New research debunks myths about white working-class attitudes to race

Research news

Wednesday 02 December 2015

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Popular misconceptions about the attitudes and opinions of Britain’s white working- class will be discussed at a special event in London tomorrow, following the publication of new research by an expert on community building and race relations at Coventry University.

Professor Harris Beider’s recently published book, White Working-Class Voices: Multiculturalism, Community Building and Change, provides the first substantial analysis of this group’s perspective on themes of multiculturalism and social change in the UK. In doing so, it challenges unflattering stereotypes and gives an authentic voice to people who politicians and media seek to represent but who are not often heard.

Professor Beider will be discussing his book at a free to attend event being held at Open Society Foundations (OSF) on Thursday 3 December. Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Kate Green MP, will be one of the speakers at the event. On the same day political observers will be keeping a close eye on the Oldham by-election at which the demographic discussed in Beider’s book will play a critical role.

Speaking about his book ahead of the OSF event, Professor Harris Beider said: 

The white working-class are positioned as being central to debates on migration and change but attitudes towards multiculturalism amongst this demographic have never been fully explored from a grassroots perspective. I wanted to address that gap in our knowledge. 

The results of my research are surprising because the white working-class do not play up to their racist stereotype as a lumpen proletariat. There is much more nuance and bandwidth in attitudes towards multiculturalism. I think it’s important to acknowledge that fact if we want to make genuine progress towards a more cohesive society. 

The debate around our changing social and cultural landscape is often heated and we need to wade through the misconceptions and mistruths by listening to, and understanding what is actually being said by all of the people who make up our diverse population.

Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Kate Green MP said:

Many people in our communities feel disconnected from politics. Parliamentarians and local politicians will need to find new ways to build new and community based solutions to relate and respond to people's concerns. Failure to do so will mean scepticism that things can change, and growing suspicion between communities that risk being filled by those who seek to create division, and exploit people’s fears and insecurities for their own political ends.

Professor Beider’s book has already garnered favourable reviews amongst his academic colleagues. Amongst those who have offered a positive critique is Steve Garner, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the Open University and one of the speakers at the upcoming Open Society Foundations seminar. He said: 

Unafraid of complicating the story rather than cutting corners, Beider digs around in the untidy spaces between the personal and the collective, and between antipathy and solidarity in this engaging and revealing exploration of white working-class responses to, and investments in multicultural Britain. 

The free to attend meeting at which Professor Beider will be discussing his book and its themes takes place at Open Society Foundations, Millbank Tower, London from 10.30 am to 1.30 pm on Thursday 3 December 2015. 

About the author 
Harris Beider is Professor in Community Cohesion at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations and Visiting Professor at Columbia University in New York City. He spent 10 years as a community development worker and leading two national organisations focused on race, housing and renewal. A frequent commentator, he has written about the issues of race, community and identity in books and papers and spoken about these subjects nationally and internationally. 

White Working-Class Voices: Multiculturalism, Community Building and Change 
The culmination of five years’ exhaustive research and based on over 200 interviews, Harris Beider’s White Working-Class Voices: Multiculturalism, Community Building and Change suggests a new and progressive agenda for white working-class communities to become a fully inclusive part of a modern and diverse country in the twenty first century. As such, it marks an important contribution to the sometimes staid and predictable debates on ethnicity, class and multiculturalism.
Scrupulously researched and detailed yet clearly written and easily accessible, White Working-Class Voices is an essential text for scholars, opinion formers and policy makers alike and also provides a fascinating read for those with a passing interest in politics and society. 

White Working-Class Voices: Multiculturalism, Community Building and Change by Professor Harris Beider is published by the Policy Press/University of Chicago Press.

The Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR) builds on the strong and distinctive track record of scholars at Coventry University working on human security, peace studies and social relations.  Drawing on Coventry’s strong heritage in peace and reconciliation and its work for social cohesion, CTPSR brings together expertise from across the social sciences and humanities to drive progressive change and strengthen human security and resilience. More information is available at the CTPSR website