Despite our marital difficulties, we put our differences aside last Friday and attended the Windrush 70-Year Commemoration Service at Westminster Abbey. And a fine occasion it was too, with Floella Beanjamin making a glamourous entrance, Sadiq Khan clearly enjoying working the crowds and some very moving testimonies about ‘No Irish No Blacks No Dogs’ being delivered from the pulpit.
There were some weird moments too, with Theresa May looking straight down at the floor as she entered like a frightened child. There was also the Ricky Gervais-like awkwardness of hundreds of people sitting still in uncomfortable silence, trying to hear the great gospel music being sung about three hundred yards away in the choir stalls, and somehow get into the spirit of it.
I then went from one extreme to the other. By evening time I was in the Wild West of Ireland to visit my Old Man on Westport’s Atlantic coast. As it had been in London earlier, the weather was glorious, and the daylight lasted easily until eleven at night. On my evening walk, the sun was casting shadows of me at least fifty yards long over the Mayo hills, the silence broken only by a few sheep. J and I had spent many an hour walking these hills together in happier times, and I lamented that we we would probably never do so again.
Although the Wild West was in many ways so very different from London and the Windrush diaspora that I had been among earlier that day, I reflected on how similar they also were in time and place. So many people from the Caribbean as well as from Ireland must have had similar experiences of migration to England, both in the excitement of travel and discovery of the young, as well as the disappointment of discrimination and family separation that followed. It hurts to think about the pain suffered particularly by black people in England, but it also made me proud to think about the irresistible impact made by both peoples on the life of this country. I feel sorry for anyone who has only ever grown up in a monocultural environment.
J took the initiative to take kids to the local Baptist church, when they were young. So this is where they have grown up, and I have inevitably tagged along. As an agnostic Irish Catholic, I hate much of the evangelical flavour there, and the oh-so-reasonable bigotry. (At least the Catholics make no bones about their homophobia and opposition to women’s reproductive freedoms.)
Yet over the years I’ve come to admire one aspect of the Baptist church – namely the way in which black and white people seem to mix quite naturally and equally. You don’t see quite the same cultural inclusion in the Catholic Church, which is too ghettoised into Irish, Polish etc. Nor do you see it so much in the Church of England, which in my experience is dominated by posh English types, even in the Inner City where many of the congregation are black.
Perhaps the non-conformist tradition of the Baptist church has something to do with its more open and egalitarian atmosphere, as well as the historical contribution of black Baptist leaders like Martin Luther King. For sure, the Baptist Church is not a beacon of equality, and black people have had to fight for recognition there as much as anywhere else – or have had to go it alone. But, for a fairly pure contemporary expression of cultural diversity, Church is not a bad place to look.
J has talked several times over the years about wanting to separate. Fed up with my workaholism and just-about-functioning alcoholism, she put her career largely on hold to develop her own addictions: homism and familyism.
For my part, I never really took it seriously that she might actually want to get rid of a husband and father as great as me. I consoled myself that – like the rest of her family – she was simply crap at relationships, but also that she would learn, eventually and gratefully, how to be different.
Yet as the fog lifts over our emptying nest, I now think that – as usual – she has been years ahead of me in her thinking. We are not well suited, and never were. Perhaps we could be better friends and better parents to our nearly grown children if we were to separate. She could find someone who actually likes going to Church and can tolerate her moods. I could find someone who actually enjoys relaxing and having sex (i.e. with me).
I am nearly ready to concede defeat, and know that there is no going back once I do. However, my nagging fear is that our kids are very invested not just in their parents being together, but also in the idea of their black and white parents being together. For them, being different has not been easy, and to have united and proud parents has protected them from the finger-pointing and whispering.
As I enter my fifties, I want to free myself from domestic misery and fear, and I suspect that J wants this too. But is it an unforgivable betrayal of our mixed family? Do we not have a responsibility to be bigger than that? Continue reading “Is our divorce an interracial betrayal?”
In my experience, Black people and White working class people tend to love the Royal Family. White liberals tend to hate them (a type of self-hatred perhaps). Where I grew up in the North of England, though, there was a lot of ambivalence due to the Irish influence.
These fault-lines were replicated in our house at the weekend, what with the Royal Wedding, street party and the FA Cup Final. J and her friends – Black and White – got into the spirit of it and joined the street party, even though they hate the snobbish chitchat about house prices and schools that inevitably accompanies such events. I guess the prosecco and cake got them through it. Me, I buggered off for the day to a Labour Party event, massively relieved that I had a right-on excuse for not making an appearance. I then watched the football in a pub, steering well clear of our front room, which I knew wouldn’t escape royalist merriment until later in the evening. By the time I got back in the cool evening air, the bunting was half-hanging from lampposts and the street was quiet.
I’m sure that if the Royals had declared a national holiday and given us all the day off work, I would have been straight out into the road for a free drink. But, as it was, I could safely play my Republican and Irish cards, and pretend that I wasn’t actually fascinated and excited by the Royals’ first Black wedding.
There’s a lot of predictable mediocrity in London’s theatre. You see more than your fair share if, like we do, you tend rely on cheap last-minute tickets. But, apart from sex, which is much less frequent and more negotiated in middle age, theatre is one thing we can actually agree upon as a mutual pursuit.
And where else but London might you see top-quality Irish and Jamaican plays in the same week? Last week we saw both The Ferryman at the Gielgud and Nine Night at the National’s Dorfman – two electric and beautifully acted new plays which cut through directly to London’s cultural periphery. Over the years, J has been subjected to much Irish misery drama, as well as endless lecturing on Irish history from me, while I have sat through many an uncomfortable anti-racist artistic onslaught with a pained smile. But in the past days we emerged both times from the theatre holding hands, silenced and moved in London’s summer air.
With Meghan Markle joining the heart of the British establishment this weekend, and West Brom maybe ‘taking a risk’ on Darren Moore as manager, you might be fooled into thinking that multicultural is the new mainstream. But something tells me that we will soon be cured of that.