WHO LET THE UNDERDOGS OUT? By Willy Maley. Genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working class.1 When we think of an individual intellectual ... do we accentuate the individuality of the individual in drawing his or her portrait, or do we rather make our focus the group or class of which the individual is a member?2 This is one of the penalties of being an underdog: that you have to know about the overdog, you see. The overdog doesn"t need to know about the underdog; therefore, he suffers severe limitations, and the underdog ends up being wiser because he knows about himself and knows about the overdog.3 Life ain"t so easy, when you"re a ghetto child.4 Class Dismissed? It takes a hurricane or a riot to bring the poor to the world"s attention. Meteorology and Molotovs put them on the front page. The rest of the time they"re invisible. These days we only see a crowd at the factory gates when there"s a closure looming. Talk about race till you"re blue in the face, put gender at the top of the agenda, but class remains a closed book, to be opened only in emergencies. If you"re middle class you can occupy the squares of race and gender, but you can"t be middle class and working class at the same time, so class tends to get dismissed or placed in detention while other forms of difference and discrimination assume centre stage. Measured by our media, being working-class is all about accents, ASBOs, Buckfast and Neds. Social division becomes a matter of law and order, with the poor pathologised, marginalised
and criminalised in a class-ridden culture. !Ghetto Child" You wouldn"t know it now from my title or my professorial demeanour, but listen carefully and beneath this quiet air of majesty you"ll hear the rapid heartbeat of a !Ghetto Child". Growing up in the ghetto, that Detroit Spinners classic was my theme tune. Raised in the most notorious outpost of one of Glasgow"s worst laid schemes, that part of Possilpark known as the !Jungle", life wasn"t so easy. My neighbourhood was once described in a tabloid as !downtown Beirut", but we saw such hotspots as holiday destinations. In fact, we"d just got the brochure for Beirut that week. The seventh of nine children, I had parents who weren"t box-makers, picture-framers or candlestick makers. They were manual workers at the bottom end of the scale. Successive Labour Councils and selective Labour Governments presided over the destruction of communities that returned them without question. I saw early on that underdogs could be lapdogs. Does My Class Look Bad In This? Class is a callus on the heart that won"t come off. Being born with a wooden spoon in my mouth, into a lower working-class community with values foreign to the middle class people I occasionally came across if I strayed out of the scheme, left a scar on the soul. I saw people from the good end of the scheme as snobs, a strange lens to look at the world through. My class was always half-empty. I went to university to study Librarianship in 1981, seconded from a job in the local library, after working in a bank for a year and for the Roads Department of Strathclyde Regional Council, and after sitting the necessary extra Higher at night class. I saw myself alone â€“ no models, no predecessors. None among my
contemporaries or colleagues had looked at life through schemie windows. Like the guys in the Monty Python sketch, I used to snort !Luxury!" every time I heard some !working-class artist" go on about their roots when I suspected the nearest they"d been to a scheme was hurtling past in a taxi on their way to the suburbs. Their parents invariably turned out to be white-collar workers with well-paid jobs and good prospects. These were the people I"d grown up thinking of as snobs, and now here they were claiming to be representatives of the working-class. They"d never been under. They were just dogs.
Footnotes 1. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One"s Own (London: Hogarth, 1929), p. 48. 2. Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual (London: Vintage, 1994), p. 51. 3. Chinua Achebe, in conversation with Charles H. Rowell, in Isidore Okpewho (ed.), Chinua Achebe"s Things Fall Apart: A Casebook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 260. 4. The Detroit Spinners, !Ghetto Child" (Atlantic Records, 1973).
Prolier-Than-Thou Jane Austen once remarked that !a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper", but I"ve seen the slender minds and sour mouths of those with a broad income. I did my tour of duty on the frontline, so it would be easy for me to take a prolier-than-thou attitude and pontificate about class purity, and I did in my lean and hungry years, but if three years at Cambridge doing a PhD and 15 years banged up in the ivory tower taught me anything it"s that the politics of class is a lot more complicated than shouting about how poor you were. Ned O"Malley, my Irish grandfather of Mayo-nese extract, whose birthplace could have saw me playing for the Irish Republic had I not been an asthmatic runt with two left feet, once swept his arm across the kitchen at breakfast and cried: !Get that cart grease off the table!" Ned died 30 years before I was born, so I never witnessed this domestic drama, handed down as family lore. Ned was referring to the margarine my Glasgow grandmother had na誰vely placed before him in lieu of butter. That became an aspirational catchphrase for me: !I want butter, not margarine." I"m now a prole model, the tealeaf that came through the strainer. Just don"t call me Marge. I still know which side my bread is buttered. I may have broken through the class barrier to join the ranks of the first-generation professionals, but I"ve still got a bit of Ned in me.