An experiment in steel manning the culture war
Maybe it's all totally normal
Prelude: there seems to be relatively little commentary that doesn't seek to demonstrate analytical expertise. Essays that just wonder about things, offer ideas for others to think about or describe one's inner responses to external forces. Hardly anyone says 'there's something about that that which surfaces this response in me' and then goes on to describe it. Even though, arguably, that's all that's really going on most of the time when we offer our thoughts on controversies, trends and such. Then beaver away to justify it with Facts, Data, clever Other People's Opinions and such.
Maybe that's because we are conditioned to insist on credentialed status before we'll listen. Or because we are scared to say what really goes on for us. Like I've often felt as a witness and occasional participant on the fringes of the culture war.
Growing up in 70s leafy suburban Britain with three TV channels and intelligent but uneducated lower middle class parents who read a lower-middlebrow newspaper is the steady state for 1.5 decades.
There are no black kids at school. There are no out-gay people in the community. These are just things you sometimes see on TV. They are other. You're aware of jokes at their expense and it's just normal. You buy chips at the 'chinky'. You don't have a 'paki shop' because there are no asians where you live, but it would be the 'paki shop' if there were and they had a shop. One of your friends has largeish lips and his nickname is Nig***. You are six years old.
One day at the seaside your mum encourages you to go and play with the other lone kid on the sand. He's black and you have a nice enough, though slightly awkward, time together. You are not colour blind. He definitely looks different from you. You suspect that your mum is teaching you something. It's the only time she's ever done this.
Your dad is a car sales manager and he doesn't like dealing with Asians. They have limp handshakes and are difficult to pin down in negotiations. He worships the cricket stars of Pakistan and India. He reveres Farokh Engineer, who also plays for Lancashire.
Black people start appearing in TV ads, in ordinary settings, doing normal activities like eating. Your parents say 'they've got to put them in' and you're aware that the they in question are people who are somehow shaping things beyond the control of this house.
It's not that they mind black people, as far as you can tell. But there's something about this that bothers them.
You're aware that there's been a man called Enoch Powell who was apparently 'right' about something to do with black people. You don't know what it was.
There are often black dancers on TV and you hear them described as having fantastic rhythm. So you figure out that there's something special about black people. They have fantastic rhythm. Everyone says so. There's also a vague feeling that this wonderful apparent facet of black people is considered to be a caveat. 'Say what you like about them, but they've got fantastic rhythm'. That kind of vibe.
You move to the big school and there's a brown-skinned lad in your class, with a foreign-sounding surname, who's brilliant at maths. He has an American accent and no discernible friends. There are no black kids.
Eventually it's the 6th form (12th grade, you at the back) and you're obsessed with music. Everyone is. The tear it all down lads 2-chords and don't give a fuck nihilism of punk has flamed out and your cool friends are obsessed with reggae, ska, soul and new wave.
There's a thing somewhere out there (not where you live) called The National Front. It's on the news a lot. There's a thing too, called Rock Against Racism and it looks a lot more cool and interesting than marching through bits of London and being twattish about people on the basis of their appearance or culture.
David Bowie says he's bisexual and you think 'coolcool' and nothing else of it. You're aware that certain brands of dance music are geared for men who like men. You think 'coolcool' and like a lot of it.
Music and 'youth culture' is all about not being like your parents and it feels like the way things ought to be. They had war, austerity, national service, structured fun like scouts and guides with badges, hierarchies and duties and we have freedom to be what you are and flaunt it. Tom Robinson goes 'sing if you're glad to be gay' so you do, even though you're just into girls.
Your mother has died and your dad is depressed, temporarily unemployed and angry because women are in a lot of jobs. He gets annoyed with you for thinking that women aren't really taking all the jobs because jobs are just for anyone who can do the jobs.
You're a different generation than him and you often clash over what each other thinks. It's annoying but at the same time it also feels normal and right.
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