Stephen Lawrence brought the phrase “institutional racism” to the language. It perfectly described how prejudice is embedded into institutions such as the police. But “institutional sexism” and “institutional classism” are equally relevant.
“Institutional racism/sexism/classism also exposes that prejudice is not merely an aberration of one bigoted individual, but where it is maintained in an institution it can amount to policy. It is an active tool for keeping social “inferiors” in their place – where they can be abused with impunity, exploited and used as a dumping ground for everything bad in society.
Corruption and bias in the police is bad enough, but the effectiveness as a tool of repression is limited by the fact that most people in the oppressed groups are law-abiding and could go their entire lives without any interaction with the police.
But all children go to school.
Curiously, the security agencies who kept a file on Lennon due to his radical sympathies saw fit to keep a record of the lyrics of just one of his songs, and a relatively unknown one, at that . The lyrics of the song “Working Class Hero”. Now what did the security forces find interesting in this particular song?
“They hurt you at home and they hit you at school, They hate you if you’re clever and despise a fool”
In one line, Lennon describes a common experience from anyone belonging to a socially subordinated group, whether working class, coloured or female. The default position is you are treated as an idiot on the basis of your class, but if you should prove stronger and more intelligent that hostility ramps up to outright hatred. You are in a double bind. Whatever you do is wrong. And double binds drive people crazy.
Lennon then goes on to describe the modern “opium of the people”:-
“Keep you doped with religion, sex and T.V.”
Never more true than now.
Despite everything that is happening to them, people fall for the wall to wall propaganda, which is designed to create a false consciousness, and keep attention away from what is really happening.
“and you think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see”
What Lennon describes is anything that anyone with their eyes open can see. But the last verse is truely sinister in its implications.
“There’s room at the top I’m telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill, If you want to live like the folks on the hill”
This can be unspun in any number of ways but this is my take. If a subordinate class person decides to sell-out to the ruling class, having adopted the mind-set of the rulers and abandoned all conscience and decency, they can enjoy the privileges of the ruling group in becoming their tool.
The only reason I can see for the security services taking an interest in Lennon’s song is because he spoke truth to power. What he was describing, from the institutional abuse of lower class children, the dumbing down of the culture, the high rewards to sell-outs to those in power was not only actually happening, but happening by design. John Lennon, in a simple song, had described the manipulations those in power use to stay in power, by undermining any potential competition before it can gain a foothold. And it starts with crushing children in school.
And Lennon enjoyed a rare accolade for a musician. Death by assassination.
John Winston Ono Lennon, 1940-1980