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Editor: Bill Schwarz

Caribbean migration to Britain brought many new things—new music, new foods, new styles. It brought new ways of thinking too. This book explores the intellectual ideas that the West Indians brought with them to Britain. It shows that, for more than a century, West Indians living in Britain developed a dazzling intellectual critique of the codes of Imperial Britain. Chapters discuss the influence of, amongst others, C. L. R. James, Una Marson, George Lamming, Jean Rhys, Claude McKay and V. S. Naipaul. The contributors draw from many different disciplines to bring alive the thought and personalities of the figures they discuss, providing a picture of intellectual developments in Britain from which we can still learn much. The introduction argues that the recovery of this Caribbean past, on the home territory of Britain itself, reveals much about the prospects of multiracial Britain.

The visible and the invisible
Bill Schwarz

In the back-streets of post-colonial Britain, in Wolverhampton and Smethwick, the language of the colonial frontier could be heard again. The frontiers have functioned not only as sociological facts but also as symbolic systems. For, despite the apparent chaos of the sights which confront us, the historical times inscribed in the city are organised by powerful logistics. Indubitably, the post-colonial city is hybrid: but it is neither random nor indecipherable. The public vistas constructed in the heart of the capital, and in the heart of Britain's other cities, provide the visible legacy of Britain's imperial past. But in a deeper sense the imperial city also carries other legacies which cannot so readily be scrutinised by the naked eye. In design and organisation London, Birmingham, Glasgow all still signify the imperial past, a past memorialised in the built environment.

in Imperial cities
Open Access (free)
Crossing the seas
Bill Schwarz

This book addresses the analytical consequences of the encounter between West Indian and Briton. West Indian emigrants came from societies well advanced in the prerequisites of breaking from colonialism. The West Indian presence created new possibilities within the metropolitan culture for the issues to be spoken. West Indian exiles in London played a decisive role. For West Indians to ‘become’ postcolonial they were required to destroy the external authority of the British. The Pleasures of Exile and Beyond a Boundary represent the theorisation of the migrant view of England. Through the 1960s, West Indians in Britain were alive to the cultural developments in the newly independent countries of black Africa, and representatives of a new generation of black African novelists found in the Caribbean Artists Movement a welcoming home.

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
Open Access (free)
Bill Schwarz

George Padmore represents a particular variant on the theme of emigration which underwrites the story of twentieth-century Caribbean intellectuals. He was an intellectual formed deep in the vortex of the age of extremes, and for most of his life he espoused positions which others perceived to be both extreme and fanatical. He was also inducted into politics in the USA and through Communism, though from the outset he was fired by the injustices of race and colonialism. The main contours of Padmore's political thought from the days of The Negro Worker to the time of the Pan-African Congress in Manchester in October 1945 are reviewed. Padmore showed every sign that he had mastered the culture of the colonisers, having learned to inhabit Englishness at perfect pitch. He expressed the elementary truth that colonialism has neither moral nor intellectual justification.

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
Open Access (free)
The predicament of history
Bill Schwarz

The term ‘West Indian’ always represented a complex of competing ideas, a resource for both colonial and anticolonial politics. West Indians were colonial Britons who experienced the civilisation of the British, in Britain, from a very particular vantage. Three overlapping and interconnected areas of thought are addressed: race and ethnicity; the project of decolonisation; and the historical imagination itself. The issue of the popular brought the cultural activists of Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) hard up against the question of British civilisation. It suggests that the work of decolonisation in its expansive register requires popular self-activity, not only on the part of the colonised but on the part too of the native citizens of the metropolis. Maybe in the future the most profound impact of Caribbean thought will be on the capacity to imagine the past, and to strive to bring it into consciousness.

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
The tragic voice of Richard Wright
Bill Schwarz

The chapter explores how Richard Wright, the great American author and black radical, in his concern with the dynamics of European decolonisation, envisaged the effects of the end of British rule overseas. This brings to light some of the connections between British decolonisation and US Civil Rights. In order to do this I explain the centrality of black Paris to the making of Wright, and the influence of a generation of Caribbean intellectuals on his life, literature and politics. The chapter closes with a discussion of Wright’s reading of Nkrumah’s Gold Coast Revolution. This story highlights the transnational nature of decolonisation, as well as its intersections with Cold War politics.

in Cultures of decolonisation