Who you calling a thicko prole?

August 17, 2007

Even in the liberal confines of academe, there is one form of prejudice that remains alive and well, as Dr Chav knows

I am a product of a white-trash family. I overcame the innate learning difficulties that my academic colleagues assume comes with such a background to gain a PhD. So I am troubled when I read that white working-class boys perform least well at school and hence most miss out on university. The problem has become so obvious that even all-round cockney geezer Iain Duncan Smith has noticed.

But one aspect of this is rarely mentioned - the culture in many university departments is extremely hostile to white working-class males. I do not know if it is a deluded form of class-based hubris (we are winners, you are losers, so that makes you shit), the fact that many of my colleagues have wealthy parents who have always shielded them from the real world, or just plain stupidity. But I have worked in a number of university departments for more than 25 years and am still baffled at the explicit contempt and hatred for white working-class males that appears acceptable in a way that contempt for Pakistanis, homosexuals, women or the disabled would never be. At its worst, this culture can lead to members of staff from this maligned minority being singled out for bad treatment. About ten years ago, I was told by my boss that I shouldn't do a PhD "as you didn't go to a public school". Unfortunately, I had a mortgage to pay so I resisted the temptation to confirm his ignorant prejudices by hitting him over the head with a chair.

I now work in an Oxbridge science department (best not say exactly where) and the level of ingrained hostility directed towards white working-class males who are economically and culturally disadvantaged is quite shocking. The paradox is that this contempt is not classically derived from any form of right-wing philosophy. In fact, my department has a right-on, Guardian-reading culture but in this "left-leaning" atmosphere I have discovered that as a white working-class male, I possess a number of predetermined characteristics. I am an unrepentant racist and a criminal but I don't really understand the nature of criminality (unlike my public-school-educated peers). I am thick, untrainable and totally unreasonable for wanting to be paid more than £10 an hour. My colleagues repeatedly tell me that they are free from any from of prejudice and do not discriminate against anybody on the grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation. Then they repeatedly pillory the socio-economic group that I belong to. I think that because I can read and have a PhD my colleagues assume that I agree with them. My mother, however, was a cleaner and my father worked in a factory. I consider myself lucky to have escaped a similar fate. When my colleagues talk about chavs, I feel like a black version of the invisible man eavesdropping at a British National Party meeting, as I listen to the crude, intellectually lazy and inaccurate epithets directed towards people who could well be members of my own family.

Well, my background would disappoint my colleagues. Not one out of 16 members of my extended working-class family has a criminal record, severe learning difficulties or screams out racist slogans. Actually, two of them are married to black people.

I usually keep this quiet. I admit to having played on my background on one occasion - when a member of staff attempted to bully me I let drop that members of my family were East End gangsters: "They are total psychos - just like that lot in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I am not like that but it would be dead easy to have someone's legs broken." The bullying stopped.

But it is rare that my background proves useful at work. If universities really want to increase participation by working-class people then they might start by encouraging their staff to be a bit more pleasant to them. They might even suggest on those expensive and highly detailed equal opportunities documents that they often circulate that class discrimination is often used as a tool to suppress people, in the same way that homophobia and racism are. They could even invent a term for it - chavaphobia, prolephobia or whitetrashaphobia, perhaps.

One minor irony I notice when I look around my department - the total absence of any black or Asian faces. I often wonder if there is any connection between my colleagues' dislike of working-class people and the fact that our department is as ethnically diverse as a Ku Klux Klan convention. But that would be really cynical.

Dr Chav has a PhD in neuroscience and was considering pandering to his colleagues' prejudices by becoming a football hooligan. Just one problem - he doesn't like football.

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