Released last year following an idea born on Twitter, Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class by the Working Class (published by the independent Liverpool-based publishing house, Dead Ink Books) is a brilliant collection of diverse British writers and their thoughts on what it means to be working class today.
Despite it being 2018, class is still something that is talked about a great deal. It makes our country unique and transports us back to those stiffer days — yet class is by no means an irrelevant topic. In fact, Brexit and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist political mentality have given birth to a new class discussion: who is a working-class person?
Of course, the answer is blurred and there isn’t a simple one-sentence definition for the phrase. As editor Nathan Connolly points out in his collection of essays, working-class people do have disposable income to spend on that overpriced coffee in Costa. They go to university and set up their own business. They travel the world and buy their own houses. Yet does this mean that they are no longer working class? Is there such a thing as rising up through the classes simply through the clothes you wear or the food you buy, for example?
For me this is a question that has troubled me for some time. Growing up I was never deprived of the necessities, yet I always had an awareness that money was tight and there were people far richer than us. We never had extravagant holidays or masses of presents for Christmas. Yet we also never starved or faced the prospect of being homeless. I was the first person in my family to go to university, which was met with mixed feelings. At school I was aware that I was clever and a bit of a bookworm, so I was excited to finally be around people I hoped would be more like me. However, like many of the writers in Know Your Place, I soon realised that it wasn’t as simple as that. My university peers had been reading the classics for as long as they could remember. They engaged with politics, environmental issues, and gender inequality. I constantly felt like I was years behind them and considered myself an imposter in every seminar I attended. This only heightened when people began to comment on my Essex accent that I didn’t even realise I had.
Despite this, I enjoyed university thoroughly and absorbed the many things that people around me discussed. Yet it has been difficult to navigate that in-between space of feeling stranded between the social classes. When I found out about Know Your Place on Twitter I was immediately drawn to the idea of it. I pre-ordered a copy and waited eagerly for it to arrive. Finally, a book that was going to voice my muddled feelings in a way that I couldn’t.
I was not disappointed. It is rare — for any reader — to relate completely to a piece of writing, usually even more so if that writing is non-fiction and biographical. However, I can honestly say I related to every single writer in the anthology — despite differences in skin colour, being from different regions, or representing different sexes. Know Your Place captured beautifully the diversity but also the collectivity of the modern-day working class. There were writers who had cleaners, writers who had lost everything, writers like me who felt like they were navigating a space where they didn’t really belong.
Far too often the working-class community are pigeonholed under an archaic view of how they should live and behave. Very rarely are we given an insight into what being working class actually means by those who are living it each day. There is also often a sense that being working class is something you should wish to escape from — I am guilty of previously thinking this myself. But why? If Know Your Place taught me one thing, it’s that being working class is a joyous celebration of the majority in Britain today and not something that should be belittled or condemned by those who consider themselves higher up the social scale.
The anthology is essential reading for those wishing to further understand the societal mindset of modern-day Britain. It is a brilliantly curated, fabulously written piece of literature that I intend to keep on my bookshelf and return to for years to come.