When Aldwyn Roberts, famed Trinidadian calypsonian “Lord Kitchener,” landed in England, he commemorated the event by singing “London Is the Place for Me,” a song celebrating the beauty and hospitality of his “Mother Country.” Roberts was a passenger on the ship Empire Windrush, whose 1948 arrival from the West Indies signaled a new era of migration to the UK from its colonies, many of which would gain independence over the next fifty years. But was Britain the place for them? As many discovered, making a home there was a fraught process, fueled by long-existing structures of racial prejudice that continue and evolve to this day.
This course explores the cultural politics of British identity after 1945: a period whose social and political upheavals both radically redefine and conservatively re-entrench “British” as a category of analysis. From the 1958 Notting Hill race riots to current-day Brexit, national belonging has always been a complex and contested process, one that fuels myriad forms of desire and alienation. During our time together, we will ask: how do artists and theorists engage with problems of inequality, histories of empire and migration, politics of race, sexuality, and class, and practices of community-building? How do they respond to these aspects of modern social life, as well as re-imagine what that sociality might look like? We will approach these questions by focusing on Black and Asian British literatures—including works by authors Buchi Emecheta, Bernadine Evaristo, Jackie Kay, Hanif Kureishi, Andrea Levy, Daljit Nagra, Caryl Phillips, Salman Rushdie, Sam Selvon, Kamila Shamsie, Warsan Shire, and Zadie Smith—as well as selections from the fields of postcolonial, feminist, and cultural studies.