Windrush (1948) and Rivers of Blood (1968): Legacy and Assessment
Dates: 24-25 May 2018 (deadline for abstract submission: October 15, 2017)
Location: Logis du Roy, Amiens, Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France
Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Trevor Phillips, OBE
The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury on 22 June 1948 has been described by Patrick Vernon as “a powerful and iconic symbol of the rise of modern-day multicultural Britain.” In many ways, the 492 migrants who arrived that day have come to symbolize all post-war Commonwealth settlers in Britain and its transition to a multicultural society, in which race relations have become a major and permanent theme.
Influenced by imperialist propaganda, Commonwealth migrants often considered Britain as their “mother country”. Yet, their integration was not as smooth as they expected or hoped. In their hitherto idealised Britain they were often considered “aliens.” In practice, the decolonisation process and the consequent demise of Empire meant that, increasingly, post-war Britain could no longer uphold the ideal of a “Greater Britain,” and migration from the expanding Commonwealth was no longer perceived as internal migration within a single entity, but as immigration from “overseas.” Both migrants and Britons had to adjust their sense of belonging to a new, post-imperial society.
These migrant counterflows were often resented as an unfortunate reversal of fortune, and arrivals from previously colonised territories were increasingly seen as intruders upon the formerly all-powerful imperial centre. The ensuing rise of xenophobia and the many ordeals undergone by Commonwealth migrants to Britain represented a danger to the already shifting definition of Britishness, undermined by the end of Empire as well as by the post-war economic, social and political difficulties in Britain. Seen as a threat to the stability of British society, Commonwealth immigration led to polarisation and the migrants’ ethnic classification by virtue of which they were sometimes perceived as a sub-race, an unwanted group adversely affecting Britain’s traditions, its racial “purity” and national identity. This rise of xenophobia was most visibly embodied in the resistance to immigration of the advocate of repatriation, Enoch Powell, and his infamous 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech.
In parallel with decolonisation and growing international resistance to colonialism, notably in the United Nations’ 1960 “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples,” Britain witnessed its own reaction to anti-immigration propaganda and the birth of forms of activism condemning anti-migrant attitudes, an activism which found legislative expression in the Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968, and 1976 that officially addressed the issue of racial discrimination.
Britain, in short, underwent a post-war migration “crisis,” and the anniversaries of the arrival of the Windrush (1948) and Enoch Powell’s now infamous speech (1968) are an appropriate point at which to take stock of this important legacy, to assess the effects of those key moments and the fundamental changes which they undoubtedly brought about.
This two-day conference aims to examine the structural forces at the root of the migration “crisis,” and the growing racial essentialism in Britain, and to reappraise the Commonwealth migrants’ heritage and contribution to shaping modern Britain. Indeed, several cultural events are clear signs of the migrants’ artistic and cultural influences in Britain, such as, among others, the Notting Hill Carnival – initiated as a response to the 1958 Notting Hill riots – and the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, “Staying Power.” These attest to the redefinition of Britishness in the post-Windrush period. Marked by both resistance and adaptation, Commonwealth identities were strenuously negotiated in Britain. If the Commonwealth migrants’ contribution to Britishness in politics, culture, food, sports and the arts cannot be underestimated, is it true to claim, as some commentators have, that Britain has experienced creolisation?
We invite proposals for papers dealing with the legacy of Windrush and/or “Rivers of Blood.” Possible themes include, but are not limited to:
– “Windrush Day”
– the racialisation of black immigration to Britain post-Windrush
– mental health issues among post-war migrants to Britain
– perceptions and representations of migrant sexuality
– gender and race in post-war migration flows
– race, citizenship, nation : race relations legislation, its origins and consequences
– musical legacies of Commonwealth migrants in Britain
– Windrush and Rivers of Blood on stage, on screen and in the arts
– Commonwealth migration and linguistic influences on British English
– migrants and education in post-war Britain
– Commonwealth migrants and the NHS
– influence of former colonial cultures on Britishness: the “Creolisation” of Britain
– Cosmopolitanism in post-war Britain
– the Notting Hill Carnival and symbols of multiculturalis
– demographics / urban impacts and slums / ethnic neighbourhoods
Please send a 200-word abstract and a short academic biography to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. The deadline for submission of abstracts is October 15, 2017. A selection of papers will be published in an edited volume.
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