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Don’t keep working class real

You might not have noticed, but the Mail & Guardian is increasingly accused of abandoning its leftist leanings. Now, I am not one to pronounce on the ideological shifts of newspapers or whether they are correct.

I do know, though, that there appears to be a romantic view about what it means to be a member of the working class or being left. That is why people can be “accused” of being middle-class.

It is an unfortunate state of affairs. I am happy for people to be leftist if they so wish. I am, however, aghast by the thought that we should aspire to being working class.

It might be spelt out differently in textbooks, but working-class communities I know and have grown up in give me nothing to think it would be a great idea to have a “dictatorship of the working class”.

These are communities of violence, ignorance, disease and a complete sense of defeat and fatalism. It is here that a measure of a man is how tough or wealthy he is. The leftists may wish differently, but working-class consciousness has bred the very materialism that leftists have rightly argued against.

Hugo Boss enjoys greater currency in these communities than Marx. Gramsci would have been more iconic there had he been an Italian shoe label. I am with leftists here in believing that this is a terrible state of affairs.

The romance of “living in the hood” or growing up in the ghetto appears universal. Take the “keeping it real” mantra of American gangster rappers. By real they mean black people should keep believing that real men are those who have enjoyed a stint in jail. And that people should wear the symbols of their economic empowerment around their necks and fingers.

Keeping it real means that we should accept as inevitable that young black males have more than an equal chance that they would be murdered by one just like them; that teenage pregnancies and dysfunctional families are the normal order of life. If we are to follow the logic of these social misfits and often violent criminals, we would have to believe that being black is about surviving, not flourishing. Well, I just don’t agree.

I will neither keep it real nor fantasise about what working-class communities are like.

This said, I know better than many that working-class communities have defied and continue to defy the logic that condemns them to margins of society. These are my heroes, not those who simply want us to glorify ghettoes as exotic outlets for foreign or upper-class curiosity.

Loving and respecting working-class communities is not the same as wishing that they will stay that way forever, which “keeping it real” by definition entails seeks to do.

Those who need to keep it real seem to have internalised that, like Sarah Baartman, we are human freaks, whose sole purpose is to be studied by sociologists. Well, we are not. And given a choice, we would love to improve the standard and the quality of our lives such that they may be similar to those whom the leftists routinely deride as “middle class”.