Unsettling the Centre: Black British Fiction

  • Suzanne Scafe
Part of the The History of British Women’s Writing book series (HBWW)


‘Black British’, as a category of ethnic, racial, or political identity, is leaky and imprecise, serving most usefully to describe how individuals and their work are positioned both in contemporary British society and in relation to their pasts. In the late 1970s and 1980s ‘black British’ was commonly used to designate ‘an “imagined community” comprising Caribbean, African, and South Asian experience in Britain’, whose presence reflected its historical entanglement and the continued movement of populations between colonial territories and the metropolitan centre.1 ‘Black’ also defined a culturally ‘united front against an increasingly explicit racialised white national community’, and was/is used as an aesthetic signifier of difference (Procter, p. 5). While more recently ‘black’ has been used to refer to a specific cultural heritage, whose identity is marked on the body as ‘blackness’,2 such a designation necessarily exists in the context of a view of culture that ‘accentuates its plastic, syncretic qualities and which does not see culture flowing into neat ethnic parcels but as a radically unfinished social process of self-definition and transformation’.3 It is a view of history as a process of ‘re-collection, a re-assemblage of the past’ (Procter, p. 2). As Buchi Emecheta’s character Francis implies in Second-Class Citizen (1974), ‘black’ was a learned and, for many migrants, a deficit identity: ‘West Indian, the Pakistanis … Indians [and] African students are usually grouped together … We are all blacks … and the only houses we can get are horrors like these.’4


Class Citizen Woman Writer African Literature Comparative Literature Study Aesthetic Signifier 
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© Suzanne Scafe 2015

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  • Suzanne Scafe

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