This is my response to the Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were given Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen and asked:
Please tell us something about a place you know well.
For Monday’s lunch,
I need a feast,
A kofte from
The Middle East.
I could eat a horse
In delicious sauce.
Half through the week,
So let’s go out,
And order Greek.
I am in a hurry,
So let’s downtools
For Ruby Murray*.
Is almost done,
We’ll have dim sum.
* Ruby Murray = (Indian) curry. Just about my favourite dish, so I was always keen!
Okay, I’m the first to admit, that was a rubbish poem, but I just wanted to use all those different foods to highlight the multicultural aspect of London. I worked there for many years, I loved that I could eat any of these foods, and more, I loved that I could walk down the street and hear a dozen different languages. But these different twines felt largely integrated, too, and London felt like the plural society that I wanted to be a part of.
And yet, even as I thought through this post, I’m not sure how plural London was. It seemed plural to me, but my perspective was that of a commuter. I got probably a good view, but I didn’t live there. Maybe if I were young, a black guy faced with no escape from a decrepit estate, it wouldn’t seem quite so plural? And I’m recalling a time gone by – before 9/11 saw us distrust Muslims overnight, a distrust reinforced by 7/7. Before the government’s overt anti-immigrant policies, which have been so harmful even to legal immigrants…
The other thing I thought of about pluralism was that it was a factor in my decision not to work properly in the USA – I know that I have many US readers, so maybe you’d comment? When I was sitting here, visa in hand, agonising whether to fly or not, I used London’s society as a yardstick.
My experience of the US was limited to Washington, DC, Tampa, Fl and New York City. While I saw lots of different cultures living on top of each other, I saw very little integration, not in the same way we had integration in the UK. In DC, we were no more than five minutes from the White House and told “don’t go south of such-and-such a street, you don’t want to be in that neighbourhood”. And when we did go there, we saw what was a clear demarcation, two sides of the same street! The only other place I ever saw that was in Belfast, during The Troubles. I never felt there were any no-go areas for me in London.
That seems dreadfully unkind, but was nevertheless my observation. Many cultures? Yes. But integrated? No. That was not the only factor, but a factor nonetheless.
That’s why I like this prompt. It’s what attracted me at the start, and why I became involved. Other than this notion of pluralism, I wasn’t sure where I’d end up. Almost stream of consciousness, except I applied a little makeup before I published.
Those thoughts have obviously been bouncing around in my head, but I’ve never articulated them before. I love how the questions allow me to grasp a wispy strand of memory, then to just keep tugging.