C.L.R. James

Black hope of Brixton

(Summer 1964)

From International Socialism (first series), No.17, Summer 1964, p.29.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dark Strangers
Sheila Patterson
Tavistock Publications, 65s.

West Indian migrants, and the increasing number of people interested in them, will find it hard to get a study more comprehensively conceived and disciplined in execution than Dark Strangers. In a tangled skein Miss Patterson wisely confines herself to one characteristic area. She is an investigator experienced with people as widely diverse as the Cape Coloured in South Africa and Polish immigrants in Canada. In an early chapter on fieldwork methods she examines the disabilities suffered by both white and coloured researchers into race relationships. Herself an educated Englishwoman of the middle class, she early puts the reader on guard against instinctive biases which he may legitimately expect from one of her particular background and experience. Miss Patterson does well to make the reader aware of possible tangents. We shall indicate one which seems to us the result of this legitimate consciousness of the ever-present danger of bias.

The concentration on Brixton allows an investigation of both historical movement and social actuality, fortified with intensive personal experiences. We see the early coloured settlements in Brixton. Migrants at work leads us to employers, employment exchanges, and in time trade unions. Housing gets nearly fifty pages. The migrants are not only the objects but the subjects of the sociological investigation. We see not only what is being done for (and to) them. What they are doing for themselves, their own responses to a new environment, are constantly before us, either directly or indirectly. And here emerges perhaps another bias. In the West Indies and elsewhere I have been overwhelmingly and increasingly conscious of the fact that the material and intellectual structure of West Indian life is European, in this case British. In one mind at least the meticulous examination of differentiation obscures the fact that West Indian migrants for good and ill are not Pakistanis. Nigerians, Cypriots. Strangers they undoubtedly are; in the world in which we live their darkness does separate them more than is rational.

The book ends on a note of restrained but definite expectation that integration of West Indians will be easier than the catalogue of difficulties implies. Coming from so solid and sober an examination it should strengthen this attitude in all spheres. It is an attitude which needs strengthening.

Last updated on 10 April 2010