Classless – Waspish Classism
I now understand that classy people are classless because they have learned to live from the inside out.
In Chapter Six: Waspish Classism, the author analyses the impact of class labelling through the narrative of an American ‘Redneck’. She explores the complex Anglo-Saxon construct and the notion of natural inequality on which it is based. She traces its roots to the conquest of the Anglo-Saxon English by the Norman French; and the divisions and tensions within English society which continue to this day. In the USA, the system mutated. It became ‘waspish classism’, rampant capitalism and world dominant. Despite its diminishing influence, it continues to be a powerful force and a useful barometer for measuring change.
The rigid and repressive English class system some believe is a direct result of the Norman Conquest when Norman French became the language of the court and upper-classes and Anglo-Saxon English the language of the peasantry. For example, the Normans ate pork, beef, mutton and poultry, whereas the Anglo-Saxons looked after and ate pig, cow, sheep and chicken. The middle class was fond of wine; the working-class loved beer.
Differences of diction and tastes underpin the rigid divisions within the English class system which survive to this day. Even now, mobility between the classes is difficult. And, as a result of this social structure, it is close to impossible for the poor and the working class to advance socially. Whereas, in the past the identifier was more pronounced because the aristocrats spoke French and the peasants did not; these days, perhaps because of the reverse American Wasp influence, there are different and more subtle indicators for identifying the class origins of people, accent being just one of them. Others include peoples’ addresses, occupations, education, and influential connections, whether from school, the establishment, or business.
In her painful but revealing article, Englishness and the Class System for Albion Magazine Online, a web site dedicated to exploring Englishness, Isabel Taylor wrote in two thousand and five about the impact of class on the English experience. In her view, the effect of class privilege and class resentment cannot be underestimated. They inform and drive a great deal of English culture, in particular film and literature. They are also at the heart of the deep, almost unbridgeable rifts within English society which make it very difficult to pin down just what it means to be English. As she put it: “This is because the classes have historically been very different from one another, with radically divergent mores, attitudes and lifestyles, so that when you factor in regional differences as well, it is very difficult to look at the English as a single people. And as English society has been characterised by rigid social divides for most of its history, ever since the Norman Conquest, in fact, it is impossible to look back on a time when the nation was not so split.”
She believes that class hatred, the legacy of such a rigid system, makes it difficult to conduct a civilised debate on the issue: “The whole Establishment, in fact, with its connections to the privileged classes, has got in the way of truly democratic government. English democracy in operation sometimes reminds one strangely of Orwell’s satire of communism, Animal Farm: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”…