Jade Goody: Defying Anti-Working-Class Prejudice

Submitted by martin on 27 March, 2009 - 11:20 Author: Helen Rate

On the day that I attended my first cervical smear test Jade Goody would have been a few months old. She was a little girl who, as she said in adulthood, missed out on a childhood. A little girl whose experience in life was going to be some way from my own.

At 18 I had enjoyed a fairly happy childhood, growing up in a stable, working, working-class home, encouraged to attend and work hard at school in a way that my parents never had been a generation before. Unlike Goody’s, my parents were able to give me the support I needed to overcome practically and emotionally the subtle and manipulative ways in which our middle-class “betters” tell us we will never amount to anything.

But Goody also proved those “betters” wrong. She did it not in a way socialists would approve of. She did it by making lots of cash and getting her picture in the papers. Nonetheless, she did defy the anti-working class prejudice which our society is steeped in. And, all things considered, I say “good for her”!

“Identification” is an over-used word, but it is the only way to account for Goody's popularity at the end of her life. Jade Goody’s early life was not so very different to millions of other working-class people.

Her life was maybe harder in the beginning and certainly much more unlucky in the end. But although she was one of those very few working-class people who become “self-made” millionaires and move into another class, she was still “one of us”.

In equal measure people were able to see in Goody the best and the worst of what they think of themselves. In the context of a world of vast inequalities, ugly competition to acquire stuff, and being made to feel a failure in a thousand ways, what people think of themselves is bound to be a little bit resentful, a little or a lot rubbish, but often very tolerant and empathetic.

The best of what people saw corresponds to the remnants of working-class solidarity in a society where the labour movement is in retreat: they saw her ordinariness, her f-you attitude to snobs; the worst of what people saw or wanted to see in her, was her vulgarity and her supposed stupidity (which was in fact only a lack of education).

The best and the worst of Jade Goody was of course distorted out of proportion in the tabloids her agent Max Clifford courted — a sick reflection of everything that capitalist society, its rulers and opinion formers, throw at working-class people: anti-working class prejudice, sexism and racism too.

When her celebrity star was low, they called her pig ugly. Truthfully she was what they used to call a bonny girl, never going to be a perfect 10, but a good-looking woman. They denounced Goody as racist when she clashed with Shilpa Shetty, when they themselves peddle far worse racism many times more systematically, and when in fact she was reacting badly – unforgiveably, but understandably in the literal sense – to baffling, class-rooted sophistication.

But what did her quest for cash amount to in the end? Not much relatively speaking. Just about enough to see her two sons right until they reach their 18th birthdays. For a little while longer the newspapers and TV stations will carry on making much, much more money out of their mother.

But her actual lasting achievement might yet be to get the Government to reverse its policy on cervical smear testing, bringing younger women back into the screening programme. No one should have to die at 27 in order to achieve that. And it would be better if the government did it not just to conede to the hypocritical interest of the tabloid press.

Nonetheless it would be a step forward if young women have the chance that I had to stay healthy. They will be unlikely to get printed slip reminders arriving in brown envelopes every three years, instead of the current five, as I did in my twenties. And they will not be getting the kind of regular annual health checks all women should get.

But if the policy is changed it will be one small step closer to young working-class women getting a better deal in every area of their lives.

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