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Bruce King





Research interests: I recently finished writing a book about the history of black British literature since 1948, an area in which I continue to do research. My concerns have been mostly empirical: chronology, description of texts (of narrative, themes, form, language, society, politics), evaluation, influences, evolving traditions, allusions, along with periodization. I have also been concerned with such matters as the racial, political, social, and ideological contexts. I am especially aware of difference: differences between generations, between those of different origins, classes, religions, how each author is distinctive, how and why consciousness changes, where and why ethnic, class, or national origins create affiliations and find expression. Besides asking how and why is black literature dissimilar or similar to white literature, I discuss how do, for example, writers from Jamaican origins differ from those from Nigeria, and how black British literature is based on a multiplicity of social positions.

Personal background: I came to Black British studies by way of two different paths. One is an early interest in black American music and culture which led to my teaching for ten years in Nigeria. The other is a journey from the study of British literature to the study of the new literatures of England's former colonies (Nigeria, West Indies, India) which led me back to England and its recent black writing. Often there has been a overlap between West Indian and African literature and the new Black British literature and it is not clear what is British and what belongs to the literatures of the former colonies.

Assumptions and theories: because of my experience with the new national literatures (and that many of writers lived at times in England) I at first wrongly brought the assumptions of the independence struggles and anti‑colonialism to black British literature. I have learned that the vocabulary of postcolonialism (resistance, complicity, etc) is inappropriate to black British literature where the themes are more often memory, awareness, assertion, explanation, celebration, difference, and the formation of a new conscious. What may appear resistance and revolt is often protest at inequalities and lack of inclusion. Some writers consciously reject black American models as inappropriate and as another kind of imperialism.

Comparative studies: Black European Studies should resist temptations of assuming a discourse of victimization, slavery, and notions of a unified black community. While the history and experience of forms of racism are common to both there is much more of interest in the particular situation of European blacks in each nation and indeed within regions of nations than the commonplaces of anti‑colonialism. There is a need for comparative studies looking at national differences. Yet the fact that there is now a concept and conference of Black European Studies shows the need to place the various national experiences in a broader frame work. Some black British writers, such as Mike Phillips, and the journal Wasafiri, have already started to look beyond England to Europe.

Alternatives: it is wrong only to situate European blacks in the context of imperialism. More interesting would be to examine how economic liberalism (with its lowering of national boundaries, opportunities for employment abroad, and transformations of societies and cultures) has in part created the black European. Or how the unintended effects of national liberation in places like Africa have resulted in exiles and emigration. Sukhdev Sandhu's London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City (2003) instead of seeking stories of racism and victimization shows that many black and immigrant writers were excited by and celebrated the opportunities that London offered. Rather than victims they were agents in their own destiny.


Perhaps the central questions might concern the differences between a black person or community in Europe and those in a former colony? What are similarities and differences between blacks in Europe in terms of nations, class, education, origins, etc. What is the relationship of black expression in the Humanities to the social and political experiences of black immigrations and black nationals? How might the experiences of black immigrants and their children differ?

A possible Workshop: how do we start bibliographies and collections of essays on such topics as black musics, foods, literatures, social conditions, political representations, etc. in Europe? What are sources of funding for such research?

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