Common People by Pulp was a criticism, not an instruction manual. Class appropriation at the University of Edinburgh by Annabel Wilde.
Fashion has always been political and is one of the biggest facilitators of class appropriation manifesting itself in university life. We get it, mullets are back. Let’s not forget though that this is just another instance of posh boys appropriating working-class culture without really understanding the historical context. The wealthy children of suburbia who grew up in comfortable homes with parents who wouldn’t have dared let them wear a tracksuit when they were young are acting out in rebellion when they come to Edinburgh; expressing themselves with grime music and fashion brands which they once called “povo”. The problem is, they’re reusing trends created by the Punks, the anti-Thatcher movement and those marginalised by society due to economic status; trends that belong to the working class. These students don’t even recognise the cultural appropriation which they are partaking.
Instead of recognising and appreciating the undeniable privileges that have been handed to the middle-class majority of Edinburgh students, they seem insistent on hiding and denying any money their family so obviously has. “Yes I went to private school but I never boarded so I understand how you feel’, I’ve been told whilst venting my frustration to people about discrimination against state-educated students at university. The number of endless stories I’ve endured from others insisting upon their ‘working-class roots’ because their grandad once saw a coal miner, or eulogising their visits to Wetherspoons or Greggs; I could write a book. It’s as if this is a testimony to their open-mindedness, class-crossing into an alien territory (born in itself of the middle-class confidence to feel entitled to occupy any space they wish).
The fact is that it isn’t the same experience that working-class kids have. It’s nowhere near it, not even comparable. Students from low-income or working-class backgrounds would much rather you held your hands up and recognised your privilege (it’s not something to be ashamed of) than try to bring yourselves down to our level, act as if you can relate or lie about your upbringing. It’s insulting and it fetishises the working class.
The people who would at one point be shouting “chav” out of the windows of their coach on the way to school as it drove past the local comprehensive have now decided that Adidas and hoop earrings are for them. What were once lower-class uniforms have been gentrified and become costumes for the wealthy to play dress-up in, stand in front of council estate tower blocks and take photos for Instagram. Utilising the homes of hundreds as the background for a social media post as if it’s an artistic tool, or a symbol of an old Britain is not okay. People can wear whatever they want, obviously, fashion is universal etc. etc. But there is an intense need at elitist universities for people to understand the privilege they have in being able to dress this way without the social repercussions faced by those less respected in wider society. The wealthy aren’t oppressed and restricted by the same social and political implications of this fashion, and therefore have a responsibility to be less ignorant.
The point is that it’s easy enough for the privately educated, home-counties white boy to cut his hair into a mullet and wear trackies or a chain necklace when it benefits him to seem more ‘down to earth’ within the uni-sphere. It is a fact that the time will come when he reverts to a short back and sides, dons his best suit and waltzes straight into a job at daddy’s investment bank, removing the costume of rebellion he has worn for the last four years.
Rich people faking poor is easy. Poor people don’t have the same option when it comes to faking rich.
It is much harder for those without money to feign the confidence of a privately educated student in interviews or dress in the expensive labels for prospective employers. At graduation, these students have to watch as their middle-upper class peers peel back the layers of pretence with which they have hidden for the past four years, as they step with ease into the jobs lined up by parents and family friends. Meanwhile, those with less money, led into a false sense of security by the actions of other students during their undergraduate degrees, struggle to secure interviews and grad schemes for lack of contacts.
If you received an elite education and are being bank-rolled by your mum and dad through university, own it. Be honest about your privilege and think with extra consideration and sensitivity about the costume you put on around Edinburgh when your parents aren’t there to watch. Because class discrimination and snobbery still exist, particularly within our university, day in and day out.
This article was written by Annabel Wilde, a German student at the University of Edinburgh. It was edited by Kate Charlton and Tamara El-Halawani.