Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism

By James Acheson; Romana Huk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Bass History is A-Moving:
Black Men's Poetry
in Britain

Alastair Niven

Defining national identities has been one of the major preoccupations of postcolonial discourse. In 1947 a ship called Windrush left Jamaica, carrying the first generation of "immigrants" to Great Britain.In an atmosphere of postwar reconstruction, it was obvious in Britain itself that these immigrants would give necessary assistance in the development of the new dispensations for the National Health Service, transport, and urban development that the Attlee government had been elected to bring about.Few people looked ahead to the time when an increasingly pressured economy would create mass unemployment, to the consequences of losing an empire, or to the tensions that are endemic in a multicultural society. Had they done so, they might still have thought positively about the implications of the social upheaval that migration on a large scale would effect. Britain had never been a monocultural land.Its language, although now used worldwide, was a composite of many origins, among them Latin, Norse, Teutonic, French, Italian, and latterly Hindustani.Its role in European history had often been to receive minorities who had become disaffected or economically deprived in their own lands—Jews, Huguenots, and Irish, for example.The quadripartite political structure of the United Kingdom was itself evidence of indigenous diversification. Immigrants from the Caribbean or from the Indian subcontinent could be forgiven for believing that they were coming to a land of legendary hospitality with a proven capacity to absorb new groups of peoples.

This is not the place to test whether that expectation was justified.

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