Allies are important. Dissuading members of privileged groups from joining in with areas of activism they aren’t explicitly a part of is counter-productive. Often, an underprivileged group requires a powerful voice to shelter them from the hostility of protest; to provide support and access to resources whilst not overpowering their experience.
But the fetishisation of the working class is something I can’t help but see regularly in Cambridge, and it’s damaging. Being underprivileged shouldn’t be something to aspire to. If anything suggests a lack of character, desperately searching for something to be aligned to, a fun club with music and fashion and accents.
Repeatedly asserting a tangential link- being ‘from the north’ is a classic- undermines access efforts, and, like week 5 blues, becomes a self-fulfilling insecurity for those legitimately struggling with class identity at university.
The horror of imposter syndrome shouldn’t be neglected, and it certainly doesn’t help if insecurities somehow become desirable for others. Feeling out of place can affect everything from social life to academic performance and mental health. Conversations that segue between an individual’s experience of dining with members of the house of Lords, for example, to some humorous anecdote about the ‘problem with working class politics’ are offensive and, frankly, audacious in their lack of self-awareness
Class, remarkably, is becoming an undiscussed facet of the Cambridge experience.
Seemingly obvious privileges- such as parents going to university, or more, parents going to Oxbridge- prepares you for educated conversation, for interviews and supervisions. This is, of course, from a social perspective, and the stress of the complications of financial backgrounds warrants a whole other article. The professional context of a parents’ life, however, is not a factor that can be brushed aside in order to make way for some fresh-edgy-left-wing perspective.
Regardless of whether your upbringing was physically miles away from Cambridge, this kind of background prepares you for a world of formals and matriculation and academics, and the looming presence of 900 years of elite history isn’t quite the daunting experience it could be. Cambridge is about confidence, and class privilege affords this.
I want to be clear that there is nothing damaging about being an ally for a cause, it’s vital and change can be impossible without it. However, taking on an underprivileged voice that isn’t your own silences the voices of those who really should be heard. Speak alongside, but not over.