Environmental Classism!

“You need to act as if your house is on fire, because it is.” -Greta Thunberg

At ‘That is Class’ we care about bringing people together and celebrating our differences. However, overcoming class divisions and coming together may do more than just create new art. It may help to overcome some of the major challenges our generation, and the next, are yet to face. One major challenge is – Global Warming

The United Nations Research for Social Development has published an interesting article: ‘Including Working Class People in the Transition to Sustainability,’ by author, Karen Bell. This article discusses the need to overcome social barriers in order to prevent the death of our, and other,  animal species. This death, of course, is caused by the way we live under capitalism, and will unfold in a series of global catastrophic events; including droughts, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes, and result in a complete disruption to life as we know it. There is only one Earth, no other planet can give us the beauty, variation, and vitality our planet provides. Using our precious resources to explore space and create new cities on dead planets, we do not think, is a great idea. We need to come together for radical revolution. 

The Inter Governmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  has insisted that we need to take urgent and effective action to prevent irreversible damage to our planet and its ability to sustain us. In the words of Greta the Great, you need to act as though your house is on fire, because it is. So instead of frantically rushing for the exit, or grabbing an extinguisher, why do we continue to burn the house down?

In order to save ourselves from these horrifying disasters waiting to unfold – Bell states that we don’t just need technological progress, but structural and institutional change that supports a transformation of attitudes and behaviours. We hope that these transformations will fall in line with a happier global outcome where we are not all screaming as we die out. That is Class is going to contribute to this change by bringing things back down to Earth and uniting the classes.

Bell points out that it is the division in social groups that is preventing this change. And ‘That is Class’ agree. That is not to say global warming can be defeated by a change of individual attitudes alone, as we understand that there are powerful corporate businesses who still continue to slab over our green forests in the pursuit of wealth and power. However, if we break down class barriers and unite, we might have a chance to stand up to these tyrants and save ourselves.

Bell argues that working class people could be the leaders in the transition to sustainability. Why? Because they are the ones exposed most to pollutants and they are the ones who have reduced access to green spaces. This, in turn, impacts on the health and well-being of working class people and helps explain the health inequalities between the working class and middle class that are increasingly being found. 

No shit. I was in Lewisham today and the unrelenting building and slabbing and pasting and cementing was overwhelming. The trees were scarce, the river was polluted, the grass contained inside a small verge, and litter flew where birds once soared. Lewisham has a dense working class population where COPD is the third leading cause of disease burden.

Bell presents studies that show that working class people bear the brunt of this environmental classism while being largely excluded from the conversation, especially those from ethnic minorities. We agree so much with what Bell has to say, we are going to add her bullet points below that list the reasons why working class people, can feel alienated from these organizations and campaign groups.

  • discourses do not engage them (for example ‘consume less’)
  • off-putting tactics (such as long and frequent meetings)
  • focus and agenda, not enough ‘here and now’ 
  • classist comments (jokes, slurs, questioning of culture, clothes, accent)
  • costs (time, money)
  • preaching (‘this is what you must do’)
  • telling off (for not having the correct opinions or behaviour)
  • patronizing attitudes (helping, instead of solidarity)
  • not acknowledging privilege (for example, fetishizing poverty)
  • lack of organizational structure (hidden power dynamics)
  • controlling (frowning upon the healthy expression of emotions; tone policing)
  • ignoring (under-support for grassroots environmentalism)
  • superiority (‘we know best’).

She suggests a number of ways we can unify: 

  1. Put working-class people at the core of what you do and have paid working-class leaders and advisors.
  2. Make social class a “protected characteristic” in equalities legislation.
  3. Reduce wealth and income inequality- which would in turn reduce emotionally driven consumption.
  4. State actions to redistribute wealth – so working class people do not have to take a hit to their income.
  5. Dismantle capitalism.
  6. List ‘Class’ as a Protected Characteristic in the UK’s Equality Act (2010).

We agreed with Bell so much, we went ahead and started this petition: Please sign ad share! And let’s save everyone.

A Poem -Classist Society –

Take me out of this working class strife,

Maybe I might like the middle class life,

Where people use knifes to just butter bread

And not put our young sons to bed,

Where people get stabbed and kidnapped

Shot at the bus stop for being black.

Maybe I might like a soiree,

Or chilling on Botany Bay,

Instead of spending another day,

Around the screams caused by relative poverty,

And social conflict.

Broken families inside broken homes.

So many of us left all alone.

And some have no credit to contact anyone on the phones.

10 minutes late,

And we’re sanctioned.

No doe for 4 weeks,

And my reactions,

To all this need to be only bliss.

It’s so easy to go out and down on the piss,

Drinking tinnies on the street walk,

Listening to bare shit talk.

Needles going around,

Its only a bit of brown

And before you know it another one hits the ground.

No one makes a sound,

When you hit the floor.

No one knocks at your door.

Are you afraid,

That you’ll be the one laid,

Down like a brick,

Under a tonne of concrete.

Yeah the governments their to help

And like a dog some yelp,

But then they move in,

And if your not locked in the loony bin,

Your kids are removed and there’s no next of kin.

“You didn’t try hard enough”,

“You just need to get the right stuff”,

“Why is it always happening to you”

“Maybe in the nicest possible way you’ve got a loose screw”.

Gaslighted by the upper classes,

Who can’t fathom the life of many of us;

And pathologise,

Because they just can’t empathise with this form of

Star dust.

It’s all too painful,

And so many shut off and seem so unemotional,

Except for the occasional,

Murderous outburst.

Coz were all beyond hurt,

Dishing out what we think,

Are just deserts,

In-between long days of apathy

And psychopathy

Dominating a very sick

Classist society

By Ellese Elliott

We Don’t Sound Like That.

This week we delved into Sound and Music’s Fair Access Principles (FAP).  I’m not sure whether they have yet clocked the rude acronym. However, they generally don’t use the acronym for accessibility reasons.
Sound and Music are a national organisation for new music and a registered charity. Their aim is to bring new music to the fore, and support anyone to do this. Their focus lies with composition; defining composers as “any individual who creates new work using sound or music”. That could be from the music they perform themselves or write for others, to working with music software, with notes on paper, or in other ways. You can see their definitions here-  

Overall, they provide support to get musicians to develop their work.

On the face of it, their Fair Access Principles appeared quite impressive. They have considered some aspects of the application process that got me thinking.

One of their principles is barring anonymity during an application process. Some people advocate for anonymity to prevent things like racial discrimination based on a name, or age discrimination based on someones age. However, Sound and Music have taken a different approach. They argue that we need to factor in the diversity of the applicants we select and consider in order to ensure we are giving equal opportunity to a diverse group of people. . They go a step further and do not consider educational qualifications as a prerequisite to enter the application process;  looking at the skills or the potential an applicant possesses. This helps to ensure that those, especially from a working class background who face an array of complex barriers into formal education, are not excluded. You can read about this more here on an another amazing blog!

So far, thirty other organisations have committed to ensuring equal access to talent development programmes and open calls for composers, subscribing to Sound and Musics FAP. Sound and Music have some interesting short videos on their website. Sean Burn (gobscure) spoke about disability and how part of the philosophy of the principles is to listen to what is needed in order to give that person an equal opportunity; whether that be financially i.e. putting someone up in a hotel for the night when touring, or by providing childcare costs. etc. 

Another short video noted that historically, they acknowledge composers were predominately white and male, but now they are seeking to include others and not just what the typical composer looked and sounded like. I believe this approach really revolutionises the application process, where the person selecting really is giving a space for people to come to the fore who would have previously been excluded. Alongside transparent decision making processes, critical feedback and flexible submission times, I believe Sound and Music are really pioneering the way forward towards a more inclusive music industry and we will see music makers come through from different backgrounds.

Little Simz

What I did note however, was the use of language. Although they made a clause, the word composition is still quite scary. As a working class artist, when I hear the word composition I don’t think of the Sex Pistols, I think of Mozart. And we just don’t sound like that. That whole world is very much wrapped up in elitism, a far cry from working class life. I’m not sure how exactly they are to come down from up there, whether they are going to redefine composition or perhaps use a different term, but we would suggest they really take a walk on the wild side when they consider composition and dabble in something a bit more punk.

 The music seemed to shy away from the harder working class sounds of Grime, Drum and Base, Trap, and the other gritty city estate sounds that have even moved into the mainstream, but mainly stay underground. It may in fact be the case that the composers themselves are working class, but it doesn’t really show. That is not to say that working class people never like classical or Jazz, but it tends to not be the case.  

Generally, it was all very inoffensive. That is the thing though isn’t it, working class art and middle/upper class art is different, and there usually is a snobbery that the art we produce isn’t good enough, whether that is because we don’t have access to the technology they can afford, or the time to properly polish our products. It is difficult to access those spaces, you can feel unworthy, a misfit and not be able to express yourself truly artistically as it will, or at least you feel it will,  be snubbed. Also, I’m not sure that Sound and Music are the right people to redefine this term- it’s up to working class people to define themselves.

Ideally, there needs to be schemes where working class people can access instruments- and music technology. There needs to be composers, if we are to call it that, who they can aspire to and working class artists need proper representation. I do wonder if Sound and Music will showcase work from a UK drill artist for instance, unless I missed it. Hopefully, we will start to see some change as the Fair Access Principles sink in.

You can read Sound and Music’s full Fair Access Principles here

We suggest you check out their opportunities from there main website

​​The Forest Sounds has been working with Fuel Theatre to help improve job conditions for creative freelancers in and around London, funded by the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. As a project that seeks to equalise the playing field in the music production sector, we broadened our focus to the creative sector and found class a very much under-recognised aspect of discrimination within the creative and cultural sector. Subsequently, we formed a research and action group called ‘That is Class’, dedicated to tackling the common classism that is pervading in the arts. And it was not long before we took to the stage. 

On Stage!

We attended the London Lord Mayor’s Culture and Commerce AGM and found classist attitudes were articulated from those attending. People made remarks such as “You can tell someone’s class by looking at their table manners!” And “Working class people don’t even have tables.” Some of us don’t, no. I know I don’t, as I literally do not have space for one in my overcrowded flat.

We rubbed shoulders with polite society that in truth, were actually quite offensive. The London Lord Mayor admitted he, and his staff, were privately educated, yet there was nothing he could do about the class issue within the cultural sector, despite his choice to employ other privately educated persons. “Henry! Could you deal with this lady”. He spluttered as a very well dressed young privately educated man came to give me his email address so I could address him formally. We asked some difficult questions, but they fell upon shuddering ears and quivering lips that could only tell the truths of classism. Finally, we took to the stage, to vocalise how classism is detrimental to a thriving and diverse economy, but the mic was muted and a very tall man kept interrupting our well-prepared speech. 

You Can’t Talk About Class!

Classism, no doubt, is a massive issue. But something that keeps coming up to me time and time again is how uncomfortable it clearly makes middle class people feel to talk about it. You ask about direct action and they stutter, use some long words and try to get back into a headspace where they can keep pretending they can’t see it. Politeness, long admin systems and vague interest with no follow through are used to delay and ultimately stop progress. Either they just don’t care about it enough, or they are too scared to ruffle any feathers in their pleasant middle class world. 

It’s time to get a bit uncomfortable. We have looked at the research that already exists and found the statistics support our experiences. 

“ Every sector, apart from Crafts, which includes smiths, glass makers and ceramicists, has an over-representation of those from upper middle class social origins, with those from working class origins making up far less of the workforce. People from upper middle class origins are overrepresented in many creative occupations, compared to those from working class origins. They are also overrepresented compared to the overall numbers of upper middle class origin and working class origin in the labour force as a whole. It appears that creative jobs are thus highly exclusive. “ A report by Panic 2015.

We also find class also touches upon those who also have another protected characteristic, as those from ethnic minorities or who have a disability are more likely to come from a lower-income background.

What Can Be Done? 

Working class comedian and writer Sophie Willian recently won a BAFTA for her pilot episode of new BBC series “Alma’s Not Normal.” Semi-autobiographical series that tells the honest stories of working class people and care leavers. Sophie ensured that the team making the show were working class and that care leavers were employed in roles in front and behind the camera. This model has resulted in the most successful comedy series created in years, loved by audiences from all backgrounds. We must stop gate keeping working class artists because when they are given the resources to work in the same way middle and upper class artists are privileged to do, they make gold.

Class needs to be recognised as a protected characteristic within the Equality Act. However, we are doubtful this will happen without a strong campaign. We are now looking to develop such a campaign through growing our instagram page, making creative content that highlights classism, taking radical action, creating anti-classist tool kit’s for business, and generally making our voices heard. 

We are trying to set up a meeting with the God of Arts funding- The Arts Council, yet it is proving difficult. Do they not want to open up their funding to those who are from lower- socioeconomic backgrounds, to people and places where that funding would have the greatest impact? Maybe they are just busy!

If we are ready to truly get London’s economy thriving, we need to  stop excluding working class people. We need to hear working class art, and see it. We need to stop allowing middle and upper class people to appropriate our culture, turning our class into a commodity whilst we reap no rewards, and we need to mix the classes up, and create fusion art, rather than keeping us at bay with a long stick of bureaucratic complexities that even those with Harvard degrees find hard to traverse. 

Yes. That is Class. 

By Ellese Elliott