by UnHerd
Friday, 26
February 2021
Video
11:57

Rapper Loki: Class, not identity, should drive politics

Freddie Sayers discusses the taboo of social class with the Glaswegian musician
by UnHerd


Class is a subject that, no matter how much we advance as a society, we seem unable to stop talking about — especially in the UK. Glasgow rapper Darren McGarvey, otherwise known as Loki, has been thinking a lot about it for a new documentary series on the BBC. Over the years, Loki has developed a reputation for scathing social commentaries through his music and writing; three years ago he published a book, Poverty Safari, detailing the rapper’s working class upbringing in Scotland and winning the Orwell Prize in the process.

Thanks to Loki for sharing his thoughts on the corrosive effects of identity politics on society, his family’s struggles with addiction and alcoholism, and the phoniness of woke capitalism.

On identity politics:

Identity politics is a public relations disaster, because it emerges on Ivy League campuses from young idealistic middle class students who have no idea about the intersection between their very exclusive way of thinking and talking about reality, and working class communities, where a lot of this language just rouses scepticism, and resentment because it’s the language of officialdom, it’s the language of authority. It’s just another generation of people who don’t want to listen to working class experiences, and don’t want to hear it and people will be dismissed for being aggressive, people will be dismissed for this.
- Loki, LockdownTV

On class division:

One of the great successes of capitalism is that as well as leading to generally higher quality of life for broader numbers of people, access to information technology, innovation, and things of that nature, it also has created parallel societies which have completely different social experiences. They have completely different cultural aspirations. And they have a different sense of identity. Some have an ascribed identity, some have an achieved identity. And so what that does is it puts our democracy and our system under increasing strain. Because as you create parallel societies that don’t have to interact with one another, except for basic economic transactions, then people have to come to all sorts of conclusions about the intentions of the people on the other side of the ravine.
- Loki, LockdownTV

On the term working class:

Imagine your house burnt down, but you couldn’t use the word fire to describe it. Sometimes we need to use the language of class because it helps us to more clearly articulate some of the trends that we see in society along the lines of employment, education, health and political exclusion. With all this emphasis on social mobility, it’s become a sort of a shameful thing that people don’t want to describe themselves as.
- Loki, LockdownTV

On his upbringing:

The only people that are harder on working class people than the ruling classes, are other working class people. We regiment one another so strictly in terms of dress, in terms of the range of topics that we’re allowed to be interested in and discuss, even in terms of things like nutrition, which is changing a little now, but back then, if you were talking about hummus, and couscous, and all of these other things, that sort of marked you out as somebody who thought they were a little bit better than everyone else. And back then everything that fell out of our frame of reference was just labelled with a synonym “gay”, which just described everything.
- Loki, LockdownTV

On woke capitalism:

Look at how the identity politics has found expression within the capitalist system, ultimately it’s led to the Democratic Party and Costa Coffee, and Pret a Manger and all of these, selling cups with rainbow flags on them, while at the same time largely being complicit in a system that economically disadvantages people of all races, of all backgrounds, based on their social class, not on their race, not on their gender. Now, I have to caveat that by saying, there are very specific ways in which people of colour and women and LGBT people and people with disabilities are disadvantaged by our system, both economically and culturally. And these are obvious, and I don’t think most people would dispute that fact. But if you do not have the class analysis, that imposed over the other analysis of identity, then what happens is you create quotas that lead to middle class people of colour, middle class people with disabilities, middle class women and LGBT people moving into positions of authority. And while that does represent progress, and I’m not saying that it doesn’t, it doesn’t address the fundamental inequalities that we say that we’re all fighting for.
- Loki, LockdownTV

On the concept of privilege:

Privilege itself is a word that could maybe have been thought through a little better before academics and before activists and students ran onto Facebook, telling everybody, you can’t deny my experience, but I can deny your experience. It’s not worked out very well. But again, I will say that that’s not the Left. That’s a product of liberalism. That’s almost a product of capitalism in and of itself.
- Loki, LockdownTV

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Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

I had a working class start. My father was a shop steward in a car factory. We lived in a council house. My mother wanted better for me and pushed me to school work. At 16 I said that I wanted to go to university and my father was astounded (or should I say gobsmacked). He said, “But you’ll become one of the bosses.”
After that I became a boss and he virtually never spoke to me again. Education was responsible for this. What am I now? I think of myself as working class but I must be wrong.
I learned to question everything, diet, clothes, behaviour, music, politics. Always a question. I question now the idea that working class is somehow good and that it is good that working class people dress the same and listen to the same music. To me, there is nothing wrong with being working class but I think that everyone should be trying to improve themselves: to eat better, to get fitter for life, to do different things if only for the sake of achieving something.
Our culture today is deliberately trying to make everyone the same, presumably so that we can all be managed more easily.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The perpetual need to group people mostly succeeds in robbing them of agency and individuality. There are some common factors among classes and groups, but those factors are not necessarily universal. It’s curious how the very people who constantly preach diversity and inclusion are bent on manufacturing homogeneity.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

You’ve hit on a problem with class distinctions. They don’t appear to be anything that one can ever leave. Is Oprah Winfrey working class? In the UK, the answer would be yes,
In the UK, class is used in a caste sense in that you are born into it and never get to leave the classification, Either in your own view or the views of others. Many Americans would find this bizarre.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago

It is even more fine grained than most places too. I remember explaining to a Polish person the concept of unskilled working class, artisanal working class, lower-middle class, middle-middle class and upper-middle class, baronetcy lower-upper class and true aristocratic upper-upper class and the whole concept seems hilarious.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

Great interview with a very thoughtful guy.
Interesting contrast between Loki’s broad Glaswegian and Freddie’s well-modulated Oxbridge accent.
I wonder whether, in modern Britain, someone who sounds like Loki can ever be truly accepted into the social circles inhabited by people like Freddie Sayers, irrespective of how talented and successful that person might be?

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

What do you mean in modern Britain?
I am not sure where this idea of working class people being suddenly disrespected nowadays comes from.
People who sound like that were never accepted in higher social circles. There used to be these things called elocution lessons for a reason, for people who wanted to lose their provincial accent that was a bar to entry in the middle respectability. Listen to say J.B. Priestley’s recording from the war, you can hear his real accent come out at times but is mainly a manicured RP.
If you worked in a manual trade you entered a house in a smaller door called the tradesman’s entrance, unlike a doctor or solicitor, and we supposed to be seen not heard like a child.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
1 year ago

Really good interview. Loki is so articulate, aware, sensitive and reflective. He is refreshingly broad minded and has a unique view having survived the narrow values of his background and also the narrow values of the media class that he now works in. He has an authenticity that is often lost in the posher debating arenas.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
1 year ago

There is no longer a distinct ‘working’ class. Even manual labour, the previous signifier of ‘working class’, now needs education of sorts, but there is far less of it, both in the fields and on the production line. There’s going to be less in the future. There are more revealing ways of defining class, including the binary ‘parasite class’ – the top and bottom of the wealth spectrum, where ‘parasite’ means someone who takes far more from society than they contribute – and the ‘responsible’ class, who are net contributors. This latter are the ones who deserve respect, whatever their wealth or education.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

I am a big believer in class being real. Everyone can look at under clsasses and see them a class beneath themselves, but I am one of the very few who looks at the higher classes and see they are above me in class.

I do come from an exceptionally weird class situation where my life involved being in all levels at times, ethnicities, national, and all else, I have been with them all in full immersion.

The upper classes; their children work full schedule, after very excellent school hours it is, tennis, golf, math camp, chior, music instruments, ballet, languages, and on and on, they are not allowed to hang about except during appointed hang out times, it is school, study, family time, trips to edecutonial things, time spent with peers equally educated at the top levels, and also with huge exposure to thought and history and aesthetics. The familes sit at meals togther where the parents talk to them, check their progress, teach them how to interact with adults, how to understand the world. No meals in front of TVs. By 16 most can write better papers that first, and second often, year university students. They know classics, geography, economics, history, art, and are able to talk intelligently on complex, and adult, topics. This is the huge difference between them and all beneath. The family holidays are to places of importance where they visit places of history and art and natural bueaty – they then talk about what they are seeing, with their parents, and peers and siblings, learning to be adult and intelligent and to hold discussion. Their games are sophisticated, not mere anti-boredom activities.

Lower classes are socialized by other of their age and ilk, their parents have no great insight and only rudimentary level passtimes and conversation. They eat at the TV, they do not use proper table manners and polite conversation, and usually cannot talk to adults as they are unsocialized.

I always loved Beavis and Buthead as its conceit was a modern take on Romulus and Remus, the boys raised by wolves who go on to found Rome. But in this modern take B and B are raised by a TV perpetually on MTV, the rock channel, with the outcomes of founding nothing but messes. They barely can converse, are ignorant to a shocking degree, shiftless, thuggish, and on. This is underclass as a parody. Middle class nowdays are fallowing along with the phones and other inane children raising eachother and themselves.

One cannot change class in one’s lifetime, it takes a second generation as class is formed by ones parents and peers growing up. One can learn to emulate a different class, but like other social barriers we hear so much of, we never really know the mind of others brought up on another path.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago

I wonder if he has the courage to note that Scottish independence is little more than a peculiar branch of identity politics.

Tom Myers
Tom Myers
1 year ago

Class in the USA no longer exists. When you parse the US population into fifths by income, you find that income changes almost completely in a generation. 20% of the bottom fifth were in the top fifth a generation ago. And vice versa.
The role “class” plays in England is much greater than in the US. High quality public education and the ability to finance college education has made the US virtually classless. Where you were born barely influences where your children will be born.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tom Myers
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Myers

I’m not sure that is true. The Southern USA still has a strong class system (even or especially among whites) inherited from the plantation aristocracy.

G Worker
G Worker
1 year ago

The guy doesn’t realise that liberalism … the politics of the unfettering will … is the organising system of thought in the West. He wants to carve out a special ideological place where fairness is not an expression of said unfettering will.
He evidently also believes he is an iconoclast, without for a moment comprehending that the people are ethnic and racial long, long before they are notional wills unfettering from “class oppression”.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  G Worker

What on earth do you mean?

G Worker
G Worker
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

Loki don’t know sheet. Very much like you.