The frustration that Irie Jones articulates in this public outburst to her parents and their friends whilst travelling by bus across London (from Willesden Lane to Trafalgar Square, from suburban periphery to national centre), seems an appropriate starting point for a chapter that concerns itself with speculations on urban futures and cultural identity. In her irritation, the teenage Irie compares her own family existence (as the mixed-race daughter of a black Jamaican-born, England-raised mother and a white English father, who is also pregnant by one of the identical twin sons of her father’s Bengali best friend and war compatriot) with her imagined vision of how she perceives other families in Britain to be. The idea that there are any ‘neutral spaces’ is of course just that: an imagined concept that deftly serves to foreground Irie’s own struggle for a postcolonial subjective identity within contemporary Britain.1 White Teeth is a resolutely urban novel. It both exposes the contradictions inherent in any easy search for a stable cultural identity within a small metropolitan cross-section of society that is constantly in flux, and facilitates explorations, such as this one, into the possibilities for cultural identity and urban futures. Indeed, as Stuart Hall has observed:

In particular, it is the role of the city in the continuous re-invention of cultural identity and the concomitant ‘play’ of history that is central to this chapter. City identity is something that I have explored within the context of western art historical modernism for the past few years (Rowe in Meskimmon and West, 1995; Rowe, 1995; and Rowe, 2003). Caught up as an Asian woman in the hybridity of my own adoptive Anglo-German upbringing, Imperial and Weimar Berlin have been and still are central to my professional concerns as an art historian. However, it is the recognition that European urban modernity was predicated not only on the power of industry, speed and communication technology ‘at home’, but precisely on the economic prosperity that such developments could be used to forcibly harness ‘abroad’, that any consideration of European modernist culture should by default take account of its interdependence on the colonial ‘other’. It is the significance of modernism and its implications for the present that has directed me towards a ‘different’ conceptualisation of the city for the purposes of this chapter.2 As Homi Bhaba has exorted, ‘the Western metropole must confront its post-colonial history, told by

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an indigenous or native narrative internal to its national identity’ (Bhaba, 1994: 6). In the course of future research I shall return to the colonial question in modernist Germany, but for the present I should like to turn to the implications for shaping the city that are to be found in the work of many contemporary black and British-Asian artists working, as Chila Kumari Burman has intimated, ‘beyond two cultures’.3