In my earliest years, my great-grandmother used to sit with me in her bungalow, a low-roofed gloomy building with carpets like moss, to tell me I was the ‘best boy in the wewd’. I believed her, of course – she made fantastic cheese on toast and gave me ice pops (‘lolly ices’ to her) out of love. She was family. I took her words as law; I would recite everything I heard her say back to my mother when I was dropped off at our flat. But, rather than approval, I was met with correction – not of the message, but the delivery.
After the government’s U-turn on GCSE and A-level moderation, widespread celebration has broken out among student and teaching communities alike. But, drowned out by the cheering, a yet unsolved problem remains: the injustice and uncertainty for those taking BTECs, who have been left behind in the race to secure places at chosen further and higher education institutions.
Last week, young people across Scotland reached the end of years of schooling and were presented with their final grades. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, these results were based not on a summer exam series, but on predicted grades from teachers and subsequent moderation by examining bodies. As many as a quarter of grades were lowered, hitting working-class pupils in poorer regions and schools the hardest. Further south, A level and GCSE students are still awaiting similarly-calculated results, due for release on the 13th and 20th of August respectively. But, with individual pupils’ futures at the mercy of wildly varying school averages, the most disadvantaged students are facing even more barriers to higher education.
‘I was still standing. I’m shot, I thought, I’m shot. I reached down and touched my stomach. Blood. There was a small hole, slightly charred, in my white shirt: my Paul Smith shirt, I thought, with a pang of anguish. I’d paid a week’s salary for it in San Francisco.’
A novel preoccupied with appearances and the dark realities they can conceal, it is no wonder that clothes are a recurring theme in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. As protagonist Richard notices the gunshot in his expensive shirt at the climax, his ‘anguish’ stems less from the injury to his physical body than to the painstakingly assembled body of signifiers he has spent the novel maintaining; a ‘small hole’ through which his history, in its imperfect secrecy, is exposed.
Although UK universities boast that their online teaching provision is adequate to the current crisis, deep-rooted inequalities in the class system cause the poorest students to suffer the most. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, working-class students are faced with more challenges than usual, and are also less able to access online teaching than their middle- and upper-class peers. Despite their disproportionate struggle to engage with remote teaching, universities are refusing to show leniency with deferrals and adjustments, feigning blindness to a violently unjust class system. The response of universities to this pandemic is insufficient at best, and places those students facing hardship at an even further disadvantage.
By Lewis Martin
Over the last few weeks, UEA Students’ Union has received a number of comments from certain students on social media, complaining about it being ‘political’ and choosing to take political actions such as organising boycotts and funding students to travel to rallies. The SU is also being accused of acting undemocratically for taking these actions. Whilst these accusations are nothing new, in these recent cases the accusers are creating an obscure binary on what the SU can and can’t be seen doing, with a particular focus on only serving certain students’ needs.
By Lewis Martin
Amatey Doku is right: student activism isn’t dead. In a recently published interview with the Guardian, the NUS Vice President of Higher Education proclaimed that students’ response to Brexit and their engagement with the People’s Vote campaign has shown that student activism is thriving anew, after years without a “unifying cause”. But what about the fight for free education that has been active on our campuses since 2012? For many activists in the last few generations of students, it was the issue that brought us together and gave us the skills to take the fight to the powerful. But for Doku, it was too “inward looking” to inspire a “genuine” movement.
by Matthew John White
I doubt that the brilliant gross-out teen comedy The Inbetweeners invented the term ‘bus wankers’, but it certainly dragged it into popular culture. In Series 2, Episode 4, which first aired in 2009, arch gross-merchant Jay shouts the insult in question from the window of a moving car. The phrase is now firmly mainstream. You’ll often see it in social media comments: “my car’s at the garage so I’m being a bus wanker today”, or “can’t wait to pass my driving test so i can stop being a bus wanker”. A Facebook group named ‘bus wankers!‘ is liked by 93 thousand people.
Derision of bus users isn’t always achieved with this phrase, of course. Just the other day, while discussing a trip to London over a pub garden pint, a friend of a friend loudly asked “Who over the age of 30 gets a bus?”, accidentally (I hope!) paraphrasing an apocryphal Thatcher quote in the process. Yet ‘bus wankers’ has become the standard, convenient, go-to expression for such mockery.
by Kelvin Smith
On the eve of the EU Referendum I published a piece, A European Life, that concluded: “My whole life has been lived in the context of this complex and sometimes conflicted continent and whatever the result of the referendum tomorrow, I am just one of very many British people who are not about to leave Europe. We are Europe.” Now, one year into the Article 50 period, one year from the deadline date of 29th March 2019, has anything changed?
by Lewis Martin
Last week, NUS released the 2018 edition of their ‘Homes Fit For Study’ report on the state of student housing in the UK. Whilst the findings aren’t overly surprisingly, they still present the stark realities of the standard of housing that students have to face. The report demonstrates the effect that poor housing can have on mental health and wellbeing – one student reported that “Sometimes in bed when it’s bitterly cold we all feel like crying…” and another even said that her housing was so cold she caught pneumonia. In a society where the focus is on growing private capital, the health of tenants often comes second.
by Laura Potts
I was shocked to see in recent news that Oxford university has been accused of ‘social apartheid’ after their student intake was analysed. This story joins the long standing and highly complicated debate around the wider concept of university equality and educational fairness, revealing some worrying patterns that have begun to emerge in recent years.
CW: mentions sexual harassment
A teacake and a portable phone charger. Unlikely objects to trigger a tirade against the state of academic practices in the UK, but here you are, about to read one anyway.
by Lewis Martin
Back in March, the MinoriTory government announced the idea of running fast track two year degree courses in the hope of saving students money. Last week the Times Higher Education supplement revealed that surveyed students from lower socio-economic backgrounds would be more likely to take this option up if it existed. Could the Tories’ apparently hare-brained scheme in fact be justified?
CW: mentions misogyny, anti-feminism, neo-nazism
Earlier this month, a writer and an editor from the Radical took part in the Amiel & Melburn Trust’s annual residential seminar. The Trust’s aims are “to advance public education, learning and knowledge in all aspects of the philosophy of Marxism, the history of socialism, and the working-class movement’. This year, the topic of the seminar was ‘Politics & Culture’, and the various intertwinings and intersections thereof. What follows are thoughts and reactions about the seminar from our contributors.
by Alex Powell
Seeing the reaction to the snap general election result has been fascinating. For years, young people, particularly students, were criticised for not going out and voting. June 8th 2017 was the day we did. The result? A hung parliament that defied all expectations. In the lead up to the election, all the indications suggested that the Tories would win a landslide, even if the gap had begun to close in the final polls. In the end, this was far from how things played out, leaving Theresa May without a majority and forced to rely on the DUP to pass her key votes.
by Lewis Martin
CW: discusses the Grenfell tower fire
I grew up in social housing. The estate I lived in was split between those who were lucky enough to own their house and those who relied upon housing associations to provide accommodation for them. The latter group, which includes my family, found that their houses were painted an obnoxiously bright yellow, for no other reason than to make those houses easily identifiable to the housing association and the rest of the neighbours. It was a big bright mark to ensure it was known that you lived in social housing.
We’ve just got through the new Tory annual tradition of having the nation vote on internal party issues and having the result batter the incumbent Prime Minister. And, whilst the result is somewhat bittersweet with comedy boob-patting socialist Jeremy Corbyn – aka ‘the future liberals want’ – tearing chunks out of the Conservative mandate, we are still left with a government formed of a crypto-nationalist, sexist, and regressive party and an actual nationalist, sexist, and regressive party.
The truth of the matter is that no one was sure what would happen before the election, or during it and now we’re on the other side it’s only fitting that British democracy remains chimerical, confusing and dare I say it, unstable (take that May!). As such I’d like, as I do every fortnight, to say a few words about the current position of the Arts.
By Lewis Martin
This month Oxford University, in conjunction with the Sutton Trust, launched a summer school aimed at attracting more “white, working class boys” to the university. While this has received praise from some sectors of society, it does not address the real reasons why working class people (not just boys or men) are not attending universities like Oxford.
In the aftermath of the Women’s March — a worldwide protest in resistance to Donald Trump on Saturday January 21st 2017 that saw an estimated 4.6million people take to the streets in the US alone — The Norwich Radical’s Tara Debra G and Cadi Cliff put a call out. This article is the product of that call out, which asked for thoughts from those who identified as women and who attended one of the many Women’s Marches on why they marched. These are just some voices, but they speak from across the UK and the US in an act of collaboration, solidarity, and resistance.
by Robyn Banks
“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer.”- Mikhail Bakunin
There’s a new buzzword in the air. We are now living, it is claimed, in a post-factual or post-truth society, where facts no longer matter to the general public. At face value it seems like a bizarre claim. But while politicians and the media have always lied to the public, if you consider the audacity of the lies of the last decade in contrast to the sheer number of tools available to us to find out the truth, you begin to see the point.
By Robyn Banks
I’m in the break room at work choking on my out of date sandwich. I’ve just been informed by two of my colleagues- good, down to earth working class people who probably think I bang on about my degree too much- that Boris Johnson is a “lad”, and I have no idea what to say. But none of us have any money, I want to shout. And he wants us to have less! Before I can respond, the conversation moves on to laughing about his hair, which is much more tolerable. Later, as I complain about Trumps victory, I am told that all I want is for “everyone to sit in a circle and hold hands”.
by Olivia Hanks
Theresa May’s indication earlier this month that she will reintroduce selective schooling has reignited the debate on ‘social mobility’. Tory backbenchers believe the secondary modern system (or the grammar school system, as they insist on calling it) was good for social mobility, but various reports support the opposite view, that selective schooling entrenches inequality. Of the tiny percentage of children from working class backgrounds who attended the old grammar schools, two-thirds did not manage to achieve three O-levels.
drank from lakes
that turned out to be droughts
cut our lids
to see the future
mined coal with safety pins.
‘It’s time for celebration, not gawking
at deaths crushed by credit,’ you say.
sick dentures pushing teeth back
rusty hammers made from origami cranes, pinkwashed. never grow
tired of going to the bank, where each need is a static noise
& a gunshot,
where you tell me,
‘you &I are beings in boats.
wasting the column. no column. no pronoun to speak.
rather the gusts than a wall
rather understanding than secular missionaries
rather the freedoms of you & me than glass ceilings
rather the prickled rose we will hold firmly than the diamond-sculpted cross
rather the blood &organs than shed skin
rather the body of blood & sinews than war-torn factories
this is stinking of sweet sorrow,
where dystopias are youth’s memoirs, &
where adulthoods are delayed because there is no
money & water.
& until this day, we are sat on swings
that you say will break from our weight.
Featured image via GlobalSocialTheory
For a long time, I have been a strong supporter of a so called ‘#Lexit’ from the EU, rejecting both the capitalist stance of Cameron, and the mainstream xenophobic leave campaigns. Nearly all discourse surrounding a Left Exit of the EU is dominated by Liberal Remainers, who ignore the genuine voices of the working class which is tired of decreasing living standards and austerity measures across Europe.
“You can’t even use apostrophes.” I may not have always said it, but I’m certainly guilty of thinking it and similar things to do with punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Whether directed at someone during an online debate, or used to make yourself superior because someone else has bigoted views or an unfavourable political standpoint. Even in cases where someone is verbally attacking you and making personal comments, you’re not the better person for commenting on their intellect or education.
I have seen Emily Harrison share her work countless times at Burn After Reading events, and at my own night, She Grrrowls. She never fails to amaze me in the way she is able to articulate herself, speaking out about mental health issues – amongst other subjects – interwoven with links to gender and class. When I read lines about imaging someone loves you ‘when you simply asked/during a routine blood test, ‘Emily, how are you doing today?’ I sort of imagine she’s what I would be like if I were an extrovert.
The first couple of poems are familiar to me, and it’s hard not to picture Harrison on stage delivering these words, because as much as it’s incredible to be able to read the pieces, seeing them live is an important part of the way the text works, as it tends to be with Burning Eye Books – the go-to publisher for writers who refuse to remain on one side of the page/stage divide.
As someone who prides themselves on coming from a Black, working class background, I can honestly say that my attitude towards wealth, especially inherited wealth is not as big a deal as many may think. I am fully aware that an institution such as university is a privilege, which in itself brings together people of different backgrounds and different experiences in their upbringing. That in part is what makes the experience of being a student all the more interesting — being invited into a world unbeknownst to you.
In that respect, university life is a microcosm of our society: people of differing economic status and political alliances co-existing (for the most part). As I said, my attitudes to wealth are largely unaffected, but I cannot deny that I have noticed that attitudes towards wealth from students who come from a ‘privileged’ background, often come with the feeling of shame.
by Josh Wilson
I know what you are thinking, cricket is the least radical sport apart from maybe professional bowls. The only way it can truly be radical is if the unprotected fielding masses rose up to take out the heavily padded bourgeois batsman and aim for the heads of the aristocratic umpires. But the game today is the preserve of the middle and upper classes in the UK and has a very apparent colonial legacy across the globe. It is a game that often puts people to sleep but has been used very specifically as a cultural export of an empire that once covered a quarter of the globe and is responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history. Empire is a part of British history that should never be glorified and that we should be collectively ashamed and horrified by. But a poll was released about a month ago that showed 43% of people are actually proud of our colonial past.
I am going to be honest — I am a big cricket fan. It was the sport that I grew up with alongside football. But the history of the sport is something that I have become uneasy with. So I thought I would go on a research mission and look at whether my love affair with cricket should come to an end or if it is just another part of our culture that we can enjoy whilst understanding the historical significance of it.
by Jennifer and Harriet Doveton of Colour Me Wednesday
People often ask us, in broad terms, what it’s like being a ‘political’ band. ‘Music’ and ‘Politics’ are treated as a volatile and unusual combination but to us it always seemed odd to try to talk about ‘political music’ as separate from ‘music’ and ‘politics’. Politics affects every part of our lives, to us, everything is political.
This article is inspired by the bizarre reaction I have encountered as a reasonably dressed British-Asian travelling through the less diverse, major cities in Western Europe. At first I thought I was being paranoid – after all it is hard not to be aware of your starkly contrasting skin-colour in a sea of predominantly white faces. But this particular behaviour became undeniable in places of public transit – such as the queues at passport control and the underground – where you would need to cut the tension with a laser from a high-quality diamond factory. People weren’t just looking, they were gawking.
And the most interesting part was that it wasn’t malicious. There was no sneering or narrowing of eyes, but rather lingering looks of astonishment and intrigue. Eventually I began to wonder, and do excuse my ‘French’ when I say this, could it be that these dear people were not used to seeing a person of ethnic minority actually looking good?
I went to see ‘Suffragette’ with a lot of mixed expectations. I’d heard the reviews weren’t that great, my mum described it as ‘slow’ and there’d been criticism for the lack of BME women in the film (zero). There were also issues of Carey Mulligan’s accent and the fact the film was advertised as having leading roles by herself, Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter. These may seem like minor points, but they reveal deeper issues beneath their surface.
by Robyn Banks
Katie Hopkins’ new show, If Katie Hopkins ruled the world, debuted on TLC this Thursday 6th August. While a Mail article claimed that the show had trouble garnering any guests, Hopkins herself claimed that people were so desperate to align themselves to her overall image of petty hate and kneejerk reactions she had to turn people away, which doesn’t really explain why the first guests include a washed out daily fail columnist, a reality TV star and a woman so irrelevant she’s been denounced by even the darkest corners of feminism.
In British summertime, gardens across the country provide a beautiful illustration of how social class permeates even the choice of flower that people will grow if they have the chance or inclination.
Around the start of July, you will start to see some outrageous colours as dahlias begin to bloom. Dahlias are originally from Mexico, they can be found as far south as far as northern Colombia. A plant of the Aztecs, a scream of psychedelia. First brought to Europe in the 1790s, they were inevitably given a colonial name: after Anders Dahl, one of Linnaeus’s pupils. Dahlias have no scent and rely on colour to attract pollinators and have evolved a startling colour range: every part of the rainbow except blue.
by Mike Vinti
Last time round we focused on the explosion of hip hop taking place across the UK, this week we focus on the UK Rap scene’s mainstay: Grime.
Grime initially took off in the early 2000s thanks to pioneering production and vocal stylings of artists like Skepta and Wiley, whose invention of ‘Eski-beat’ birthed grime as we know it. Characterised by double-time rapping and generally sticking around 140 bpm, grime is hip hop’s faster, louder, and often far more hype cousin. Unfortunately, I was eight years old in 2002 and subsequently missed out on a lot of ‘OG’ grime. In better news however, after a lull in which the closest thing to grime you’d find on the radio was Wiley’s rather ill-considered attempts at pop, grime is back. With it comes a wealth of fresh, young, talent, raised on the genre’s roots and unafraid to experiment.
Wrestlemania is here – and I have a challenge for you. I dare you to watch. I literally dare you. Yes, that’s right, WWE, ‘make-believe fighting’ if you really must label it that, where grown men and women play-fight on television for the entertainment of billions worldwide. “But Jack,” I hear you cry, “You’re a culture writer for the Norwich Radical! Surely you know better than to revel in such uncultured pastimes?!”
Now, in order to refute that, I could go into a lengthy and tedious history of the marriage between art, philosophy and combat. I could talk to you about wrestling in the world’s first democracy of ancient Greece, at the dawn of western civilisation. I could talk to you about the ancient Eastern martial arts that inspired Bruce Lee to greatness. I could reference Roland Barthes famous essay on the subject if I wanted. I could, but frankly, I don’t fancy pandering to the inherent class-snobbery behind suggesting wrestling is a ‘lowly’ distraction.
by Robyn Banks
The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on the 8th March in 1975, but the day actually has its roots in a variety of strikes and class struggles across industrialised nations long before.
On March 8th in 1857 there was a strike at a New York City garment factory. Here women and girls between the ages of 13 and 25, mostly Jewish, Russian and Italian immigrants, worked 81 hours a week for three dollars, of which one and a quarter went for room and board. The strike was sparked when factory foremen, noticing that the women were less ‘energetic’ if they were allowed to eat before working, changed the factory opening time to 5AM. For a day the factory workers marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day and equal rights for women. Their ranks were broken up by police. Fifty one years later, on March 8th 1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again in honour of the 1867 March, this time demanding the vote, an end to sweatshops and child labour. And then, in November 1909, came the uprising of the 20,000.
by Mike Vinti
Debate has been raging in the US over issues of cultural appropriation in hip-hop and popular music, particularly with regard to the roles of white artists in a traditionally black genre. This debate is a vital one and has highlighted many of the inequalities present between black and white musicians, actors, and other cultural figures. British culture faces its own issues around appropriation and representation, not just of race but of class. The relationship between class and culture in the UK has always been a complex one. From tales of working class hardship by the likes of Charles Dickens and Alan Bennett, to the idolisation of that landed gentry life by the likes of Mumford and Sons and the plague of imitation artists that followed their break into the mainstream, class undercuts British culture as much as it does day to day life.
In the past decade or so however, the evolutions in music and culture driven by the working class have been side-lined in favour of sanitised replicas, stripped of any comment or reflection on the socioeconomic factors that bore them.
by Cadi Cliff
When a celebrity says something explicitly racist, we make a noisy ritual of shunning them. We’re able to do this because the multiculturalism movement changed the rules of civility. It has taught us what not to say to each other, but not what to say next.
Michael Brown, 18, was shot on August 9 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The black teenager was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer. The disputed circumstances of the shooting and the subsequent protests have ignited debate about law enforcement’s relationship with African-Americans and use of force by the police. The grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer over the death of Eric Garner came ten days after a grand jury in Missouri decided that Darren Wilson should not face criminal charges. The failure of any prosecution in both the Brown, Martin, and Garner cases highlights a trend in the American judicial system; once is a tragedy, twice is a pattern.
Every time toxic, tragic events reveal the unequal ways that different Americans experience re-segregation and state violence, we talk about having a productive discussion, but we never really have it. Instead, we’ve regressed a half-century in our racial progress.