"A State of Perpetual Wandering": Diaspora and Black British Writers

Bronwyn T. Williams, University of New Hampshire

 Copyright © 1999 by Bronwyn T. Williams, all rights reserved. This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the editors of JOUVERT: Journal of Postcolonial Studies.

  1. In Britain it is the reality of the diaspora of empire within the nation that most fundamentally disrupts this dominant narrative of a unified, homogenous nation. More than simply introducing other cultural and ethnic voices into the nation, the diaspora in Britain is also what Kobena Mercer calls "a reminder and a remainder of its historical past" (7), a physical presence that underlines the paradox of immigration into Britain from its colonies even as those colonies, and the prestige and power they embodied and exemplified, were "lost" to independence. The postcolonial diaspora is not simply immigration into Britain from other places, as for example immigration into the United States or even Turkish "guest workers" in Germany," but is instead a continual reminder that "we are here because you were there" (7). Of course, there are many reasons for the timing of this movement of diaspora into the seat of empire; yet there is an unspoken sense within the dominant culture that it is the impotence of the nation/state, stripped of its empire, that is no longer able to keep the Other comfortably across the sea. The idea of immigration itself, then, violates Britain's sense of its secure national borders. This perceived threat to national cohesion, in turn, challenges the cultural identity of the White Englishman as being homogenous and unitary. The response of the dominant culture to post-colonial immigration has been what Stuart Hall calls a "defensive exclusivism. . .an embattled defensiveness of a narrow, national definition of Englishness, of cultural identity" ("The Local" 177). From the National Front to Norman Tebbit's "cricket test" an enormous amount of ideological energy has gone into defining and safeguarding what the dominant culture sees as the end product of its national narrative: true Englishness--and Englishness, by extension is the default culture of the British state. [1]

  2. The voice of diaspora in Britain is a particular threat to the dominant culture because it is not simply colonization in reverse, not only the voice of the Other, it is also the voice of hybridity. In its repetition and response to the authoritative utterances in the dominant culture it disrupts the nature of the dominant discourse and opens "up a space of negotiation where power is unequal but its articulation may be equivocal. Such negotiation is neither assimilation nor collaboration (Bhabha, "Culture's" 58). And from this space of hybrid discourse also then comes the possibility of the movement of meaning within the dominant culture.
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