Caryl Phillips is a British writer and professor of a Caribbean background whose self-proclaimed goals include promoting difference and empathy among people. However, he is also hard to dissect into categories, which is behaviour he is profoundly against - a reductionist categorisation of people which is simplifying, totalising and hardly informative while complex identities should not be perceived as a novelty in the twenty-first century. Born in 1958 in St. Kitts, raised in Leeds, educated in Oxford and widely traveled, Phillips's writing is diverse in plots, locations and time but almost exclusive in themes - his fiction and essays recurrently pay attention to the themes of displacement, belonging and identity. Phillips alone is hard to label since his writing can be viewed from the point of view of Black British literature, however, Phillips' scope is much wider or worldly: places are interwoven together through the connecting lines of history in a story line rather than seen as separate continents of Europe, America and Africa (defined as Black Atlantic literary geography by Paul Gilroy). He once noted that rootlessness is emblematic of the postmodern man and as such the theme is not exclusive to former colonies.
His early life in Britain provided him with ample experience to challenge stereotypes burgeoning in 20th century Britain and in this respect he helped re-define Britishness, together with Linton Kwesi Johnson, David Dabydeen or Joan Riley (Phillips, "AfroEuropa in Conversation with Caryl Phillips" 3). He has declared that one of the reasons for his writing is his will to help shape and reinvent the views of the society whose change has been undergoing with a more rapid pace: "I want to change Britain," he says. "I want us to become more aware of our own history. If I can write about how Britain as a society is transforming itself, then maybe one is filling in some of the gaps that have been left out by the media, by history, by the politicians" (Phillips, "Home Truths"). As he further developed, he wishes for a next generation that would not experience anxiety or confusion when being asked the simple question of "Where are you from?" since the complex "cultural and historical, racial, religious identity is nothing to be "ashamed of" (Clingman 113). Thus his writing, all together with Levy and Cliff, gives voice and representation to a British minority that was silenced for much of the twentieth century.
As he documented his early upbringing in the industrial town of Leeds, the coming of age in a country that was struggling to accept its rising multiculturality, there was a lot to grapple with including race and class consciousness and divisions, generation gap and issues of belonging (Phillips, "Growing Pains").
Eventually, the theme of belonging has become one of the core themes of his work and more precisely, it is multiple belongings that he explores - that of Europe, the Caribbean, the US and Africa. As he calls his heritage hybrid; the word comes with certain baggage since it entails a great deal of confusion (Phillips, "AfroEuropa in Conversation with Caryl Phillips" 15). He describes the form of his novels in the same way as an "order imposed on chaos" (ibid., 15).
As such, Caryl Phillips has contributed enormously to the voicing and making visible of "the other" and of their experience in Britain. There is a new generation of writers such as himself, Zadie Smith or Andrea Levy who operate within a framework of multicultural Britain, however, the 50s or 60s were myopic to the changing cultural landscape:
Braine, Amis, Osborne, Arnold Wesker and Keith Waterhouse cannot have been unaware of the huge public debate around black immigration. And they cannot have been unaware of the social changes that came with it. They obviously knew about the Notting Hill riots . . . Although Amis and Osborne were writers, not social historians or journalists, the omission of black people from the literary landscape is so glaring it does beg questions about the politics of literary representation. (Phillips, "The Kingdom of the Blind")
The first part of this chapter deals with the topic of belonging, identity and sexuality. In his collection of essays ANew World Order, Phillips examines the changing world in terms of re-evaluation of identity, home and belonging in an increasingly global world, and in The European Tribe, a semi-informaltravelogue, Phillips provides a useful insight on being black in Europe in the eighties. The second part of the chapter will focus on the experience of West Indians in Britain as pictured in his fiction. The selected fiction, In the Falling Snow, The Final Passage and Foreigners, presents stories of people who came to Britain to settle down and start a new life in a new homeland.
All of the selected books shed insightful light on lives of people of Caribbean descent in post-war Britain - a time period which now has spanned three generations whose idea of Britain is very different from each other. Besides the recurring themes mentioned earlier, several ideas run through Phillips' work repeatedly - those sport and music as mediums for overcoming cultural boundaries, prejudice and stereotypes. Phillips dissects their implications in a very practical way and shows hope for mutual understanding in an increasingly complex society with no clear-cut boundaries.
The most dangerous thing that we can do to ourselves is to carelessly accept a label that is offered to us by a not always generous society that seeks to reduce us to little more than one single component of our rich and complex selves. Somewhere between Morocco and Moscow the truth of this struck home . . . (The European Tribe 6).
4.1A New World Order, The European Tribe: a Quest to Understand Europe Caught in Historical Paradoxes
To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul (Simone Weil in The European Tribe 119).
4.1.1Belonging and Roots
The concept of belonging can be summed up by one simplifying yet eloquent question of "Where are you from?". Phillips skillfully describes the paradoxes the question contains since the answer is not straightforward for many people throughout the world. The cultural confusion of being black and British has not been always easy to capture since most of the twentieth century's education curricula lacked a coherent discourse on the changing demographical landscape. While Jews, with reference to exploitation and racialism, were the only minority discussed at school, it was naturalfor Phillips to identify with them - the Holocaust or the persecution in the Soviet Union were all taught, however, there was no attention to the excesses of colonialism, pillage of modern Africa, transportation of 11 million black people to the Americas and their consequent bondage. Not only did the classroom lack information about this part of history, the television was blind to this as well (The European Tribe 54).
When Phillips remembers his early years, the poignant anxiety of belonging in an English literature classroom is clear: "'Phillips', he mused, 'you must be from Wales.' The whole class laughed, while I stared at him stony-faced, knowing full well that I was not from Wales. The truth was I had no idea where I was from as I had been told that I was born in the Caribbean but came from England" (ibid., 2). Multiple belongings are no longer denigratory even though they may come with the baggage of being of and not being of the place. In the twenty-first century, people move forward via old lines in a personal way, not limited by what they see in the mirror since that offers only a "very literal and very reductive image of who we are" (Clingman 113). In the afterword to the vintage edition of The European Tribe, Phillips is quick to admit Britain's change of the perception of its increasingly multicultural society and a significant change of the third-generation migrants' sense of their place in the British society which they are quick to fully embrace as home without questioning. The afterword comes only sixteen years after the publishing of The European Tribe in yet fast and profound social, geographical and economic change of the whole of Europe seems to have taken place concurrently with the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Within the problematic concept of race, a common belief had it - influenced by Afro-Americans' belief in solidarity - that there is certain group solidarity among blacks in Britain and Phillips, as a second-generation Briton of West Indian background, tried to search, in his identity confusion, for this togetherness in London venues (Clingman 100), or, as he says, he tried "to plug into black life" (The European Tribe 5). Nonetheless, this assumption proved to be short-sighted. Phillips cannot write in Yoruba or Kikuyu, "any more than a black youth born in Peckham or Middlesborough can hope to feel at home in Addis Ababa or Kingston, Jamaica” (ibid., 126). Nevertheless, Black Britain considers itself as part of a diaspora (Gilroy, There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack 202).
Race, according to Phillips, carries a strong connection to class and sexuality and if he speaks about group solidarity, he recalls his Polish and German teachers who seemed to be keen on seeing him succeed (Clingman 100). Gender, race and class (and other forms of social division) "crosscut each other" and have an impact on strengthening or weakening existing divisions (Cohen and Kennedy 13). To Phillips, it was then possible to see group solidarity in the relationship between the British and newcomers of various origin and race. As a second-generation Briton, his mother tried to raise him more as a (native) Briton and the West Indies were not discussed much since many immigrants, who come with the intention to settle down, try to forget the past instead of clinging to their former background, they mingle with natives as part of a home-building strategy and effort not to confuse their children (Bell 578).
As for multiple belongings, it would be wrong to attach them negative connotations. Phillips describes Africa, New York City, West Indies and the United Kingdom in a unison way: "I recognise the place, I feel at home here, but I don't belong" (A New World Order 1-4). When he is seven years old in northern England, he reflects on the experience as "too late to be coloured, but too soon to be British" (ibid., 4). As such, all of the places can be understood in harmonious, complementing entity and identity is not projected in the reductive way of "unpalatable clichés of nationality or race" nor it is a fixed state of being: "Our identities are fluid. Belonging is a contested state. Home is a place riddled with vexing questions" (ibid., 6).
However, there are reasons why multiple belongings could be connected to anxiety. It was W.E.B. Du Bois who came up with the notion of feeling both of and not of the nation, this "twoness" is an anxious condition (ibid., 9). As Phillips recalls his early life in the north of England, belonging was truly a contested state:
I grew up in Leeds in the sixties and seventies, in a world in which everybody, from teachers to policemen, felt it appropriate to ask me - some more forcefully than others - for an explanation of where I was from. The answer, 'Leeds' or 'Yorkshire', was never going to satisfy them . . . a smile of benign patronage to his face. 'No lad, where are you really from? Things are different now: Britain appears to have yielded to the inevitability of a multi-cultural, multi-racial society. (ibid., 303)
To put it simply, the needed vision encompasses inclusive and culturally based pillars while shedding the "self-righteous discourse of racial entitlement" (ibid., 17). An aesthetic and society defined by race run the risk of being conforming to stereotypes and artificial personal styling (ibid., 14).
Phillips claims the volitional character of belonging or identity, one that does not depend on residence and nationality. It is true that one can be a cultural producer and not just a product of a culture (Pilkington 119), therefore, identities can be constructed but they also need to be recognised. The multiplicity of identities allows to attach oneself to or withdraw from different contextual situations in a fluid way (Cohen and Kennedy 110).
The volitional, constructivist character of identity is then applicable more plausibly if one moves between places which was especially challenging for the first or the second generation of West Indians due to the limited travel possibilities. In this way, Phillips is closer to cosmopolitanism which was also described as 'place polygamy' by Beck, an ability to live in the global and local at the same time by Tomlinson or as reality of (re)attachment, multiple attachment or attachment at a distance (Rantanen 110) but such cosmopolitanism is less usual for black Britons of later generations than for people of West Indian origin in the US or Canada who tended to see their migration as transnational while the migration of West Indians to Britain was usually one-way (Vickerman 344). Such attitude would then explain the lesser extent of transnationality in consequent generations in Britain and their fight to redefine what it means to be black and British. The son of Keith in the novel In the Falling Snow does not attach to the Caribbean at all while Faith in Levy's A Fruit of the Lemon could attach herself to the ancestral land but due to her upbringing, focused on raising 'British' children, such attachment is problematic.
Two years ago (in 1998) I travelled to Lens in France, to watch a crucial World Cup soccer game between England and Colombia . . . As the strains of 'God save the Queen' began I rose and, together with the thirty thousand other English fans, I belted out the words to the national anthem with vigour that shocked me. For a moment the cloud of ambivalence was lifted. I belonged. (The European Tribe, 308)
4.1.2´Belonging with Vigilance´
While residence or nationality may not be the most defining aspects of one's sense of belonging or identity, many Britons of West Indian origin experienced an anxious state of belonging. A condition that which comes with vigilance and anxiety since there was an entitlement towards belonging such as the British passport or the enormous contribution of West Indians in rebuilding postwar Britain (and fighting in World War II) but on the other hand, there was also a sense of rejection when the majority society was constantly sending a message of rejection, either explicitly or implicitly: "The fundamental problem was, if I was going to continue to live in Britain, how was I to reconcile the contradiction of feeling British, while being constantly told in many subtle and unsubtle ways that I did not belong" (The European Tribe 9). The sensation of such ambiguous belonging had already had a name as the American philosopher and writer W.E.B. Du Bois had coined 'double consciousness' and Phillips calls this ambivalent state 'high anxiety of belonging' or 'belonging with vigilance'.
While the first generation was coming to Britain with the notion that it was their ´mother country´ and as such, "they expected from Britain in the same uncomplicated manner in which a child expects from the mother. They expected to be accepted but they hoped to be loved" (ANew World Order 264). For the second generation, things were not so straightforward. Verbal and physical abuse altogether with confined housing and restricted social interaction was normative behaviour, widely accepted and perhaps even encouraged. While the current social climate does not allow any mishaps in the discourse that is desired to be as inclusive and politically correct as possible, it is clear Britain has come a long way.
V. S. Naipaul noted the precariousness of 'inner' or 'mental' residence in The Middle Passage (1962) where he sees the West Indian as someone living in a borrowed culture who "needs writers to tell him who he is and where he stands" (qtd. in A New World Order 185). He is also plagued by ambivalence; when he sees the sun set at Stonehenge, he cannot avoid thinking that this is "somebody else's sun, somebody else's history connected with it" (qtd. in The European Tribe 198).
Another writer who captured the state of 'belonging with vigilance', was Samuel Selvon, namely in his novel Lonely Londoners. The tension between entitlement and rejection is brought onto a personal level as feelings of love and jealousy – displayed in the expression of love for the city from which he also expected to be betrayed (ibid., 234). His description of the inner city describes the search for a human link in the London solitude: "You could be lonely as hell in the city, then one day you look around you and you realize everybody else is lonely too, withdrawn, locked, rushing home out of the chaos . . . ” (ibid., 235). The creation of strong social bonds is one of strongest human impulses (Cohen and Kennedy 18) and as such, loneliness, alienation or rejection provide an ample ground for future anxieties and stress. Samuel Selvon and George Lamming were not only writing about ´belonging with vigilance´ but had great impact on English literature in terms of the subject matter and restlessness associated with formal invention (A New World Order 237).
The British character, Phillips (and many others) stresses, was produced as a result of cultural fusion and hybridity. Nevertheless, Britain, even though to a lesser degree now, stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the heterogeneous nature of its culture but, as Stuart Hall puts it in Negotiating Caribbean Identities, the continuity of tradition and roots is a 'pleasure' (32), routine is comforting which Brand foregrounds as well: "Some of us in the Diaspora long so for nation - some continuous thread of biological or communal association, some bloodline or legacy which will cement our rights in the place we live" (67). As long as the myth of homogeneity persists and endures, the longer it will take to many Britons to feel comfortable "participating in the main narrative of British life" (A New World Order 288). The British national identity is still very much based on the sense of continuity with an imagined past which plays an important role as a determinant of the identity (ibid., 296). While celebrating the diversity of multiculturalism suffered a serious blow since the London bombing of 2005, rise of the anti-Islam opinions and scapegoating immigrants in general due to the economic decline, Britain's ambivalence to its diverse population is still present to some degree.
As Phillips points out in the end of The European Tribe, the ´belonging with vigilance´ is hardly applicable to the third generation, it was more pronounced in the 1970s and early 1980s (134) when even writing had to become at least partially political with regard to the turmoil Britain found itself in. When Phillips applies for a new passport in Portugal, he is told that he does not even look British (A New World Order 296), a common misconception of associating nationality with race. Despite this, he believes that rules will change and goalposts will be moved (A New World Order 308). The irreversible process of hybridization, or métissage (a French term for cultural cross-fertilisation with French culture presented as "apotheosis of human civilisation", promoted vigorously by the former President Leopold Senghor of Senegal, ANew World Order 124) as the process is known in France, Europe's diversity is inevitably increasing with "difference not only tolerated but also encouraged" (The European Tribe 133). London is thriving on multicultural diversity: it boasts the largest street festival Notting Hill Carnival (since 1959); Diwali, Ein and the Chinese new year are celebrated in the Square, the city thus promotes cultural diversity and "gives minorities a sense of belonging" (Butt). The former London mayor Ken Livingstone asserted that the right of every Londoner is to live as freely as they want as long as that does not prevent others from doing the same: "This approach . . . has taken London from the riots of the early 1980s to being the most tolerant city on earth . . . " (Butt). Even if London cannot be used as a measure for the whole country, it shows a significant shift of the public opinion and change in representation and space that minorities are given.
In the afterword from 1999 to The European Tribe, Phillips reminisces his recent visit in Britain and conversing with a car-service driver, "a young black British man in his late twenties" who asks him "What's it like over there then, mate?":
This suggested two things to me. First, that British people's reluctance to travel, and their deep suspicion of foreigners, appeared to be as alive as ever . . . Second, this man saw himself as British, even to the extent of his prejudices. There was no nervous hesitation to the manner in which he asserted his British identity. (130)
As such Phillips captured the global change - not only has a social change occurred on the British soil, much of the Western world is in the process of redefining belonging - the post-colonial model has collapsed and the twenty-first century world comes with a new world order where "nobody will feel fully at home", where one global conversation is open to all - with limited participation (A New World Order 5).
4.1.3Caribbean Artistic Expression Interwoven with Hybridity
The Caribbean literature written by West Indians exiled in Britain (or the US, Canada etc.) has a special role for the Caribbean audience since their sense of history, its truths and its continuity is different from history´ perception in Britain. Also, literature has helped to orientate and place "the other" of the British society in a context which was helpful since the willingness of the establishment to acknowledge the permanent presence of people coming from the former British Empire was absent for several decades of the twentieth century.
A transcendence of hybrid Caribbean identities determines the construction of identities on the basis of commonality with others or connection with others rather than difference (Leung 115) which seems emblematic of the compressed and more connected space and time in the globalised world. The Creole aesthetic views time and history as mutable and as such, they should not be trusted, time is cyclical and the mind operates within a associative, in contrast to logical, mode (ANew World Order 183-4). Historically, the pressure to migrate was strong since the 19th century - as a way to escape poverty, Jamaicans built railways in Panama, helped cut sugar cane in Cuba or worked in coffee and banana plantations in Honduras and Costa Rica (Hiro 14). Later, it was mainly the US that West Indians were heading to (ibid., 14).
As such, the Caribbean is quintessentially an inspiration and a challenge to different points of view, including the world view. The connection of the Caribbean to other continents seems like an inevitable condition while historically and culturally, "the journey from Jamaica to Lagos, or Aruba to Amsterdam, or from Port of Spain to Bombay, can be surprisingly short" (A New World Order 131) which makes cultural hybridity a Caribbean condition, an impossible legacy to escape in the Caribbean but also elsewhere in the world, where the "hybrid selves" are an increasing part of identity that cannot be explained within a simplistic discourse of binary oppositions (ibid., 132). The hybrid selves are not in opposition to unstable identities but as the historian Simon Schama proposed, unstable identities are "history's prey" (qtd. in Mousavizadeh 142) and the conflict-ridden Balkans have proved recently (ibid., 142).
Apart from specific characteristics of the Caribbean artists, there is also one role they assume since a self-determining history is still being created and shaped. Cultures and languages were imported to the area with the understanding that real history had been happening in the countries of the colonisers and people in the Caribbean were expected to embrace European history (with its superior sense of civilisation) as their own (preferably with gratitude to the colonisers for giving them the opportunity to be part of the 'civilisation').
After the decolonisation, it was only natural that history would have to be redefined and 'repossessed' while writers could give a new voice to their people's history (A New World Order 191). C.L.R. James evokes the importance of solidifying the togetherness that could inspire national consciousness so "that Caribbean people would be able to transcend 'this matter of shallow roots'" (ibid., 167). History is open to interpretation and not only economic and political circumstances are vital indicators - the literary circumstances must be included in the equation as well (C.L.R. James qtd. in ibid., 170).
This is the case of people in the Caribbean but also of West Indians in Britain who had to find their own voice and fight for it. Anger and frustration of the 1970s were vented out in the riots while the mainstream discourse remained quite oblivious to the whole problem - the society lacked discourse on race and there were no black writers (ibid., 35)
I still felt like a transplanted tree that had failed to take root in foreign soil.
(The European Tribe 9)
4.1.4Rootedness and Rootlessness through Generations
While national consciousness enhances a symbolic attachment to national and cultural roots, the physical surrounding evokes the feeling of roots as well.
Even if Paris in 1984 was the European cultural hotbed with a cosmopolitan society, it certainly was not void of stereotyping labels of Arab pick pocket signs over the city (The European Tribe 56). In this respect, the physical environment is explicit or suggestive in its message of acceptance - when Phillips' parents arrived to Britain to the "grey, overcast world", they secured accommodation that was "usual of that occupied by West Indian migrants of the period. The house was overcrowded and the toilet was outside . . . " (A New World Order 241). While his parents had lived in the Caribbean before they came to Britain, for Phillips, as for other second-generation West Indians, Britain was the first place they knew, their home, and it often featured "red disposal pipes, yellow-striped facades, and skylines broken up by twenty-four-storey block of flat" in working class neighbourhoods (The European Tribe 3). Unlike the black exchange students at Oxford, the second-generation Britons could not operate on the assumption of having a home to return to (ibid., 4).
Large cities with their diverse population make getting familiar with other cultures easier but cannot be taken as a measure of an open society:
However, London (the setting for Bend It Like Beckham) is not a city that you can use as a barometer for the rest of England . . . Kids in the inner-city areas do mix more readily than those from rural or suburban backgrounds, but the vast majority of England is not "inner city." (Phillips, "A Conversation with Caryl Phillips")
While Phillips grew up in Leeds in the sixties and seventies, "having to endure a daily chorus of 'Why don't you fuck off back to where you come from?'" (A New World Order 309), he acknowledges that present-day Leeds is a bustling trendy city that remade itself from a grey northern town, however, a city which still hosts parts plagued with social problems that include racism.
The immigration of West Indians had occurred in the usual three-stage pattern: labour movement (mostly single males), family reunification and settlement. By the settlement stage, it is ensured that the return is improbable (The European Tribe 123). Yet the first generation planned to return to the West Indies since most of the children were left behind in the Caribbean (Hiro 18). For generational differences, Phillips noted that the second generation had slightly worse manners and unwillingness to accept inequalities and discrimination, but, unlike their parents, they could not tell themselves that one day they would go ´home´ which quite inevitably resulted in the open frustration of the 1976 and 1977 Notting Hill riots (A New World Order 242). Britain that the first generation imagined never existed - the country of good manners and civility was more mythical than real (ibid., 245). Currently, there have already been three generations, all of them marked by significant social changes that Phillips also explores in his fiction, such as in the novel In the Falling Snow where all three generations interact.
For the second generation (1960s and 1970s), identity was then the key issue (ibid., 277). The generation had to change the British identity in the sense that discrimination and invisibility were challenged - via "kicking back when kicked" which the police described as a problem of "attitude" of black youth (ibid., 276). Subservient positioning did not help their parents so they chose a different strategy which media amply depicted as black youth causing problems while avoiding to inform the public about police harassment. This generation was at the final stage of immigration - that of settlement - which is significant because if the country is facing economic difficulties, the general consensus usually starts to scapegoat people who came to Britain in the recent decades, discriminating against them in the job market and failing to see them as fellow victims (The European Tribe 123). Logically, civil disturbances are provoked by such marginalisation and right-wing extremism gains foothold.
Interestingly, Phillips predicted inner city rioting in France that occurred in 2005 after he had travelled through France in the early eighties. While he calls the behaviour of the French establishment "clever" and "hypocritical" ("the colonial technique of divide and rule in the domestic area") and finds that British racists "have much to learn from the French", to him, inner city rioting seems inevitable after French immigrant children of the first generation start to demand their rights (The European Tribe 65). In this respect, Britain was ahead of France since the inner city rioting had already been happening for a while. The force and duration of the protests were fuelled by the anger and frustration at high unemployment, lack of opportunities in certain areas and police harassment. The underlying causes for the 2005 civil protests in France are identical to those that were relevant in Britain decades ago.
Phillips also notes that there was high unemployment, poor housing and no sufficient benefits system in the thirties and forties yet there was no rioting. For that matter, only financial boost to the deprived areas does not solve much since material deprivation is only a part of the equation. The feeling of injustice is an equally strong factor because what makes people riot is "a sense of relative deprivation, coupled with feelings of valuelessness, and of having no investment in the society, no grip on the steering wheel of power" (ibid., 127) which again demonstrates the link between race and class. No children will ever reply to the question of what they want to be after they grow up with an answer such as "underprivileged" or "minority problem" (ibid., 127).
4.1.5Race and Sexuality
As Phillips pointed out in several interviews and books, race and sexuality are inextricably tied together. The imagery and stereotypes add to the cultural psyche of the nation and the issue remains largely overlooked. In a 2007 interview, Phillips states that "People continue to be upright about miscegenation of all kinds - sexual, religious, class "transgressions" are still frowned upon. It's still hard to be friendly to the "other" in many parts of England" (Phillips, "A Conversation with Caryl Phillips").
Historically, racial stereotyping goes back centuries as it stems from the slave trade.
When James Baldwin spoke about racism in the 1950s, he insisted that maturing on the level of racism is not enough because Americans would have to mature on the level of sexuality as well (ANew World Order 31) which is applicable on Britain as well. In the fifties, when larger groups of people from the West Indies started arriving, there was a similar sexual anxiety in Britain as in the United States centuries and decades ago. Since many West Indians were males who came without wives or girlfriends, the deep-seated fear of miscegenation crevassed the already existing prejudices. As was previously mentioned, the literary production of the fifties to the seventies largely overlooked the presence of other minority groups in Britain and if they did include some mention of "the other", the whole description evolved along the lines of prejudice, stereotypes and denigration - in Shelagh Delaney's play A Taste of Honey (1958), Jimmie known as "boy" converses with his girlfriend:
Boy: No. Cardiff. Disappointed? Were you hoping to marry a man whose
father beat the tom-tom all night?
Jo: I don't care where you were born. There's still a bit of jungle in you
somewhere. (Phillips, "The Kingdom of the Blind")
In this respect, some races are more stereotypically depicted than others. In case of West Indians who were predominantly of Afro-Caribbean stock, the stereotypical depiction turned to sexuality as the most defining component of representation. On the other hand, many black singers build their lyrics and music videos on this stereotype which makes it seem as if they were willingly confirming it. The American fear of black sexuality should not come as a surprise in a society built on Puritan values, yet obsessed with sexuality on every level. However, the American cultural reach is global and vice versa - after all, the US used to be a British colony.
A case in point for Phillips is Marvin Gaye, who was a completely different personality in his private life but he was pushed to get sexual in his music, lyrics or concerts, it is clear that conforming to stereotypes is comfortable and easier but difficult to sustain in the long run. While Gaye's first album was The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye (1961), in 1976, he came up with I Want You, a celebration of "carnal sexuality" (ANew World Order 42). In Britain of 1958, Notting Hill riots swept the British national news, and behind the already familiar expression of anger and frustration at housing and employment deprivation, the whole series of riots was triggered when British youth attacked a white Swedish woman who was seen earlier with her Jamaican husband. The rioting was thus triggered by a simple human emotion of proprietary claim and that "stirred jealousy and resentment among young men" (ibid., 244). However, the Notting Hill riots resulted in a yearly event founded in 1959 by Claudia Jones, a black political activist and journalist from Trinidad and nowadays, the Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street festival in the world that is viewed as a celebration of London's multicultural diversity (Butt).
As long as people continue to be fascinated with black sexuality, fuelled by manipulative representation in films, music or literature, there will be always some people that will forge their identity on myths, defining themselves mainly in terms of their sexuality (as these constructs can be exploited and manipulated to their advantage). Such attitude is not only short-sighted but degrading for the rest of the group as well with regards to the collective identities (see Tajfel 29).
Images of hyper-potent male sexuality endure in culture to this day and black TV sitcoms still seem too keen to connect sexual prowess to 'achievement' (ibid., 46-7). Sexuality is connected to the physical, so if V.S. Naipaul wrote in 1980 in TheNew York Times that "These people [Trinidadians] live purely physical lives, which I find contemptible . . . It makes them interesting only to chaps in universities who want to do compassionate studies about brutes" (qtd. in ibid., 190), he actually echoes the prejudices and stereotypes that the institution of slavery tried to instill in the collective unconscious. Highly biased perceptions of the Caribbean were stemming from the colonial past and slavery alongside the social anthropology research on the West Indies where relations were seen through the lens of pathologies and deviances since they were juxtaposed to a ´Western´ definition of how relations should be constituted (e.g. the high number of female-headed households, marital instability, visiting sexual unions, absent fathers etc. were all treated as pathologies; Barnard and Spencer 88). Such influence of social sciences seemed to indirectly confirm the colonial myths and stereotypes, therefore it is necessary to look at the Caribbean without pre-judging the social and family system. It was the family (the nuclear family) that was destructed during slavery times (MacCormack and Draper 145) and until now, the remnants of history are present, “sexual intercourse and parenthood may be more important to the man and woman as individuals than as members of a partnership” (ibid., 154).
The whole myth of black sexuality is a culturally constructed set of beliefs that survive in prejudices and stereotypes which are constantly enhanced by their representations in culture. In the same way as Marvin Gaye found it hard to get rid of the 'sexual god' stereotype he constructed for himself, it is difficult to move beyond these stereotypes if they are repeatedly nurtured and evoked.
The final taboo then stays miscegenation, a link between prejudice and sexuality which Phillips boldly defied in several interviews he gave in the Netherlands and Belgium:
I was joking but I was also partly being serious– the only real way to solve the issue of racism is for people to sleep with people who don’t look like them. That is the final taboo: “Mum, this is my husband-to-be, he’s called Mohammed” or, “Mum, I’m going to marry this woman, she’s called Fatima.” People are okay if different races work together, but . . . (Phillips, "AfroEuropa in Conversation with Caryl Phillips" 11)
So how should Britain define itself as a nation? A synthesis of Indian takeaways, baked beans, soccer, Jamaican patties, St. Patrick's Day, pub on Saturday, Notting Hill Carnival, church on Sunday, mosque on Friday and fish and chips?
(A New World Order 281)
4.1.6The Fusion of British, Caribbean and European Identities: Europe's Multicultural Heritage, Deconstruction of British Identity and European Myth of Homogeneity
It had already been Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) who analyzed European identity as one defined by the outsider (Phillips, "The Silenced Minority"). Phillips sees fusion and hybridity as a "quintessential human condition" of the future development in the world. Such race posturing is reducing the complexity of and overlooking the commonalities of culture (A New World Order 16).
Despite the popularly believed British myth of a "true Englishman" (as defined by George Orwell, Daniel Defoe and others), Britain's society had welcome or, rather, imported slaves for the upper classes in the 18th century and London had a very diverse population in the 18th century, mostly because of the overseas activities of the British Empire. The black presence in Britain is a recurring theme in many Phillip's works and it would be interesting to see what today's inhabitants of a vibrant multicultural London mentally envision as the epitome of a 'true Englishman'. The problem with Orwell's description is that he bases his vision of Britain on the belief that its character is based on continuous history which is deeply rooted while the country is by no means a nation of immigrants (ibid., 266). In these circumstances, Britain was already a multi-racial country in the 18th century at the height of its slave trade glory (slave trade was abolished in 1834).
The British identity was struggling to define and redefine itself after World War II. The fifties were austere and insecure even though they did not lack optimism, the sixties were marked by liberal freedoms and the eighties were largely gloomy, suffering from the industrial decline and economic troubles (The European Tribe 2). The longing for order and familiarity or the nostalgia can sometimes explain the surge in racism (Fenton 205) which again positions hybridity against latency to continuity. Despite the long-term presence of blacks in Britain, their presence was finally recognized by the country during Thatcher's administration - which was also a time when the second-generation started to claim their right to Britain as their home. However, Thatcher's definition of a black British person was imposing certain expectations such as a suit and a tie, no "afros, no dashikis, no beads, no shoulder bags" which was made explicit in the "Labour says he's black, Tories say he's British" 1983 election poster (A New World Order 247-8). When Phillips travels in Paris in 1984, he is puzzled by the dress sense of young Africans who seem to succumb to peer pressure to dress: " . . . zoot-suits, bowties, Burberry coats, cravats, Gucci shoes, and Oxford bags . . . None of those awful dreadlocks" (The European Tribe 62).
While dreadlocks were a political-cultural statement of pride and empowerment at that time (Mercer 302), their absence in France shows different attitude towards assimilation and integration:
Bhabha's notion of "mimicry" for example, derives largely from Fanon's appropriation of Lacan's model of the mirror stage. Mimicry here is a device through which the colonial subject subverts its master's voice and gestures of authority in the very act of echoing their cadences. (P. Cohen 196)
However, it soon became clear that nationality cannot be defined in terms of race nor can the country remain stagnant in its definition of national identity, seemingly based on firm pillars of homogeneity - that of race, class and sense of continuity.
All of the abovementioned brings us to the core of the problem: if Britain fell from its pedestal of glory after the disintegration of the British Empire, the nation lost one of its defining sources of pride, the sources of reassuring belief in the power of the British nation. As such, shattered in its core, how could Britain be welcoming and accepting towards strangers after all? If the country was filled with a sense of insecurity, accepting others seemed like a dangerous enterprise to embark upon.
The colonial style of order of divide and rule is hardly applicable nowadays. While multiculturalism has been challenged in many European countries, it still seems as a more acceptable way to the British of welcoming strangers because assimilation has never been fully desired - because then the British would be forced to admit that "the British character can be enriched and thickened . . . -like stock . . . with ingredients from someone else's garden" (A New World Order 295) Whereas multiculturalism would tolerantly give space to other cultures and languages, the 'true' British identity would remain unchanged, the real Britishness would not disappear; it would be cultivated in the presence of other cultures. Still and all, there is one important part to multiculturalism that cannot be overlooked. For multiculturalism, "one needs to be confident about one's own identity" (ibid., 295).
Europe, as well as Britain, had been a long subscriber to values which were connected to its white population that harbours the illusion of "racially inscribed 'traditional' values" (ibid., 245). As such, Europe can be a bit of a challenge in its global community of whites putting a proud emphasis on a Eurocentric, culturally exclusive history. The histories of European countries were interwoven, twisted and most of all, shared (The European Tribe 9). The European history, with its discoveries and flags raising, gave Europeans, for at least some time, economic, political, and social superiority which, as a result, gives Europeans "a secure sense of collective identity" based on the glorious past:
In your churches, education, government systems, architecture, music, arts, you belong to a group which exports a culture to every corner of the world - you are a part of the European tribe. Brazilians, Mozambiquans, Angolans speak Portuguese; most of Africa, American and India, English; other parts of Africa, the Far East and the Caribbean speak French or Dutch; even older Ethiopians speak Italian. (ibid., 127)
The European history was shared but on the other hand, this is a gross
generalization since Europe has often found itself divided and fragmented
through ethnic or ideological divisions (Mousavizadeh 141). In Europe, one is faced all the time with real-life objects of European past and culture - the churches, castles, chateaux, fortifications and other European landmarks give people a sense of history, rootedness, self-identification and more often than not, pride. People respond differently to these historical landmarks. A majority may agree how breathtaking or important they are, nevertheless, they evoke different feelings in different people.
The American cinema seems to be profoundly smitten with Europe which is very often pictured as the continent of architectural beauty and elegant sophistication. How, on the other hand, does a Briton of West Indian origin feel while looking at a historical monument in Europe? This disparity between accepting the European as your own and living in Europe is exactly what Phillips talks about in his book:
I knew how frustrating it was to stand outside of some of Europe's great buildings, and to gaze up and wonder what right I had to include myself into the history of the people and the continent that created such buildings and such art. (The European Tribe 133-4)
When, then, Phillips speaks of Europe's need for 'confession' (or, historical re-evaluation), it is because Europe is "blinded by her past, and does not understand the high price of her churches, art galleries, and architecture" (ibid., 128). As Hiro stresses, "the memories of all persecuted people, unlike those of their persecuters, are long" (23).
Europe has been changing profoundly in the last decades and reached some kind of unity through trade with few divisions as "squabbling tribes stare at each other across national boundaries" (The European Tribe 121). If Europe is no longer economically dominant, there is one role left for her - that of a moral leader. As Phillips suggests, a certain confession is necessary with regards to history which is often unquestioned in terms of morality. It is a history where "whites civilize and discover" (ibid., 121).
While Europe is grappling with its changing demographics, much needs to be done in order to include people who do not seem 'European enough'. The most easily identifiable differences come with race, religion or both. The "other" can be former colonial subjects, guest workers, political or economic refugees or illegal immigrants, but whatever their position is, the hybridization seems irreversible (ibid., 133).
Caribbean identities, on the other hand, do not request continuity as they are used to hybridization. Assimilation or integration is then a relatively easy process. With assimilation also comes certain historical myopia. If the French celebrate the cultural hybridization, or the métissage, the writers often unburden themselves from the history, partially 'forgiving' the colonizers and praising France. This is the stand taken, for example, by Leopold Sédar Senghor. A part of the French Caribbean literature also does not dwell on forgiveness (A New World Order 124-5). Assimilation proved more applicable in France but not in Britain.
Caribbean identities are built on cross-cultural fluidity which makes the West Indians versatile and 'global'. The Caribbean consciousness and history have been shaped and re-defined by many writers. Therefore diasporic communities often drift away from nationalism and can have ambiguous, dual loyalties (Sheffer 225) which is an aspect of their transnationality that can be easily manipulated by right-wing political discourse engaged to question attachment or loyalty to a particular nation.
When the first generation of West Indians arrived in Britain, most of them were well acquainted with their ´mother country´ since they were coming from a former colony which played a major role in education as well. Yet they were hardly aware of some cultural nuances, such as the British custom to line up while getting on the bus or dress in conservative colours (vs. loudly coloured shirts and ties; ibid., A New World Order 271). Their seemingly cultural inaptitude made them even more vulnerable in the society which was quick to dismiss them as culturally different which is emblematic of the recent rise in cultural racism. However, in comparison with other migrant groups in Britain, they were culturally much closer than, for example, Pakistanis. Their colonial past, the shared language, imposed bits of Britain (and Europe) in the Caribbean and shared religion made them prime candidate for acceptance in the British society but this fact was unwelcome because they seemed surprisingly too British to white Britons who, as a weapon of exclusion and difference, chose to "reinforce their alien status" by one and only aspect of an identity that no one can change - the skin colour (A New World Order 273). Such differentiation has been skillfully created and managed through language, van Dijk cites a research which has shown that minorities and immigrants are often reserved a limited range of topics in the public discourse and those topics are indicative of difference, deviance or threat (150) all carry negative connotations. The hypocritical face of physiological racism was clear since now the Jews, the Irishmen or the Poles were acceptable even though they, ethnically speaking, were not considered British before. Yet, the main criterion has changed and the mentioned examples only show the social constructivism of these concepts.
There are then two important influences, globalization (together with neo-colonialism) and multiculturalism that influence a post-colonial society. Both are quite topical with respect to the current development of Europe since many countries are questioning their national and European identity. The social change is fast and efficient transportation makes movement relatively quick and easy. The present-day Europe rather suggests that Britons of West Indian background are integrated by now, firmly rooted in the British society while still occasionally suffering from discrimination. The main challenge for present-day Europe are people distinguished by religion, namely Islam.
In the same way as multiculturalism needs a society confident of itself, it also needs to be composed of multicultural individuals who would be able to "synthesize different worlds . . . and live comfortable with these different worlds" (A New World Order 279).
To accommodate the cultural differences, a strong culture is not a need but a necessity. Right-wing parties are periodically gaining foothold all over Europe as a result of uncertainties offered in the European vision - such as the occasional resurgence of Front National in France with 11% of the national vote in 1984 elections (The European Tribe 60). Fascist tendencies often rise from the despair of high unemployment and economic troubles and such right-wing tendencies rise periodically, MacShane, Minister of State for Europe, reiterates this in his 2010 article “Europe´s New Politics of Fear”:
. . . where radical populism – anti-Muslim in Western Europe, anti-Jewish in Eastern Europe, and anti-foreigner and anti-immigrant rhetoric is no longer fringe politics . . . Fascism is dead and not coming back. But a new politics of intolerance is afoot in Europe . . .
The Caribbean itself has replaced the link with Britain by that of the US, making the mediating context, as Milan Kundera calls it, disappear. For Britons of West Indian origin, it is difficult to return to the Caribbean since it is expensive and the people are not very open to these re-settlers (ibid., 245).
4.1.7Cultural Imperialism, Prejudice and Stereotyping
The present-day society is often dubbed postmodern and postracial, colourblind to race. Yet there are quite a few beliefs and categorizations regarding race that persist. They can be either directly or indirectly connected to the cultural imperialism of the pre-decolonisation period. Categorization, stereotyping or predictions are a natural product of human mind and imagination - many sociological theories claim that a basic human need is to make sense of our human experience by putting it into order - thus categories are created and it is natural to try to fill in the gaps if something does not fit our experience. Our perception of reality is shaped by a number of factors; we do experience reality first-hand, however, there is also a symbolic experience of events which is something that is mediated via different media. More importantly, experience creates expectations of future events and it is a natural human predisposition to make predictions of how experiences will turn out to be.
Having certain beliefs about ethnicities is not necessarily discriminatory yet it can often reflect popular beliefs of the society. Certain stereotyping carries overtones of discrimination; racial profiling of the police is definitely based on stereotype or prejudice since they are looking for acts of wrongdoing.
4.1.8Europe's Own Sense of History: the Glorious Past
In The European Tribe, Phillips suggests the name 'tribe' for Europe, despite its Third World connotations of primitivism since the conflicts in Europe are equally atrocious as other conflicts in the world (e.g. troubles in Ireland, Basque separatists in Spain or ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, the persecution and cleansing of the Jews during the World War II, 132). By looking at the overall picture, it is easier and, more importantly, possible, to reconcile, redefine and reinvent.
The history of Nazism and Jews was part of the education and it would not be too surprising to see a confused child pose questions such as "If white people could do that to white people, then what the hell would they do to me?" (ibid., 67). History has shown that attempts to create or preserve some imagined community in its pure form - be it racial, ethnic or cultural - has resulted in murder and savagery (Mousavizadeh 141).
Europe, in Phillip's eyes, is blinded by its past and Europeans are the ones that garner sense of condescending moral superiority combined with beliefs in the education and culture Europe was able to produce during centuries. The hypocrisy and reluctance to admit is startling due to the conceived notion of European values of justice, freedom or solidarity:
My presence in Europe is part of that price. I was raised in Europe, but as I walked the tiny streets of Venice, with all their self-evident beauty, I felt nothing. Unlike Othello, I am culturally of the West . . . Nothing inside me stirred to make me rejoice, 'Ours is a rich culture', or 'I'm a part of this . . . I could find little empathy with the cultural bravado of a Eurocentric past. (The European Tribe 128)
While V.S. Naipaul, who is originally from Trinidad, viewed anything non-Western as lacking any validity and Third World societies were, according to him, built on mimicry and barbarity, he still refused to connect any of the Third World problems with European territorial conquests (A New World Order 192-3). However, Phillips points out that the social and economic problems of the former British Empire must be viewed in connection to colonization. Such connection is preserved until the present via neocolonialism.
Not surprisingly, Britain's condescending attitude was not limited to people from the former British Empire only but other members of 'European tribes' as well. Britain, as well as other Western European countries, has been creating enclaves of nationals in Southern Europe - enclaves of British retirees looking for sun and cheap housing. Phillips compares Britons in Spain to those in the Caribbean for they seem to have one thing in common - they lack of interest in and respect for anything indigenous (The European Tribe 37).
4.1.10Stereotype and Prejudice
Stereotype and prejudice is easy to think of when it comes to race or ethnicity or (recognizable) religious symbols because of the visibility but there are countless examples of stereotypes for all kinds of people in the society which can be based on gender, sexual preferences etc. (Phillips, "AfroEuropa in Conversation with Caryl Phillips" 10).
In his fiction set in present-day England, A Distant Shore, Phillips examines a friendship between an Englishwoman Dorothy and a black African man Gabriel who escaped to England from an ongoing war in his country (the country is not specified in the book). The way Phillips described their relationship makes clear how the power of imagery and fear of the unknown influence trust and self-investment: "their friendship is tentative, full of anxiety, riddled with doubt, self-doubt, and conducted under the full and judgmental scrutiny of people who are quick to condemn" (Phillips, "A Conversation with Caryl Phillips"). Thus stereotype prepares the ground for mistrust and suspicion, fuelling alienation and differentiation.
Stereotypes are sometimes deeply engrained which makes it hard to move beyond them and such a state of affairs can provoke a certain resignation of those who find it hard or impossible to fight against them. If that is the case, succumbing to stereotypes is an easy way out:
And some people . . . figure out that they will be rewarded if they embrace not fitting in, if they play to the stereotype. Some people can say “That’s what they want, they’re going to pay me, I don’t care;” other people say “No . . . I’m gonna fight it with my pen” as an academic, or as a writer, or as a politician or a social worker. (Phillips, "AfroEuropa in Conversation with Caryl Phillips" 10)
Such an attitude is not necessarily a poor choice, however, it can have ramifications
for the rest of the people associated with the same group.