Derrida talks about those moments of rupture when it’s suddenly possible to think about the unthought or the unthinkable… those moments when an issue becomes visible.
For me Race was invisible when I was growing up but I can pinpoint the moment when it suddenly reared its ugly head. I grew up surrounded by Irish voices. At home, at school, at mass. I knew I wasn’t Irish. I don’t even think it occurred to me as odd that my parents were paying taxes to a government that was using their money to pay soldiers to go hassle their relatives in Belfast.
But sometime in the seventies there was talk of “Sending the Irish Home”. I don’t remember if some tub thumping politician seriously suggested this or it was just one of those stories that circulate, prefixed with “they say…” But I do remember one evening my dad mentioning it. He was dismissive, it was obviously a stupid idea. (One of the great beauties of England is that ethnic cleansing is an obviously stupid idea. It wouldn’t be long before such ideas were touted in other countries, about other ethnic groups, and the stupidity of the idea was lost in the actual barbarity of its attempt.)
And that was the point of rupture.
I grew up in Coventry, I was born there. Home was a specific house beside a very specific park. When I wasn’t thinking I spoke with a west midlands accent. But if they sent my dad “home”, would my mum (who is English) be allowed to go with him? And if she didn’t (as if she wouldn’t) what would happen to my sister and me? If we went to Ireland we’d be foreigners, but then if they were sending “foreigners and their children” “home” were we actually native to England…????? Where exactly , if anywhere, did we belong?
The rumour died away. The question remains.
And it drives "Talking Nothing to the Stone", the second poem in Lady Godiva and Me. The answer offered there:
I know this place but wouldn't call it mine
Mine is the space between the rising and the falling foot.
works on a good day.