“It’s hard to think of anything better calculated to exacerbate all your insecurities about whether you appear as successful or as a failure, interesting or dull, clever or stupid, well-educated or ignorant, than being ranked by class”—The Inner Level.
Home is a fiction I manufacture, a question I sidestep, a place in my heart that I can only see when I sleep. I am a social migrant, born to a place where the dilapidation screams of a dearth of opportunities, even as ideas on the periphery of the mind. I resettled in a ‘better’ place where jobs are abundant, but only to those for whom prior knowledge and social conditioning have prepared them to enter, and my now Oxbridge-educated, but inherently proletarian, brain inculcates how much I will never truly belong here. I am stuck in the chasm between a culture I never truly fit into and one I cannot hope to reach.
The books that I collected from 10p boxes outside second-hand shops and angled between myself and the incessant glare of the talking screen, that shielded me from my mother’s admonition of what they represented, are not even worth noting, don’t qualify as real books, compared to the volumes your parents put into your hands, the works they taught you had meaning and value and discussed over dinner. I defer to you to tell me what inequality means from things you read in books because your roots, your middle class ones, gave you the confidence to speak them and mine, mired in the lessons of an entrenched class system, taught me that my thoughts are not as good as yours, that I am not as good as you. You speak over me because you know this inherent class truth and the power of hegemony.
I still have my childhood copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, which gave me a language with which to translate my thoughts and values into a tangible expression. I left university and I learned that all of the words in the English lexicon couldn’t teach me to speak the same language as you; that culture, confidence, and business-savvy say far more than the most articulate discourse; that, at best, the things your parents taught you in conversation (and mannerisms), would take me years of immersion in a plethora of books and articles to uncover.
We are taught that working class is a lack. It is a lack of middle classness, a lack of opportunity to be better educated, to have better employment. But really, just to be better. All of the hours I spent teaching myself out of a world in which learning is rejected while caring for someone who couldn’t care for themselves are a blight on what matters and, moreover, a lack of just being in an environment of relative ease and privilege of opportunity. Denial of the past, a total obliteration of one’s own history, is the best step to forgiveness of this flaw.
My arms are still soft from where other children hit me to get here. My neck still aches from dodging their attempts to trip me by staring at my shoes. My lungs still expire their cigarette smoke from venturing into the school toilets. My stomach still churns from years of bad food. My struggle to be your shadow, to sink into inferior jobs, to fit around your superiority, burnt into my memory, is nothing, has no value, is merely a lack of what I could have been if I had not endured this.
School taught patience and endurance, to learn despite unremitting interruption and a lack of teachers and resources. As one of only a few pupils who cared to pick up a book, it did not teach me to be creative, innovative, collaborative, confident, or at ease. My education, fought against the tide, offered a lack of what is necessary to succeed in the modern world.
And home. Home is a place where my life, thoughts, and values matter, a milieu I slip into rather than jar against. Home is where I belong.
I want to go home. But it isn’t a real place.
Jo – Cambridge