tom of Australia's Aboriginal population, lecture an Aboriginal mother (the Koori Woman, whose blog is awesome and who writes about this stuff much better than I can) that if she doesn't send her kids to school because they can't afford shoes, he'll get her a pair of shoes and anyway what's so wrong about going to school barefoot? Insulting paternalism, and...missing the point. Someone once suggested I could eat at cafes if I ordered the cheapest things on the menu. Great! That won't make me feel like a complete loser at all. I think I'll go to McDonalds if it's all the same to you.

Those who would die of shame before telling a racist joke think nothing of scorning those who eat at KFC and shop at K Mart. Well, how about listening to the poor before deciding what's best for them or how they should feel about things. If I've offended you writing this, I'm kind of glad. The first step to fixing a problem is realising there is one. Check your privilege. Realise that you have one. You deserve the right to tell your story, just don't get mad when I request the right to tell mine.


  1. well said. echo my sentiments. same people lament the stupidity of "bogans" voting liberal. if we in the alp want their vote we need to earn it. the one sure way of not getting their vote is to label them stupid.

    1. Thanks. I do try to bear in mind Liberal supporters are people who often have their own firm (if misguided) reasons for voting the way they do and we won't get very far by insulting them.

  2. I agree. Australia is very blinkered when anyone suggests that not everyone is having a great time of things. I think certain people on Twitter have taken the whole thing far too personally. I have wanted to intervene on your behalf on a number of occasions but self-preservation has stopped me - I don't want to be targeted by the "Heathers" because when I get back on my feet financially I want to be in their club, drinking cocktails and having high tea and shopping at the markets. Then again, I don't think you really need my help. You're more than capable of articulating yourself on your own terms.

  3. Heh, the Heathers.

    People taking it personally does kind of prove my point - an essential element of privilege is that you're blinkered to it.. I'm really not bothered by all the subtweets flying around, in a few hours everyone will move on to the next cocktail night and forget about it (I was more hurt when we were having a really shit time a few weeks ago and I posted about it, a lot, and hardly anyone asked about it). I don't really want to be invited to the high teas, I'd get cream on my frock and knock over the cake stand anyway. That said I do put on a braver face than I feel sometimes!

    Anyway, thanks for your comments. I feel like I am shouting in to the void sometimes so always appreciate knowing I'm not completely alone on this. I hope you get back on your feet and are drinking cocktails with obscene names out of jam jars soon.

  4. never had a cocktail in my life and had my first jam jar drink in december and made a loud comment about affectation. keep fighting the good fight.


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