Coastal Identities

In this section I’ll be criss-crossing from my usual research sites, which are coastal spaces around the Indian Ocean (Kerala, India and the Gulf states of U.A.E and Oman) and my home-site of Worthing, to think about ‘coastal identities’.

 For a truly Brit-sarky look at English coastalness, see the ‘Rubbish Seaside’ series:

Putting Worthing into this broader ‘coastal UK’ scene, for a superficial whip-round of the UK coast, see this article.

Burdsey’s recent book (which has a lot to say about our sister, Brighton) set me off a couple of years ago now, roaming around Worthing and talking to people about the place of whiteness in the English seaside town.

(If you’re not sure why, or not convinced yes, that studying whiteness is a thing – and a necessary thing – here’s a couple of links to get you started).

Burdsey’s Book.

(To know more, see the blogpost or access the full text of one of Burdsey’s articles. ‘Strangers on the Shore’).

The abstract (summary) runs:   This article presents an alternative reading of the English seaside – one that centralizes race, specifically the effects of whiteness and racialized notions of belonging and exclusion. It addresses three main issues. First, it provides a theoretical discussion of the racialized production of social space and place, and outlines the implications for minority ethnic groups at the seaside. Second, it offers an examination of the manner in which discourses of whiteness and (neo-)colonial fantasy are reproduced through amusements and other elements of seaside popular culture. Third, it demonstrates the centrality of the seaside to analysing dominant, racialized interpretations of English national identity and demotic responses to contemporary immigration. The article argues that the seaside is an enlightening site for understanding contemporary constructions, manifestations and repercussions of whiteness, and thus provides an important insight into the cultural and spatial politics of race in 21st-century Britain.

On the interviews and meetups I did for the old site, I stumbled over this a few times. Burdsey’s on to something. Sadly.

We’ve imagined the coast in England as some kind of border, boundary, and piled it high as Trump’s bloody wall with associations with war, defence, keeping migrants out. War memorialism is fervently observed around here and public spaces are full of red poppies and reminders of war histories (to the neglect of other kinds of history). One of my younger Worthing respondents pointed this out to me, and told me, puzzled, “It’s almost like they want us to feel guilty or something”.

But the coast doesn’t have to be like that. Doesn’t have to be a space of defence, border, or fear. Doesn’t have to be a space where jingosim and nationalist fantasy shout loudest, pitted against the diversity of the metro cities.

(If you want to read something that I wrote about one of the other coastal spaces that I move in – Calicut / Kozhikode, Kerala – you can find it here.)

The coast in the Indian ocean is a very different thing – imagined as a space of fluidity, open-ness, and exchange. Open to incomers, open for people to leave and travel, and valued as a space of hybridity.

The coast could be a place where we hit the limits of our narrowness and learn to get over ourselves, stripping off the superficial clothing of national or ethnic identity and abandoning ourselves to the waves of ever-changingness. The coast can be a port, a place of traffic and an invitation to new experience.

What if 21st C Worthing were to take on this kind of coastal-ness?

What difference could it make, to Worthing and to Britain, if we stopped configuring coasts as defended borders?

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