Surya Bonaly was not your typical figure skater. She was black. She was athletic. And she didn’t seem to care about artistry. Her performances – punctuated by triple-triple jumps and other power moves – thrilled audiences around the world. Yet, commentators claimed she couldn’t skate, and judges never gave her the high marks she felt she deserved. But Surya didn’t accept that criticism. Unlike her competitors – ice princesses who hid behind demure smiles – Surya made her feelings known. And, at her final Olympic performance, she attempted one jump that flew in the face of the establishment, and marked her for life as a rebel. More at Radio Lab and listen to the Full podcast below.
Modern Day Slavery in Focus
They live in some of London’s most exclusive locations, cooking, cleaning and caring for the children of a rich foreign elite. But for many overseas domestic workers, the veneer of reflected glamour conceals a much darker world, one in which they are denied a passport, salary, food and even sleep while working 20-hour days. Unable to sever ties with their employers due to UK visa restrictions, and fearful of deportation or even arrest if they turn to the authorities, their only real source of hope lies with the small but increasingly vocal group of women who help them escape, and are now fighting to secure a change in the law.
Video courtesy of The Guardian.
Actor David Oyelowo, who stars in the new film “Captive” (and recently voiced the audiobook for the new James Bond thriller “Trigger Mortis”) talks to Charlie Rose about the debate over having a black actor take on the Bond role — and about why Hollywood needs to catch up to what audiences want to see. The interview airs Sept. 17, 2015 on PBS. Visit The Charlie Rose Website for more.
Knowledge is power.
The context of identity can be seen as a major component throughout Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners. Selvon’s novel explores the experience of newly arrived immigrants from the West Indies during the 1950s, which struggle forging their own Black identity with British society. While these fictional migrant characters reflect British multiculturalism, they also bring into question the impact of the British colonial empire on British identity and citizenship. In this respect, this essay focuses on the literary analysis of The Lonely Londoners and uses it to show how British identity is a complex and shifting phenomenon. Furthermore, this essay highlights the urban realities of racism and poverty in the development of a cosmopolitan London, a metaphor for the condition of living between other people, values, and spaces.
West Indian immigration throughout the 1950s had a major impact on the ethnic make-up of British identity. Most of Selvon’s fictional characters represented the small, but steadily growing stream of new non-white immigrants. According to the 1961 British Census, more than 173,000 individuals living in Britain claimed West Indian ancestry, compared to only 17,218 in 1951 (Peach 1991). These new arrivals were overwhelmingly males who sought employment and hoped to save enough money so that they could restore the wealth and status of their families back in their home countries. Sure enough, because they came from British Commonwealth countries, they held British passports, which allowed them to freely travel between mainland Britain and their home countries (Hansen 1999). As a consequence, their lawful immigrant status as a “British subject” raised questions about what it meant to be British.
The influx of West Indian immigrants brought forth pervasive cultural changes to British society. Selvon’s work is representative of Britain’s massive cultural change and the persistence of distinctive West Indian cultural traditions. In describing the shifts in London’s cultural values, Selvon writes:
“London is a place like that. It divides up in little worlds, and you stay in the world you belong to and you don’t know anything about what happening in the other ones except what you read in the papers” (60).
As shown, new arrivals not only face the isolation of being an immigrant in a foreign country, but also inadvertently develop British values focused on individualism. Selvon illustrates the migration as process of social change, which involves leaving family, friends, and other loved behind in order to acculturate into mainstream culture. Selvon continues, “Still every man on his own…You going to meet a lot of fellars from home who don’t even want to talk to you” (17). In other words, new arrivals are shocked to discover that their values focused on comradery and community are no longer widely accepted. Instead migrants, like Selvon’s Captain, turn to London’s growing post-war values on consumerism. Despite the need to maintain their savings and hold family remittances as a priority, migrants like Captain fall into London’s consumer culture. They are constantly faced with the need to spend and be entertained as a means to attain status in London and temporarily escape their impoverished realities. Selvon describes Captain’s lavish dating lifestyle:
“Cap had an Austrian girl who was a sharp dresser, all kind of fur coat in the winter, and in the summer some kind of dress that making fellars whistle…This kind of life going on, and the Austrian trying she best to make Cap look for work” (34).
Captain’s story is very interesting because he lives the life of a “hustler” who manages to buy material items and maintain his dating lifestyle, all while he deals with constant unemployment and debt.
Similarly, with the transformation of Britain’s population and values, the public space begins to reflect a multi-cultural Britain. As illustrated in the novel, Waterloo becomes the migrant gateway to the city throughout the 1950s. As Selvon writes on the arrival of Moses and Galahad at Waterloo’s docks, he alludes to the arrival of the Empire Windrush to Tilbury Docks in 1948. Selvon writes, “The thought never occurred to him to go to Waterloo just to see who coming up from the West Indies. Still, the station is that sort of place where you have a soft feeling” (5). Waterloo, like the Tilbury docks, and the “soft feeling” that Moses gets represent a symbolic beginning to the migration process, a rite of passage into an established British identity. Similarly, Selvon acknowledges the transformation of British restaurants, shops, and government offices into community centers catered to multiethnic migrants. Selvon illustrates the growing diversity among small businesses throughout London:
“This test who had the grocery, from the time spades start to settle in the district, he find out what sort of things they like to eat…as long as the spades spending money he don’t care, in fact is big encouragement” (63).
By describing these grocery stores run by white British shopkeepers, Selvon refers to the transformation of British neighborhoods into places of leisure and consumption tailored to nonwhite migrants. Many white British individuals saw the benefits in expanding the commodification of ethno cultural diversity in London’s urban markets is crucial to the transformation of the city itself.
However, not all white residents saw the potential value of incorporating non-white migrants to British society, which only lead to the upsurge of racism and further impoverished communities. Many nonwhite migrants endured unemployment and homelessness due to housing and job discrimination. Selvon illustrates Galahad’s struggle finding a job shortly after arriving into London, “Suppose a vacancy come and they want to send a fellar, first they will find out if the firm want coloured fellars before they send you” (28). Selvon’s depiction of London parallels the realities of discrimination in London throughout the 1950s, which highly resembled the conditions set forth by Jim Crow laws in the United States. Research performed on Britain’s unofficial racial code of the 1950s highlights, “no blacks, no dogs signs were not rare sights in houses and shop windows across Britain” (Joppke 1996). Galahad’s encounter with a white girl and her mother on London’s public streets best illustrates the anti-immigrant response throughout British society. As Galahad walks on London’s public streets, a little white girl shouts and makes Galahad aware that he is a black man (76). This scene not only depicts the constant public harassment that black migrants underwent, but also the internalization of an inferior British identity. Shortly after, Galahad questions his racial identity and states, “Colour, is you that causing all this, you know. Why the hell you can’t be blue, or red or green, if you can’t be white?” (77). This scene starkly raises the question of what entails British identity, while labeling the black migrant as the inferior “other”.
The migration of non-white individuals from the West Indies had a dramatic impact on the population, values, and landscape of British society. With the economic recovery that got underway after World War II, nonwhite migrants from Commonwealth countries flocked into London’s ports. Most of these migrants sought to return to send remittances back home and return to their home countries, but they soon began to adopt values of consumerism and individualism to incorporate into the larger mainstream British society. Selvon’s work is fundamental in highlighting how migrants reformulated British identity, and as a consequence, gave rise to anti-immigrant and racist sentiments among the host society.
Nije, César || UCEAP 2015
Hansen, Randall. “The Kenyan Asians, British Politics, and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968.” The Historical Journal 42.03 (1999): 809-834.
Joppke, Christian. “Multiculturalism and immigration: A comparison of the United States, Germany, and Great Britain.” Theory and society 25.4 (1996): 449-500.
Peach, Ceri. The Caribbean in Europe: contrasting patterns of migration and settlement in Britain, France and the Netherlands. Coventry: Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, 1991.
Should citizenship be something one must aspire to earn, as Finkielkraut believes? As one of France’s most controversial essayists, Alain Finkielkraut surprisingly admits that the jus soli, or French citizenship by “right of the soil”, is justified. Still Finkielkraut acknowledges that obtaining French citizenship should also require the “act of wanting to be French”. This viewpoint, especially with the rise of the Front National, has particularly grown widespread in Europe today, and most of all France. Yet, French citizenship should not be limited to something one must aspire to earn because it can eventually lead to extremist and xenophobic sentiments.
Finkielkraut’s misguided viewpoint is reflected in Richard Millet’s writing following the July 22, 2011 extremist attack involving Anders Breivik. Breivik was an extremist who set out to massacre more than 77 individuals in Oslo as he condemned the growing multiculturalism in Europe. Breivik was not French, but would later be brought to trail under a French Parisian court for his involvement in the terrorist attack. Smith’s Ragnarok on the Seine highlights how Richard Millet, a well-known French novelist, served as a “literary” apologist to Breivik’s extremism. Smith writes, “Millet believes that literature’s principal function is to preserve language, and along with it memory, blood, and identity…Thus, Breivik’s work is a work of literature to the extent that it seeks to preserve the purity of language and culture” (31). Like Finkielkraut, Millet appears to support the idea that French identity, including citizenship, should be reserved for those that conform to French republican values. Consequently, Millet was banned from the mainstream French media because he perpetuated the same extremist sentiments that Breivik used to market his manifesto on the annihilation of multiculturalism.
Likewise, limiting citizenship to those that earn it by conforming to French republican ideals is problematic because it encompasses xenophobia. In his New York Times op-ed piece, “Does Immigration Mean ‘France is Over’?” Smith writes:
“Alain Finkielkraut bemoans the ‘metissage’ of France, a term one often sees in the slogans of the far right, which translates roughly as mongrelization. The author, whose father throughout his career of what he calls the ‘duty of memory,’ claims to be defending the values of the ‘français de souche” – the real French.” (3).
Smith proposes that Finkielkraut’s statements and viewpoint on French identity and citizenship simply depict the rising xenophobia in France. Smith continues by writing on the landscape and population that makes up French society and how it has largely been affected by the influx of immigrants from Muslim countries and former French colonies. Finkielkraut expects to have all those who want to become French citizens to internalize the values of the ‘français de souche”, mainly republican ideals. Yet, he fails to take into account that republican ideals were constructed during the time of the Revolution, when most French citizens were of European stock, mostly isolated from the non-western world. The French republican values that Finkielkraut promotes has historically been limited to those that lived in continental France, mainly a population of white European stock in contrast with recent black and Arab immigrants.
Nije, César || UCEAP Spring 2015
Nation and Identity in France
Knowledge is power.
Unlike the multitude of other Parisian museums, the Quai Branly focuses on art forms from the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, cramming together art pieces whose roles are to provide meaning and purpose to the daily lives of people from across the non-western world.
The museum attempts to pave a cross-cultural pathway and even places introductory text next to each art piece so that the visitor is required to know nothing about non-western art. Still, like most ethnographic museums, the Quai Branly embodies an onlooker’s own western definition of non-western authenticity.
This is problematic because the museum curates a group of non-western objects that have the general aspect of being the “primitive” forms of non-western art, which simply perpetuates the historical exoticizaition of the non-western world.
The display of the Quai Branly’s art makes it more likely for special distinctions to fade and turn into the visitor’s own general western assumptions. At many times, the labeling across the museum describes the work done by an “unknown” artist who simply fits the image of the non-western diaspora.
The Quai Branly simply “zooms in on the feathers, nose-flutes, scarification motifs, and divinatory practices, but leaves out the Coke bottles, the cell phones, the Nike shoes, and TV images of children dying of AIDS” (Price 171). In other words, the Quai Branly exemplifies the “pre-contact” past and groups non-western art as a “primitive” form of art. Each Quai Branly gallery room represents only the most “exotic” countries in the non-western world, which is why it is much more likely to encounter art pieces from former French colonies.
The Quai Branly art collection not only exoticizes former French colonies, but also pays little tribute to discuss the problem of colonization. Many of the art pieces were obtained at the height of French colonial rule, often through the use of force and violence.
The museum replicates what Franz Fanon’s post-colonial studies in Black Skin, White Mask defined as the motive of colonization. Fanon writes, “ inferiorization is the native correlative to the European’s feeling of superiority” (73). Fanon suggests that the museum uses the same tactics used by colonizers to “peek” into the lives of the non-western world. Soon enough, the art gallery begins to displace and label the non-western as the “strange other” compared to the familiar western world. This label originally set forth by French colonizers views the identity of the French empire, and the western world in general, as superior and the non-western world as inferior.
By defining the exotic and “strange other” the Quai Branly ultimately defines a privileged western culture. The Quai Branly reproduces a civilized western “us” and non-western “other” dichotomy that prevails in Western public spaces.
Price holds multiple interviews with visitors in which she discovers the boundaries that exist between the two. She writes, “For some visitors, an us/them alterity was the whole point…the ‘magnificent’ objects on display ‘define the mission of the museum- to demonstrate the great differences between the West and the rest of the world” (Price 174). As Price suggests, this is further exemplified with the placement of “primitive” non-western art to the beauty of western technological masterpieces, high-resolution projectors, touch screen televisions, and IPads. Fanon continues, “Let us have the courage to say, it is the racist who creates the inferiorized” (73). These words emphasize how the promotion of a “superior” western culture is heavily dependent on the historical racism brought forth against the non-western world and its art. The French, like many other major Western populations stemmed from a predominantly white culture in contrast to its diverse colonies of color, which produced most of the Quai Branly art collection.
Thus, it is imperative for the Quai Branly museum to educate visitors on the western bias that goes behind most ethnographic museums. After hearing the testimonies from the museum’s early visitors, Price concluded that the Quai Branly should “promote historical consciousness about relations of domination that account for the domination of the world’s patrimony” (170). Price suggests that the museum must focus on the nationalism, colonial conquest, and civilizing mission tied to the collection. In other words, from its labeling to its gallery placements, it must show that the museum and its collection is a consequence of colonization. In turn, this will allow visitors to have a much more open interpretation of the art pieces and will give them an opportunity to learn that the colonial period is part of both western and non-western heritage.
Visitors of the Quai Branly museum are simply left with the western interpretation that non-western art is supposed to look exotic, primitive, and tied to a pre-colonial past. The Quai Branly collection clearly has art unique pieces from different cultures, but displays it to conform to the normative view of the pre-colonial non-western world. The collection is modeled from the remnants of French colonization that gives impression on how non-western world is deemed inferior to western superiority. In order to achieve the true inter-cultural dialogue that it promotes, the museum should highlight how western and non-western share more commonalities than differences through a shared heritage of colonization.
I created this blog in early March 2015 gearing up for my Gilman study abroad thoughts, experiences, and recommendations in London & Paris.
P.S. Stay tuned for weekly posts throughout my trip and feel free to comment 🙂
French with Prof. Rozenkopf at Los Angeles Community College (LACC) was one of my favorite parts of the day throughout my ninth grade, which is why I dreamt about traveling abroad in college.
Now eight years later, I’m packing my bags for my first true study abroad adventure with UCEAP! Am I nervous? Well, let me just put it this way.
2. Rome & Florence
This is my confirmed itinerary for spring quarter in Europe. This is where I ask you all to please send me some tips on packing and dealing with my legendary insomnia when I’m nervous.