Trifling exclusions / to be ‘of’ somewhere

As I walk further down the track of this PhD through the dense woods of thoughts, theories and conversations, I have moved away from believing that although, yes, there should be some element of the researcher’s own experiences in the work (particularly in Anthropology), that it shouldn’t ring out a clear bias, presenting the data in one way or another, to quite a different ideology (this post is a bit of a stream of consciousness, so you’ll apparently have to wait until the end before I tell you what this ideology is-! Apologies on behalf of consciousness-streaming Ruth). As I have begun to research what I have identified as mainstream heritage representations in the city of Glasgow, I am increasingly frustrated by voices which are routinely excluded in these various mainstream places (museums, city marketing etc) which supposedly claim that they are telling ‘the’ story of ‘the’ people ‘of Glagsow’.

The city has a Black and Minority Ethnic population of around 12%, many of whom were born in the city and many of whom, I am sure, would say they feel they are ‘of’ Glasgow, and yet those voices are much quieter in mainstream representations of Glasgow’s heritage than the ‘indigenous’ white population (I’m obviously not saying their being ‘of’ the city is invalid by any means, although we are all immigrants at some point down the line…simply that the imbalance should be addressed).

Speaking from my own experience; my parents are from Birmingham. I was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire. As I have got older and moved away from my hometown and childhood home, my sense of being ‘of’ Bradford, or certainly Yorkshire, has strengthened, grown and those roots have dug themselves in deeper each year, and with every new person that I say should go to Yorkshire, and every time someone correctly identifies me as Northern (or incorrectly identifies me as Southern…). I’ve written a song about it and everything, called ‘home’.

‘This soaring, roaring wild land will always call me back up”

My point here, is that my heritage, if you like, is in the Midlands, but that where I feel I am ‘of’ is not there (although plenty of Londoners would no doubt argue that Birmingham is in the North). My heritage entitles me to do the Brummy accent, to joke about the notorious dullness of the Midlands (a stereotype which is wholly untrue) and to remember fondly my working class Grandma’s amazing parties, full of bowls of cheese and onion crisps and trifle and lemonade and cocktail sausages in a house full of statues of horses and dogs and cacti. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself, I don’t think it does really but that’s a blog post for another time about experience and entitlement).

I don’t actually really know Birmingham at all. Until I went into the city centre after it’s massive redevelopment for the first time ever, around the age of 15, I had thought that everyone in Birmingham was old and had bambis and frogs and gnomes and bird baths in their garden. I had imagined the whole city to be a sprawling suburbia, full of people eating trifle and mowing the lawn on a Sunday, playing a game of Rummy (a card game) at the thick lino covered kitchen table when they’d finished they’re delicious Sunday roast that had only one pickled onion that was reserved (thankfully) for Grandpa, followed by the most delicious home-made raspberry and apple pie, with a thick yellow, birds-eye custard.

But it’s not. Of course.

My parents migrated away from their hometown, and ended up in Bradford after a few years teaching in Zimbabwe then a short stint in Tideswell. As a result, I know nothing really of the place of my heritage, as the word is commonly used. So, when a kid’s parents have moved from Poland, or China, or Pakistan to a place called Glasgow, or from and to anywhere for that matter, and is born and brought up in this ‘new’ place that is not new to them, how do they relate to the country of their heritage? Culturally, there’s not vast amounts different between Birmingham and Bradford, they look quite similar, as a lot of post-industrial cities do, though I’m sure the people ‘of’ these two places would argue they are very different in terms of the character of people from there, the kinds of food, games, jokes, words they were brought up with. Ok, so they are probably quite different. But somewhere like Pakistan, or Poland, or China and somewhere like Glasgow? That’s quite a shift.

I’m not entirely sure what my point is here, I guess I’m just musing about the impact of your parents place of birth and your own, and how people identify as being ‘of’ somewhere, if their parents are ‘of’ somewhere else, and the impact on saying you are ‘of’ somewhere and not somewhere else on your relationships with those around you, who might disagree that you are ‘of’ that place at all. ( – a great programme on radio4 about migrants from the Indian subcontinent in the 50s and 60s)

Maybe I’ll find out a little bit of this in the many conversations I hope to have over the next year.

Oh yeah, also I wanted to say that I’ve moved towards thinking that PhDs, or any research for that matter (maybe that’s a little broad) should be political, and should contain all the frustrations the researcher encounters, both of the very problem they are researching, but of unexpected disinterest on the part of participants, or anything which makes them feel in the pit of their belly the fire that drove them to do the research in the first place.

I am angry about city marketing focusing first and foremost on bringing in capital to the city from outside.

I am angry when authoritative institutions claim to tell ‘the’ story of ‘the’ people, and then fail to fulfil what should be their duty and include any of the groups within the ‘minority’ population to any satisfactory degree (for example LGBTQ people, people of colour, people with disabilities).

I am excited about working with people to rethink the idea of what heritage means, and how people might be placed more at the heart of stories of a city.

I am nervous about the fact that the people I hope to speak to might just not care about what I want to speak to them about, but that this will all be important information to think about all the things I want to think about and more.

I am above all, TOTALLY stoked to be living in Glasgow, a city I have always wanted to live in since I visited a few years ago for a week’s holiday (“you’re going on holiday…. to GLASGOW??”), and to get to know it as much as I can, indiscriminately and openly and with all the vim and vigour I can muster. It might not want to be friends with me, and that’s fine too. But I’m going to try my best; I’ll even make it a trifle…



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