Class discrimination goes both ways

17 Apr


Trenton Oldfield: Tarred all at the race with the same brush

Class. It’s a theme that while having a large degree of resonance here in Ireland, dominates British society like no other. Its boundaries are clearer there, with style, accent and address providing key markers as to someone’s position in society. While the archaic indicator of class was formerly one of financial means, the advent of the nouveau riche, best exemplified in docudramas like The Only Way is Essex, means that class now tends to be delineated by education, occupation and cultural preference, rather than wealth.

In the wake of Trenton Oldfield’s disturbance at last week’s University Boat Race, there have been a slew of comments made by members of the British public lending tacit support to the self-professed ‘anti-elitist’. Most are churlish and tend to follow a similar trend, lambasting the participants and viewers of the boat race as ‘toffs’, ‘snobs’ and ‘hooray Henry’s’, terms which, while not highly offensive, do betray a kernel of bigotry on the part of those who post them.

There seems to be a blithe acceptance that it’s okay to chastise someone for attending a world-class university, for playing cricket, or for preferring a glass of Port to a Vodka and Coke. It’s an acceptance that exists here, albeit on a smaller scale. Such casual disdain seems based on the inference that anyone that would enjoy such things is almost definitely a snob, with an assumed disdain for the majority, who have never graced the hallowed halls of a private school, or shown an interest in the comic styling’s of P.G. Wodehouse.

Assuming that everyone that enjoys a regatta, or maybe a varsity rugby game, belongs to some elite bourgeois set, typified by an inherent snobbish revulsion for the other classes, is to assume a logic that would portray everyone in attendance at a Premier League game, or indeed a GAA game, as a clamour of foul-mouthed benefits cheats, with garb inspired by Vicky Pollard and the bargain bin at JD sports. Both follow assumptions based on outmoded stereotypes, both belie the truth, both belong to the bin.

While there’s no doubt that a detestable element exists within the upper classes, one that is forever bound to breed resentment from others, to tar everyone with the same brush is just  as ignorant as to assume laziness on the part of every member of the working class. Many, if not most, members of the upper class were born into a state of privilege. Wanting the best for them, their parents, often without their child’s consent, sent them to private schools, from which they had a spring board to the top tier of third level institutions. Yes, the opportunity afforded to them was greater than most, but that is no way justification to assume a bad character on their part.

Their chances in life, afforded by the accident of birth, may be greater than yours and hence somewhat unfair, but as the great comedian Chris Rock once said, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”


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