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Working-class whiteness from within and without: an auto-ethnographic response to Avtar Brah’s 'The scent of memory'
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-08, 15:41 authored by Lyn Thomas
Inspired by and responding to Avtar Brah’s ‘The Scent of Memory’, this piece attempts to reinscribe race into an auto-ethnographic narrative where previously whiteness was unmarked. It explores the dynamics of gender, race and class through the author’s personal history as a white English woman and class migrant, and through discussion of the broader political and historical context of that trajectory. The discussion includes analysis of the impact of British Conservative politician Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 on the author’s white English working-class culture of origin in Wolverhampton, where Powell was a Member of Parliament. The article considers the speech’s continuing ramifications in the twenty-first century and in more middle-class contexts, as evidenced by the recent evocation of the speech by historian David Starkey in discussion of the ‘riots’ of August 2011 in British cities. The personal history is reconstructed through a series of memory scenes that trace and retrace the author’s experience and understanding of race and its intersections with class and gender; this is attempted in full cognisance of the constructed nature of memory, and of the performance of identity that autobiography entails. The piece draws on the work of the class migrant white French writer Annie Ernaux, with whom the author has been in dialogue since 1997.
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