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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

What Hetty Douglas taught me about appropriating class​

26 September 2017
Holly Patrick talks appropriating working class culture and the Hetty Douglas drama

pic: Wes (flickr)

There’s a stark difference between being broke at university and being poor – why do so many ‘creatives’ fail to recognise this?

Recently thrust into the spotlight for sharing a picture of four construction workers, with the caption “These guys look like they got 1 GCSE”, Douglas has become the latest internet user to find themselves in the deep end of online outrage.

After the offensive image was shared on her Instagram story, a follower understandably called her out in a tweet, which has since been shared over 18,000 times.

Douglas has become somewhat of a figurehead for classism in creative industries and, more importantly, wider society. Posing with a Jobcentre form in a Supreme hoodie is kind of counterintuitive, adorning graffiti art with “you’re peng but your english is shit!”And labelling construction workers as unintelligent for your 15,000 followers to see. Fine, art is subjective, but attempting to pass as working class whilst also reaping the benefits of your actual social status isn’t up for debate – it’s offensive and there’s no two ways around it.

pic: cchana (Flickr)

I’ve lived in South-East London for two years now, and I’ve seen plenty of similar stories. Privileged kids move to the capital, start wearing streetwear they wouldn’t have been seen dead in a year ago and adopting slang they’ve never heard of. Like me, Hetty is from the Midlands – but I’ve never said ‘bless’ in a context other than after someone sneezed, so I’m not sure where she picked that up from. Her recently updated website says that she comes from an “ordinary family in Nottingham”, which may be true, but being ‘ordinary’ doesn’t make you exempt from being discriminatory.

I’m not perfect either – I’ll hold my hands up and say that before this, I wasn’t really in tune with how much working class culture is commodified by the affluent. Brands like Fila and Reebok, that kids loved to mock when I was younger, have now been picked up by the likes of Urban Outfitters and reworked using Instagram-friendly pastels in a bid to make them cool at last – and at sky-high prices, naturally. The Reebok Classics I was once ashamed of whipping out in P.E are now a style staple, and I wish I’d taken notice of the deeper context of this sooner. Douglas once said that she skipped school for ‘inspiration’ – but that’s okay when you’re privileged. It’s acceptable, romanticised – a quirky experiment even. But if someone from a working class background were to do the same thing they’d be shamed, called ungrateful, a nuisance.

What Douglas did was insulting and unnecessary. But if you’re going to hold her to account, why not do the same to the publications who gave her a platform to act in this way? Dazed were to blame for the article championing her experimental truancy, focusing on her “rebellious streak” and for myself and many others, a particular quote stands out the most – “I think as long as we are kind and gentle to others and, more importantly ourselves then everything is bless.” (Did someone sneeze?)

Obviously this isn’t the first time someone’s been called out for their behaviour on social media. Although her comments were unacceptable, so is bullying her. Criticising her actions is not the same as making sexist and violent comments to the tune of outing her behaviour. If you don’t like her art, fine, but attacking someone’s gender or looks isn’t productive – and aren’t you just as bad as them?

Culture writer Laura Snapes took to Twitter to explain that “Hetty Douglas did something thoughtless and unpleasant. But I hope she’s had a good friend by her side this week… I hope everyone who fucks up and gets called out has that person who’s willing to go right, you messed up, let’s make sure you don’t again.” Had one of her friends stopped her and suggested she might want to rethink her story content, this may never have happened.

It seems like it’s all blown over for Douglas – for her social media accounts anyway. Her Instagram is back, most recently posting an ominous black picture alluding to an explanation that her website’s homepage now thrusts out before you can access any of her portfolio, with the claim that she comes from “an ordinary family in Nottingham. I went to my local comprehensive with lads like the ones in McDonalds.”

Hetty – being privileged does not necessarily mean you’re a millionaire. And claiming to be working class doesn’t give you a free pass to be classist.

Whatever Douglas has said about her background, she took one look at those scaffolders and assumed that their work clothes meant they were unintelligent – and that GCSEs are a measure of success in life. These builders helped construct iconic buildings such as the Shard and the Olympic Velodrome. It takes more than just a few exams to do that.

Find our writer, Holly saying bless to whoever sneezes nearby @hollypatrick_