Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture

Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture

Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture

Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture

Synopsis

The Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture is the first comprehensive reference book to provide multidisciplinary coverage of the field of black cultural production in Britain. The publication is of particular value because despite attracting growing academic interest in recent years, this field is still often subject to critical and institutional neglect. For the purpose of the Companion , the term 'black' is used to signify African, Caribbean and South Asian ethnicities, while at the same time addressing the debates concerning notions of black Britishness and cultural identity.This single volume Companion covers seven intersecting areas of black British cultural production since 1970: writing, music, visual and plastic arts, performance works, film and cinema, fashion and design, and intellectual life. With entries on distinguished practitioners, key intellectuals, seminal organizations and concepts, as well as popular cultural forms and local activities, the Companion is packed with information and suggestions for further reading, as well as offering a wide lens on the events and issues that have shaped the cultural interactions and productions of black Britain over the last thirty years. With a range of specialist advisors and contributors, this work promises to be an invaluable sourcebook for students, researchers and academics interested in exploring the diverse, complex and exciting field of black cultural forms in postcolonial Britain.

Excerpt

In the second half of the twentieth century, notions of what constitute Britishness, blackness and culture have all been opened up and fiercely debated in a post-imperial nation that has experienced the collapse of Empire, large-scale immigration from its former colonies, the mass women's movement, black power and nationalist movements, institutionalised racism, Thatcherism and multiculturalism. This book charts black British cultural production from 1970 to 2001 and documents the creative and intellectual achievements of the second generation of black Britons.

The focus of this Companion on the contemporary period is in no way a denial of earlier black British cultural production but simply an indicator of the necessary limitations of the project as a single-volume publication. Indeed, the historical life of black people in Britain goes back at least four centuries and there is much to say about this history, as well as more to be researched. Perhaps, though, 1970 does offer a useful starting point as it marks a historical moment from which black as an identificatory category began to establish itself within Britain, reconstructing ideas of community and difference around a political signifier. As Kobena Mercer describes, 'When various peoples-of Asian, African and Caribbean descent-interpellated themselves and each other as /black/ they invoked a collective identity predicated on political and not biological similarities…alliance and solidarity among dispersed groups of people sharing common historical experiences of British racism' (1994:291). For the purposes of this Companion, black signifies this collectivity and alliance under a political identity, and encompasses people of African, Caribbean and South Asian descent. The debates about for whom and to whom black as an identity category should refer are well documented. Nevertheless, given the problematic nature of black British as a proposed cultural category (where does it begin and end?) and the fact that it is a cultural identity that is often expressed as ambivalent, conflicted and deeply felt, it seems important to offer some discussion of the issues and debates that have shaped its discursive and political currency.

Stuart Hall describes Britain in the 1970s as 'the land which they are in but not of, the country of estrangement, dispossession and brutality' (1978:357) and the conscious orchestration of identity around blackness at this time was crucially concerned with the need to express resistance and protest against a white national British culture that appeared fairly definable and monolithic. The politicisation of black consciousness in the 1970s-when the media cocktail of race riots, mugging and carnival led to a powerful and damaging representation of black youth as criminalized and subcultural-was clearly a reaction and opposition to state racism and offered a vital, if limited, platform for self-representation. Nevertheless, the relationship between street politics and acts of representation was mutually beneficial to many of the cultural practitioners and products of this decade, and continued the intellectual traditions of black Britain that, like those in the Caribbean and other ex-colonial regions, have always been engaged with political and rights movements. There was very much the sense that artists, practitioners and cultural activists were providing intellectuals and theorists with what Stuart Hall has termed 'a new vocabulary and syntax of rebellion' (Hall 1978). Moreover, this cross-fertilisation between acts of

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