Shannon Burns’ essay in the Meanjin Winter edition, In Defence of the Bad White Working Class, has attracted a fair bit of deserved attention, including this appreciation from Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner:
“The habits of progressive social and political discourse almost seem calculated to alienate and aggravate lower class whites.” That sounds like something an American might say, but actually it was written by an Australian.Shannon Burns, who is now an academic but grew up in what he describes as a lumpen neighborhood, grew up with working class whites and Asian immigrants in Adelaide, the largest city in South Australia and, incidentally, the home town of media baron Rupert Murdoch. His work appeared in the literary magazine Meanjin Quarterly, headlined “In Defence of the Bad, White Working Class,” and came to my attention thanks to Glenn Reynolds’s invaluable Instapundit.
“I confess,” Burns goes on, “that if a well-dressed, university-educated middle-class person of any gender or ethnicity so much as hinted at my ‘white privilege’ while I was a lumpen child, or my ‘male privilege’ while I was an unskilled labourer who couldn’t afford basic necessities, or my ‘hetero-privilege’ while I was a homeless solitary, I’d have taken special pleasure in voting for their nightmare. And I would have been right to do so.”
He goes on to write about his harrowing upbringing and young years, in a way reminiscent of J.D. Vance’s much (and rightly) heralded bestselling Hillbilly Elegy. Burn’s narrative is as vivid and his hard-earned wisdom is as impressive as Vance’s. The same is true of another of his autobiographical essays, “The Lumpen Critic,” in which he recounts how, as a teen living in a makeshift house with no electricity or gas and walking 90 minutes each way to and from a job on the docks, he read books like Wuthering Heights and Ulysses by the light of a nearby train station.”