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International Socialism, Winter 1960/61


Ioan Davies

A way of seeing


From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, p.31.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Pleasures of Exile
George Lamming
Michael Joseph. 21s.

Newcomers; The West Indians in London
Ruth Glass
Allen & Unwin. 21s.

“A large number of the people who felt so bitterly about the incidents in Notting Hill feel no less bitterly about the presence of these black men in this overcrowded country.” This quote from George Lamming is at the heart of both these books – one a sociological survey of the problems facing West Indians and British natives in mutual relations, the other a West Indian writer’s explanation of why he chooses exile. Both deal with the British split mind over colour and race, and, as Ruth Glass says, it is the West Indians “who are asked to conform. The fact that adaptation is a two-way process has hardly as yet been taken seriously ...”

To Lamming the issue is far more than one of adaptation: the West Indian must conquer the “castle” and, in his poetical analogy, reverse the roles of Caliban, the colonial, and Prospero, his master. For Prospero “the game is up ... Colonised by his own ambition, his role is now completely reversed. Prospero is once again face to face with what is urgent and near-impossible. And he is terrified.”

If Lamming’s book is frequently romantic and loosely-composed, it contains some of the most direct insight into Negro-British relations yet to appear. It is the first post-Notting Hill West Indian book to take the riots into consideration, and it is also one of the clearest statements of the colonial situation. Written for West Indians, it covers the Caribbean political scene with its naive imperialism, it brilliantly treats the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian Revolutionary, considers en passant the Black Jacobins and the major West Indian thinker C.L.R. James, and contains an account of a visit to Africa and the “shock of familiarity”. The first two and the last chapters, making categorical statements on West Indian literature and life in Britain, scintillatingly expose our tedious insular literature for what it is: a cultural Notting Hill. (Evelyn Waugh has said recently that he no longer stays in London because it has “ceased to be English”. We are fortunate, in the face of such arrogance, to have a Lamming with us.)

Ruth Glass has tabulated the problems on a more scientific scale scotching several myths, and has, besides going into lengthy detail of the Notting Hill cases, analysed both British and West Indian attitudes. Being deliberately partisan, she has set out to study how West Indians may be assimilated, and explores the several obstacles to complete integration. As in Lamming’s book, the police and the establishment come in for heavy criticism, and the differences in British and American law usefully compared. If there is any criticism, it falls on an exaggerated emphasis on the part played by the Mosley squads, on the excessive use of press clippings, and on an inadequate criticism of the political parties here which have treated the problems with platitudes. But by usefully recalling earlier race riots she has shown that Notting Hil was no new phenomenon in this country.

On a recent TV programme, Lamming said that if he were Cuban he would today be in Havana. Being here, he and his fellow-countrymen may assist in cracking the basis of that hypocrite society that treats Negroes as dogs to be alternately petted or kicked. The fraud of paternalism must be attacked from within the “castle”.

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Last updated on 14 February 2010