Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis

By John McLeod | Go to book overview
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Millennial currents

David Dabydeen, Fred D'Aguiar and Bernardine Evaristo

In 1991, David Dabydeen contributed an essay entitled 'On Cultural Diversity' to a collection concerning the future of British cities. Published in association with the British Labour Party - at that time still the official Opposition in the House of Commons and fated to lose the 1992 General Election to John Major's Conservative Party - the collection featured contributions from a number of significant cultural figures, such as David Edgar, Mike Phillips, Ruth Rendell, Alison Fell and Naseem Khan. Conscious perhaps of the riotous social conflicts which impacted upon urban life in 1980s Britain, the contributors looked to the future of British cities and considered the role of the arts in reshaping and democratizing metropolitan culture and society in the decade to come. A sensitivity to variety - of urban cultural phenomena, modes of social affiliation, old and new ethnicities - was paramount. Several essays addressed themselves to the 'diversity of city life experienced by the women, the young, the elderly, those with disabilities, those with different ethnic cultures, [who] demanded more various ways of expressing local culture and identity' (Fisher 1991:3). Although some contributors depicted British cities as conflicted spaces, divided and hostile, many looked to the future with optimism. The 1990s British city was linked to a transformative agency which might impact upon wider issues of cultural and national identity. As Mike Phillips put it in his contribution, '[s]cratch the Londoner and you uncover a loony living a British future in which the national project is reassessed, the interpretation of our history is a comparative exercise, citizenship is divorced from racial origins, and you can't tell an Englishman from an Indian or an African or a Chinese' (1991:121-2).

Dabydeen's contribution was one of the less optimistic essays. It reflected upon the extent to which Caribbeans and their descendants had changed the city in the postwar decades (while also tracing London's long history as a location of arrival and settlement of black peoples overseas). In contrast to those who celebrated the metropolis as a site of transcultural melange, he struck a sobering note:


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