‘How come England did not know me?’
The ‘rude awakenings’ of the Windrush era
in The break-up of Greater Britain
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This chapter examines the shock of alienation that has become a ubiquitous theme in scholarly treatment of the empire Windrush arrivals in Britain in the decades after the Second World War. It critiques the tendency to treat West Indian conceptions of Britishness as a species of false consciousness, awaiting correction upon exposure to attitudes in Britain itself, often couched in terms of a ‘rude awakening’. Such naïve readings take too much at face value and overlook a much longer history spanning both sides of the Atlantic of West Indian Britishness as ‘as an ideal continually betrayed’ (Putnam, 2014). Viewed in this light, the Windrush moment was not simply about the barriers of social and political exclusion in Britain suddenly disabusing ‘loyal’ black Britons of their former affinities. Rather the ‘rude awakening’ was itself an established feature of West Indian protest and critique, containing elements of deep continuity as well as rupture.

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