An Open Letter to the Guy Talking about “Chavs” Outside Tesco

You thought no one heard you?

I was coming out of Tesco as you and your friends headed in. You were carrying an umbrella because of the rain, and you were wearing red trousers, because of course you were. My headphones were half-in as we passed, so I didn’t pick up the whole of what you were saying, but you seemed to be talking about a cleaner in one of the halls, and I made out the words “chav” and “council estate.”

I’m not into confrontation, but I think in this case it might have been called for. After all, to attack someone for their social class is to attack them for something they have no control over – just like race, gender, or religion. So what you said was no better – and should be no more socially acceptable – than using the N-word in public. You’re as bad as any other bigot, and should be treated the same way. You remember that story about the Cambridge student who burned a £20 note in front of a homeless man? If he’s the KKK, then you’re one of the racists in the Deep South, who didn’t join in with the Klan but, through their attitudes, legitimised them. Tacitly supported them, even. The likes of him are the logical, inevitable consequence of the likes of you.

Photo: Jimmy Sime

And here’s the thing. You’ve managed to get away with it. When you started spouting your hate speech (because that’s what it was), Market Street was busy. People could hear. And nobody batted an eyelash. In worrying about Trump and Brexit unleashing a wave of racism and misogyny into the Bubble, we’ve allowed another form of bigotry – just as pernicious, but somehow more socially acceptable – to gain purchase.

And that’s terrifying.

Terrifying, but unsurprising. Classism is the one socially acceptable form of prejudice left in the western world, and St Andrews is the perfect symbol of that. We’re a hugely multinational university, which we rightly celebrate, but we’ve also got one of the worst access rates in the country for lower-income students. That’s not diversity. That’s a more cosmopolitan version of the Bullingdon Club. And while this doesn’t necessarily make us a university of bigots, it does create the conditions where bigotry thrives.

Photo: Bianoti

And, to be fair, for all that I’m ranting about it here, I’m part of the problem. If I’d met you, bigot, in literally any other context, we’d probably have got on fine. I might even have liked you. Because, as a middle class person with middle class friends, it suits me fine to ignore classism. I was vaguely aware we had an issue with elitism here, but before I overheard you I didn’t have to think about it, and nor did I want to. And if I’m honest with myself, I still ignored it when I overheard you sounding off outside Tesco. I’m full of self-righteousness now, but at the time I just slunk off. It wouldn’t have been polite to confront you. Just like it wasn’t polite in 1950s Alabama to ask your neighbour about the white hood in his wardrobe.

So well done, Tesco-snob. Through a combination of the culture you live in and the timidity of people like me, your behaviour will be validated and reinforced. But times change. And hopefully, the future will bring about a more tolerant, egalitarian society, one where your prejudice becomes the social stigma it deserves. One in which you’re too ashamed even to tell your grandchildren about the way you used to be, and are left as confused and embittered as every bigot left on the wrong side of history.



12 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Guy Talking about “Chavs” Outside Tesco

  1. It’s funny you mention brexit, because the people who backed the remain campaign exhibited exactly the same traits as you just described in this article.

    By associating people who didn’t go to university and social classes C1 and below, they (and you, in this piece, by broad-brushing Brexiteers as racists and misogynists) have effectively resorted to the very same classism that you claim to be fighting against.

    1. When did I conflate backing Brexit with being a racist? I’ve said that some people at the University were worried about Brexit causing racism but less worried about classism. Re-read the article

  2. If I understand you correctly, you did not actually hear what the person with red trousers was saying. You only overheard 3 words that you are able to identify here, and you cannot reconstruct the sentence in which those words were spoken.

    This being so, it seems somewhat hysterical to qualify the incident as “an attack of someone for their social class”, “as bad as any other bigot”, “as bad as KKK”, “like racists in the deep South”, “spouting hate speech”, “classism”, and the remaining diatribe.

    I’m inclined to think that your hyperbolic overreach in filling in the blanks on red trouser’s behalf says more about you than it says about him/her.

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