Blackness in Britain - review

This new publication, Blackness in Britain, edited by Kehinde Andrews and Lisa Amanda Palmer and published by Routledge, begins with a bold assertion: “Blackness in Britain has been frequently and too often framed through the lens of racialised deficits constructed as both marginal and pathological” (p. i). One can of course recognize this approach as the foundational and systemic way in which much of the mainstream media frames Black people. It is, though, the academy as a site of Black British struggle that most concerns Andrews and Palmer in their attempts to table what is on the one hand an exploration of Blackness in twenty-first-century Britain, and on the other hand, a manifesto, or an argument, for an academia that takes respectful account of the presence of Black British academics and the subjects and histories they study.

This book emerged as a direct consequence of the “first Blackness in Britain interdisciplinary conference held in 2013 which brought together academics and community activists working in this field” (p. xi). It features fourteen contributors, whose texts appear across five sections, plus Palmer’s introduction and Andrews’s conclusion. Palmer’s rich, layered, and informative introduction early on alludes to an important paradox relating to Black British studies. “Ironically, British Black studies as a field of critical enquiry is taken much more seriously in the US academy where a generation of Black British scholarship has been produced by African American Scholars and Black British scholars who have migrated to the US.” Palmer then goes on to outline the rationale and the importance of Blackness in Britain: to present the work of a “new generation of academics engaged with scholarly activism around Black studies in Britain who seek to place this important field of enquiry on to the academic curriculum and contribute to the development of this academic discipline in Britain” (p. 1).

Following Palmer’s introduction, part 1, “Black Studies and the Challenge of the Black British Intellectual,” features two texts, “The Absence of Black Studies in Britain” by Palmer and “Invisible Outsider: Reflections from beyond the Ivory Tower” by Martin Glynn. Palmer’s is a well-argued and well-constructed demand for Black studies to be embedded in British university curricula. She suggests that “Black studies in Britain has an important role to play in undoing and redressing knowledge power imbalances by dismantling binary structures of knowing that obscure the systematic racial order of contemporary Britain” (p. 17). In her conclusion, Palmer sees Black studies as being a challenge to the ways in which the unnamed but nevertheless real entity of “White studies” dominates within the academy. “Embedding Black studies can intervene in the process of dismantling coloniality by helping us to see the specificity of ‘White studies’ as a particular form of knowledge production” (p. 21). Parts 2 through 5 each consists of three texts, which collectively cover a range of varied subjects, pointing, perhaps, to the pronounced comprehensiveness that Black British studies is, and wants to see, manifest in British universities. Subjects as varied as literature, music, theology, education of Black children, health, and so on are assessed in the book’s texts.

The above extracts are from a review of Blackness in Britain (Routledge, 2016) published by H-Net Reviews, October 2018.