This week Lord Digby Jones criticised Alex Scott for her accent, saying;
“spoils a good presentational job on the BBC Olympics Team with her very noticeable inability to pronounce her ‘g’s at the end of a word”.
But Alex soon responded on Twitter and said that she is “proud” to be from a “working class family in East London, Poplar, Tower Hamlets”.
Proud of the young girl who overcame obstacles, and proud of my accent! It’s me, it’s my journey, my grit.”
Lord Jones later accused her of playing ‘the working class card’.
Take some deep breaths and calm down, he really did say that…
I’m sure you can all buff up on the details of this so I’m not going to drill down into it, but, as someone who has a distinct accent (Essex thank you), it got me thinking about what an accent says about you and if being educated at the private Bromsgrove School (like Lord Digby Knobhead) still gives you an advantage over everyone else?
Does a sense of entitlement come with strong T?
There has been a lot of media discussion about posh accents in the last few days. There was a report on social mobility that declared that the ‘posh look after their own’ and a ‘posh accent test’ decides how likely you are to get a job in one of the top companies in London, in particular.
Unless you’re a social Darwinist who believes the privileged are inherently more talented (I’m going to presume that you’re not), then the lack of diversity at the top of society should feel profoundly depressing. More than half of the top 100 media professionals in Britain hail from private schools, even though only 7% of Britons are privately educated. Amongst court judges, the figure surges to 71%; in the senior armed forces it approaches two thirds.
Not so much an establishment as a racket. Britain is supposed to be a modern, advanced democracy: our ancestors fought at considerable personal cost to drive back the unaccountable power of our overlords. So why are so many of the pillars of our society manned by the pampered and the well-to-do?”Owen Jones, The Guardian
Surely it’s not so much the actual ‘posh-ness’ of someone’s voice that gives them an edge over ‘non-posh’ voices when it comes to employers favouring potential employees, but more so, the association that comes with it (i.e. reading between the lines). From society’s perspective (though obviously this isn’t true in every case), posh people are more likely to speak well due to their educational upbringing, present themselves better in formal situations due to the assumed amount of formal events they’ve attended, compared to your average Joe (practice makes perfect).
I think it goes without saying that this form of discrimination shouldn’t be tolerated. From a rational point of view, simply being posh doesn’t mean that you adhere to all of the above stereotypes (you only need to look at the amount of people on their “gap yahs” who are making complete tits of themselves to realise this). From a moral point of view, discrimination is wrong. The End.
If we boil it down to basics (on hiring someone purely for aesthetic reasons) then isn’t hiring someone due to the sound of their voice just as bad as hiring someone due to the colour of their skin, or what gender they are? None of the above have any bearing on how well you, as an individual, can do the job you’re applying for. It’s interesting, on a social level, how racism and sexism are big no-no’s but classism often flies under the radar.
There’s a more subtle, but even more damaging, culprit: the grotesque inequality that not only scars our society, but defines it. It begins from birth. The child from a poor background has a birthweight lower than a child from a ‘better-off’ background. If you grow up in an overcrowded home, your wellbeing and educational attainment can be significantly damaged. Then there are the effects of poor diet and the general stresses of poverty. ‘Cultural capital’ – such as the children of middle-class, university-educated parents being exposed to a broader vocabulary from day one – has an impact, too. By the age of five, those with affluent parents can have a vocabulary 18 months ahead of their poorer peers.
There’s structural inequality, and then there are stitch-ups. The scourge of unpaid internships has helped turn professions into playgrounds for the privileged. Want to become a journalist or a banker? You may well find yourself expected to work for free for months, or longer, with no promise of a job at the end of it. If you have parents with the financial means, you have a shot, but otherwise the idea of labouring for nothing in a city especially London – one of the world’s most expensive – is a non-starter. So is shelling out for an expensive post-graduate qualification, which is increasingly a must. The professions have built walls too high for most to climb, discriminating not on the basis of your talent, but on the basis of your parents’ bank balance.
I’m not sure what to conclude with, unless you’re posh you’re doomed, or perhaps on the other extreme we can all dream like Hutton… watch this clip from Mickey Flanagan to cheer yourself up.