In last week’s issue of this very paper, there appeared an article entitled “An ode to the North”, in which the writer patronised ‘Northerners’ (the use of inverted commas is not my own) and claimed that they “definitely have a different biological make-up”. Reading it filled me with horror.
For context: I’m not actually particularly northern in terms of geography (heard of Lincoln, anyone?), but, relative to the rest of my year in my college, I am very northern. Coming to Oxford, a hugely London-centric environment where people made comments about my accent and claimed that “anywhere north of Oxford is the North”, was a bit of a shock to someone who had never really thought in terms of north and south before.
The sense of alienation and humiliation when someone draws attention to your short A is one that I remember well; it is never difficult to detect the sense of superiority in the (usually) southerner’s voice. People from London automatically had something to bond over; there was nobody with whom I could discuss my home town.
I am shocked that the writer of last week’s article thought that it was in any way appropriate or acceptable to discuss people from the North in such a derogatory manner and via such a platform as a university-wide publication. As a southerner, they have obviously never had comments made about their accent, their dialect, their palpable shock at the exponential rise in prices as one gets closer to London, and, for that, they are privileged. They are by no means alone is allowing this unjustified sense of superiority to overpower their judgement of what is acceptable, but that does not justify such comments as those made in the article. We (for I do now identify as a northerner since coming to Oxford) are conscious every single day of the fact that we are a minority – why worsen this complex by writing a piece such as this, perhaps intended as satire but actually just coming across as a mocking list of the things of which we ourselves, the northerners, are most aware?
The North-South divide is still very much in existence, and a recent report from the Centre for Cities think-tank has demonstrated that the gap continues to widen. Between 2004 and 2013, for every 12 additional jobs created in cities in the South, only one was created in cities elsewhere in Britain. In terms of education, research by The Times and the Sutton Trust recently showed that all but one of the 20 councils that send the most children to Britain’s top universities are in London and the southeast; the 20 that send the fewest children are predominantly in the more deprived areas of the north and the Midlands. In 2012, Surrey sent almost as many young people to study at Cambridge and Oxford as Wales and the north-east region of England combined. Oxford will probably always have a greater number of students from the South, but this does not mean that it is okay for the northern minority to be made to feel any less welcome here than anyone else, not least because it is damaging for access efforts.
In my experience, many northerners are open, friendly, unjudgemental individuals, something which shines through in their penchant (one which I share) for talking to strangers on the tube. Anyone who overlooks these qualities and instead focuses upon and derides their heritage should, quite frankly, be ashamed. It is simply another form of elitism, and I think we can all agree that there is increasingly little time or space for that in this day and age.