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Historians have argued that the significance of ‘race’ in modern society emerged from the contradiction between an apparent ideological commitment to equality, epitomised by Enlightenment thought, and the reality of continuing inequality. Despite proclaimed beliefs in human equality, the relationship between colonialism and capitalism resulted in a racialised social order; therefore, explanations for continuing inequality attempted to frame it as natural and inherent, becoming rationalised through the discourse of race. As Kenan Malik summarised, ‘Race account[s] for social inequalities by attributing them to nature’.

Presented as something of a counterculture to European modernity, the concept of the ‘Black Atlantic’ was coined by Paul Gilroy to describe a shared, but heterogeneous, Black culture spanning the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. He proposed that the Atlantic should be treated as ‘one single, complex unit of analysis’, which could ‘produce an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective’ (1993, p.15). The work examined in this seminar, Kennetta Hammond Perry's London is the Place for me: Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race, focusses on postwar Britain to further consideration of the transnational and multi-faceted perspective of race politics.

Core Reading:
  • Kennetta Hammond Perry, London is the Place for me: Black Britons, Citizenship, and the Politics of Race (New York, 2015).

Recommended Reading:

Seminar Questions

  • What does Perry mean when stating that her work ‘chronicles how the politics of race effectively impeded Caribbean migrants of African descent from fully realizing their right to belong in Britain as citizens’ (p.5)?
  • What can be learned from writing a narrative of Windrush politics where Black migrants are at the center of historical analysis?’ (p.16)
  • What sources are used to explore this history? And how effective are they? (e.g., use of 'vernacular photography', pp.71-80; pp.143-6)
  • How does Perry’s work relate to Gilroy's concept of 'the Black Atlantic' (1993)?
  • What's the wider significance of Perry’s arguments about the 'mystique of British anti-racism’ for the writing of history?
  • How has ‘the Windrush-as-origins discourse’ related to notions of ‘the problem of race’ in modern Britain (p.15)?

Further reading:

  • Graeme Abernathy, 'Not Just an American Problem: Malcolm X in Britain’, Atlantic Studies, 7:3 (2010), 285-307.
  • Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (New York, 1996).
  • Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, and Suzanne Scafe, Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain (London, 1985).
  • Bob Carter, Clive Harris and Shirley Joshi, ‘The 1951–1955 Conservative Government and the Racialization of Black Immigration’,
    Immigrants and Minorities, 6:3 (1987), 335-47.
  • Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain (London, 1982).
  • Paul Gilroy, Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (Chicago, 1987).
  • Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Massachusetts, 1993).
  • Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (Chicago, 2002).
  • Randall Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain: The Institutional Origins of a Multiracial Nation (Oxford, 2000).
  • Marc Matera, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (Berkeley, 2015).
  • Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest (London, 1995).
  • Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Ithaca, 1997).
  • Kennetta Hammond Perry, 'Black Britain and the Politics of Race in the 20th Century', History Compass, 12:8 (2014), 651-63.
  • Ron Ramdin, The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain (London, 1987).
  • Bill Schwarz, The White Man’s World (Oxford, 2011).
  • Chris Waters, '"Dark Strangers" in Our Midst: Discourses of Race and Nation in Britain, 1947–1963’, Journal of British Studies,
    36:2 (1997), 207-38.
  • Rob Waters, Thinking Black: Britain, 1964-1985 (California, 2019).