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Special Issue 44

March 2017

RON RAMDIN

ON RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCE A Dedication to Ron Ramdin for his contribution to Literature in the Diaspora

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As part of our 2017 initiative to feature a prolific figure in the diaspora, it is with a somewhat different slant as we dedicate this issue to a Trinidadian son, Ron Ramdin.

Production and concept: D.T. Kalloo

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Making of The Black Working Class in Britain and to mark the occasion, the book is being republished in August. Last year as part of Ron Ramdin’s long standing affiliation as a Union activist the TUC hosted an evening In Conversation with Ron Ramdin, historian, biographer and author at their London headquarters as part of the 30th anniversary of the book.

Culturepulse is designed and produced by Cashewmedia ltd and published online through www.issuu.com Copyright 2017 Views and comments expressed by contributors are not necessary those of Culturepulse or Cashewmedia Ltd but of the author/s.

The Making of The Black Working Class in Britain

For all enquiries, please contact: 07738864335

was the first comprehensive ‘historical perspective’ focussing on the relationship between black workers ‘and the changing patterns’ of Britain’s labour needs. It is by far the most impressive account of Africans, West Indians and Asians fight to become ‘established, organised and treated as equal citizens’ in Britain. History Today describes Ron Ramdin’s book as ‘the burgeoning literature on the history of black people in Britain.’

cashewmedialtd@gmail.com Culturepulse list of contributors’ to making the magazine a success. Natalie Alicia Dookie Lyndon Brathwaite, Ansel Wong, David Wears, Chris Boothman, Nasser Khan, Malaika Crichlow, Amos Armstrong, Soshina Stephen, David Rudder, Jimmy Kainja, Paul Ade, Akilah Holder-Stewart, Michael La Rose, Dr Michelle Yaa, Dr Juanita CoxWestmaas, Dianne A Kalloo, Shabaka Thompson, Ron Ramdin, Rhianna Kalloo, Angelique, Dorothy Scott, Memory Pincheck, Erica Williams-Connell, Darren Lewis, Tessa Robinson, Cindy Mollineau, Omardath Maharaj,

In this issue of Culturepulse and with the kind permission of Ron Ramdin, we are republishing his autobiographical essay ‘With Respect for Difference.’ As editor of Culturepulse, Ron and I have had numerous conversations regarding ‘With Respect for Difference’ and it had been his beacon for understanding the world we live in with its multitude of races and cultures that all intermingle in the ever-changing metropolis.

Selena Carty, Alison Bajaican, Mahalia Mayne, Afridiziak and Ron Ramdin.

I was privileged in 2015 over breakfast, not a stonethrow away from the British Library to be presented with one of the first copy of Ron Ramdin’s colossus work, Turning Pages: The Extraordinary Autobiography of Ron Ramdin. Trinidadian artist Willi Chen describes it as a; “…purposeful and precious service to humanity…Trinidad and Tobago now shines like a beacon with your illustrious contribution.” Ron’s humility and ‘On Respect for Difference’ has made him an outstanding thinker of our time.

ON RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCE: AN ORIGINAL ESSAY RON RAMDIN By Copyright © 2016 Ron Ramdin First Published 2016 PO Box 66331 London NW6 9QQ Re published with the kind permission of the author. www.ronramdin.com ronramdin11@gmail.com ISBN: 978-0-9569135-4-8

David Kalloo Editor 2


Ron Ramdin is a pioneering writer and prolific historian of Caribbean and British Black and Asian history. His writings span seven genres including novels, travel, a play and essays. Ramdin was born in Trinidad and emigrated to London in 1962 where he has lived and worked ever since. He attended the University of Middlesex where he achieved a diploma in Industrial Relations before going on to the London School of Economics where he graduated with BSc degree. Ramdin served as the Union Official at the British Museum where he held the post of Secretary of the Civil Service Union for 10 years. He was also a member of the National Museums and Galleries Select Executive Committee. He was elected first secretary of the Whitley Council when the British Library was formed in July 1973. Between 1982 and 2016, Ron Ramdin has written 16 books, among them the celebrated The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain, The Griot’s Tale, Isabella’s Legacy: My Discovery of Spain and his colossus autobiography Turning Pages are among Ramdin’s works. Ramdin has spent the greater part of his life dedicating himself to writing about the contribution made by Africans and Asian people in Britain that helped to develop an Empire that has often shown oppressiveness rather than gratitude. In his biographical essay ‘On Respect for Difference’ he reflects on the bitterness of colonialism and indentureship as he observes in his essay: ‘I took heed that we were ALL

‘God’s children,’ a recurring, even comforting thought. But in spite of the goodness of Christian or other religious teachings and principles, from boyhood to teenage hood, more often than not, communal quarrels and fights continued to occur. Later, I learned about Imperialism, Colonisation and how Europeans’ perception and attitudes towards Africans and Asians had led to African chattel Slavery and Indian Indentureship (wage slavery) on the plantations of the New World. Eventually, both systems of labour control were abolished; ‘Indentureship’ just twenty-five years before I was born.’ Ramdin’s writing is honest and provocative and it may be something that has kept him away from the limelight as some of the other Caribbean writers enjoyed. Or, maybe his quiet intellect better serves his purpose for the quality of his work. Although he hasn’t ridden the crest of the limelight waves does not mean he was not noticed. In 1997, he received the Higher Doctorate degree, Doctor of Literature from the University of London. He was elected fellow to the Royal Historical Society in 1996 and Royal Society of Arts in 1999. He received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Mayor of Chaguanas (Trinidad) in 2009, named ‘Man of the Year’ in 2006 by the International Peace Prize awarded by the American Biographical Institute. The Outstanding Achievement Award from the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London 2006 and the recipient of the Scarlet Ibis (Gold) award from the Trinidad and Tobago government in 1990 and in the same year the recipient of the Hansib Caribbean Times British Community Award. He is also Patron of The Committee for the Brian Lara Stadium in Trinidad.

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ON RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCE: AN ORIGINAL ESSAY RON RAMDIN

‘Socrates had refused to compromise his personal integrity. Plato, with all his uncompromising canvass-cleaning, was led along a path on which he compromised his integrity with every step he took. He was forced to combat free thought, and the pursuit of truth. He was led to defend lying, political miracles, tabooistic superstition, the suppression of truth, and ultimately brutal violence. In spite of Socrates’ warning against misanthropy and misology, he was led to distrust man and to fear argument. In spite of his own hatred of tyranny, he was led to look to a tyrant for help, and to defend the most tyrannical measures…He did not succeed in arresting social change…Instead, he succeeded in binding himself, by his own spell, to powers which once he had hated.’ (Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume One: The Spell of Plato (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 2010). ‘What is common to us is our difference.’ - (Ron Ramdin, Notes on Reimaging Britain, Pluto Press, London, 1999; Turning Pages: The Extraordinary Autobiography of Ron

Ramdin, Compass, London, 2015). ‘Difference is the DNA of social relations.’ - (Ron Ramdin: Notes on Turning Pages: The

Extraordinary Autobiography of Ron Ramdin, Compass, London, 2015).

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ON RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCE By Ron Ramdin Even though it was obvious, the small Trinidad village in which I grew up was unremarkable for two main reasons: first, unlike other rural communities within the ‘Sugar Belt,’ this place was not typical in that it stood at the margin of modernity near a burgeoning industrial town; and secondly, its inhabitants formed a microcosm of the wider population of Trinidad which was then one of the most cosmopolitan areas in the world. Within the social and economic structure of the village, my family was located at the lower end. And while on the Eastern side of our small house on the Sand Road the residents were AfroTrinidadians, those who lived on the other side were IndoTrinidadians, a devout Hindu family. Beyond these sides were Christians, Muslims and a variety of others. Of all the lessons inculcated in me by my parents, whenever I’d been involved or had been witness to quarrels between local people on the grounds of Otherness (on ‘race,’ tribe, caste, class, colour, gender, culture and religion, for example) I took heed that we were ALL ‘God’s children,’ a recurring, even comforting thought. But in spite of the goodness of Christian or other religious teachings and principles, from boyhood to teenagehood, more often than not, communal quarrels and fights continued to occur. Later, I learned about Imperialism, Colonisation and how Europeans’ perception and attitudes towards Africans and Asians had led to African chattel Slavery and Indian Indentureship (wage slavery) on the plantations of the New World. Eventually, both systems of labour control were abolished; ‘Indentureship’ just twenty-five years before I was born. In spite of the camaraderie arising from the ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood’ of having been in bondage, the difference in backgrounds between the neighbours on either side of our house was clear enough, but of little or no concern to me then. With time, as I came to know that my father’s Hindu name was ‘Hardeo,’ I also got used to his contemporaries calling him ‘Bing,’ nicknamed after the popular American Crooner Bing Crosby. While the external difference between the imitator and the imitated was clear, my father’s participation in ‘Western’ culture marked a cultural shift away from the older generation of Indians who had kept alive Hindu-Muslim traditions, especially Indian languages, one of which was Hindi. Of the less spoken Urdu and Bhojpuri, I understood nothing. I also heard new words: Chamar, Coolie, Madinga and Madrasee; uttered often in anger, venting raw inner feelings; and ever since I could remember, like a soundtrack in the background, there was the incomprehensible babble of older Indians’ bilingual conversations (in particular, their ‘broken English’ pronunciations) which I, as a child, laughed at as being odd, ‘funny sounding’ and old-fashioned. English of the highest quality, both written and 5


spoken, was what all who vied for ‘education’ and ‘betterment’ had hoped to achieve. Broadly speaking, few black or Indian men and women in the tightly structured ‘race,’ class, colour-based society of Colonial Trinidad had achieved this. Why? Simply because the potential achievers were drawn largely from the well-to-do Classes who lived mainly in the towns of Port of Spain and San Fernando. Nana, my maternal grandfather, knew why he’d left India, but perhaps he didn’t know (or cared to know) why he’d been living for so long on the breadline, at the margins of society. Even as late as the early 1950s, thirty-three years after the abolition of Indentureship, education was not seen by the ruling Elite and Colonial officials as essential to the Indians’ development. Indeed some thirty years earlier, sugar planters were adamant that the system of Indenture was in need of labourers not educated Indians! So decades of relentless hard labour in all weathers on the cane fields may have contained the resistant mutterings of Nana and stunted his speech to such an extent that it was difficult for him to articulate even the simplest words in the plantation master’s tongue. But this, I believe, was only partially true. Why? As it was, he was never given the chance to learn the English language. If his ‘muteness’ had alienated him from English speakers, his estrangement from us at home and, by extension, from the wider society, was accentuated by the uncompromising expression of his Indianness: notably the wearing of his dhoti, his ‘strange’ Indians dress, which made him appear as even more of a stranger on the Sand Road. Youth that I was I did not think it unkind to regard him as an ‘Outsider.’ Many of us of a younger generation thought he was out of step with the times. ‘This is Trinidad man, not India!’ we often said to him. Impertinence was the name of the game for anyone who either dressed or looked different. Why, as one of the few survivors of Indentureship, should he not be proud of his Indianness? The attitude of some Indians and others towards Nana as an ‘alien’ did not sit well with my boyish view of myself and all that was being impressed upon me at the nearby Presbyterian School. Here, Indian pupils not only learned to read and write English, they were also indoctrinated in the Christian religion, as well as being Creolised which meant wearing Western clothes: trousers and shirts, not a dhoti. So for all his seeming oddness, more and more, Nana’s presence took greater hold of me as my responsibilities at home made me more curious about people outside the family. For example, of the Indians living on the Sand Road and beyond, most, if not all, were Trinidad-born; and, regardless of his disadvantages, I began to think of Nana as a notch above them: he was authentic. But being ‘India-born’ and living among Creolised people in the Westernised New World of a Trinidad plantation village, Nana’s evident marginality was perhaps inevitable; and the more I tried to understand this, the more he grew in stature and importance in my mind. Gradually, as the veil of ignorance about my grandfather lifted, while appreciating his stoic, powerful presence (in subsequent years and in varying circumstances) I learned that for many older, local-born Indians, the practice of Hinduism, Islam and the general sense of their homeland 6


(their Indianness) were aspects of their lives not well-received by non-Indians. Nana was seen as one of a group: indeed, on the face of it, one could hardly tell the difference between him and many other Indians. Nonetheless, I was aware of his specialness; and with the passage of time, as his once almost forbidding ‘strangeness’ diminished markedly, my empathy and sympathy for him increased and remained strong for he was the only Indian from India that I knew, not just in the village, but in all of Trinidad. During childhood, I remember the occasion when a few children: two boys and a girl of African descent who, having never seen or been close to someone like Nana, stared at the clothes he wore, his grey hair and his overall, unfamiliar appearance. From the road, they entered the yard and moved closer to Nana. Naturally, the gentle old man was, in his own way, interested in them too. Suddenly the boy sucked his teeth and blurted: ‘What dat coolie man lookin at?’ In turn, the girl added: ‘What kinda funny dress is dat he wearin?’ She was, of course, well-dressed Westernstyle, wearing perhaps her best dress and brown leather shoes that shone. As the children advanced closer to Nana, he regarded them not with questioning or combative words, but with his usual friendly smile. Seeing me, the children giggled. As they withdrew from the yard, I was jolted into thinking as never before about difference: how different Nana and the children looked! Stark but true; this was the reality about which there was little that I or anyone else could do. ‘All ah we is one!’ a local politician had said. He was, no doubt echoing a view commonly held by various leaders and opinion-formers in the community, but his pronouncement had unsettled me. Why? I had no idea. Given that our house was sandwiched between the very different families (devout Hindus and secular Afro-Trinidadians; a divide which was then far more marked between such individuals and groups than it is today) I hasten to add, it was not through these ‘neighbours,’ but from others that I’d first heard the expressions ‘coolie’ and ‘nigger;’ words spoken in anger, and almost always with the inherent threat of violence. Through such usage and accompanying negative attitudes, I learned a little more about human differences. One of the clearest indications of the reality of difference was to be found among the names that people answered to. While Indian and Indian-sounding names were often corrupted or re-spelt and recorded in Official ledgers by British Colonial administrators, many Indians themselves made name-changes in the hope of gaining some social advantage. On the other hand, British names like Williams, McDonald, James, Stewart and Beckford, with which many Afro-Trinidadians identified, carried their own oppressive labour back-story. So given its racial mix, my neighbourhood (comprising the Sand Road, Union Park and Marabella) was, in essence, a commingling of many of the world’s peoples who were transplanted there primarily because of the dictates of Imperial trade and commerce. Like the process of formal learning (reading, writing and arithmetic) the social differences in my Elementary School classes dawned upon me slowly, but very surely. Increasingly, I became conscious of some children carrying bags which contained what I assumed were school things; 7


and it was difficult for me not to see the difference between them and me for I was not only shoeless and bag-less with no money to buy sweets and drinks, but also excluded from a certain protective cliquishness. Trapped in the lower ranks, I could do little but observe that a few teachers were clearly more appreciative of the better-off children, whose parents they knew well. Perhaps these teachers felt more at ease, less threatened by members of either their own social class or those in the ‘class’ above which they had hoped to join. At this confusing, vulnerable time, passing (the College Entrance) Examinations had a positive, but short-lived effect on me. Ultimately, it proved to be an invaluable lesson which I learned well enough so that when my father had eventually raised the matter of my College Entrance Examination results, I told him I’d passed, but added that I had destroyed my ‘Pass’ notification slip. Proud man that he was, predictably, he flew into a rage which for all its dramatic intensity could not obscure the fact that there was no conceivable way for me to attend College. Education, at this higher level was, as everyone knew, for the chosen few who could pay for it. And, as I’d been learning each day, if you were a dark-skinned Indian boy as I was from the nearby sugar plantation, your future was very dim indeed. Although, at times, my father read the Holy Bible, he did not profess to be bookish. Far from it! In fact, being not academically inclined he was fond of saying: ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ Later, when I’d become a published writer, he began using the expression: ‘Commonsense before book!’ Nonetheless he was sufficiently well-versed in the ‘Scriptures’ to argue with one or two ‘experts;’ and more than once I’d heard him say to the knowledgeable local Priest: ‘Yuh should be thankful for the Devil. He keep yuh in yuh job.’ As time passed, I realised that my father’s so-called vices: smoking and drinking, for example, were not the issues which he and the Priest quarrelled about. Their differences were deeper, relating to beliefs that were irreconcilable. Against this background of difference, faced with the twin-problems of being uneducated and unemployed in Trinidad, soon after entering my teenage years (at the age of fourteen) with not a penny and little or no prospect of earning an income, I decided that I would emigrate to England. On arrival in London at the age of nineteen, unable to find employment, I joined the ‘Dole’ (unemployment) queue. For three months, I had lived on a weekly disposable income of £1 which kept me at starvation level before I was gainfully employed. By my third year on the job at the University of London Library, through study of the English language, I became a committed reader of novels; and as a consequence, I began to develop a sense of myself and thus a perspective on ‘British History’ which hitherto, was more or less dominated by stories of Empire, featuring Kings and Queens of England - the stuff of Elementary School texts of my boyhood. After leaving the University to work as a Library Assistant in the British Museum, as I read further, time and distance from my birthplace compelled me to ask: Who am I? Responding to the 8


question, consideration of others was inevitable: For one thing, very quickly it became clear that ‘English people’ were not just a mass and the tendency among non-white foreigners to see them all simply as ‘White people’ with the same attitudes and prejudices, was quite wrong. In England, especially London, I came in contact with many British people of Scots, Irish and Welsh backgrounds and began to see not the surface whiteness but real differences in speech (accents), attitude and behaviour between them. As I recognised diversity among the various groups of ‘British people’ with whom I conversed about displacement and exile in the great Metropolis, to fulfill my desire of becoming a writer, I channelled my own growing sense of alienation (a longing for ‘HOME’) into fiction in the form of short stories. Increasingly, writing became the medium through which I could give the fullest expression to my deepening sense of ‘homelessness’ which was, at times, overwhelming. Intertwined with my writing, day-to-day, I was drawn to contentious workplace matters and consequently to campaigning for social justice. Then came the dramatic, historic moment when I was elected as the first ‘Black’ Shop Steward in the British Museum, an event that would change my life profoundly and forever. My election as a workers’ spokesman came at a time when nonwhite leaders at workplaces in Britain were very few. Indeed, my elevation to Leadership in such an important British institution was, to many people, inconceivable. No less significant was the fact that the vast majority, ninety per cent of the membership that I represented was white working class, among whom racist, xenophobic beliefs were, at times, expressed in no uncertain terms. Overall, I was, none the less, deeply touched by the members’ vote of confidence in me, which I respected. And so year on year, I struggled for better wages and improved working conditions. But while my ten-year engagement in this leading role accrued much practical experience, there was no financial benefit! I had, however, learned invaluable lessons from my engagement with the proverbial ‘University of hard knocks’ and although my reading and literary ambition had expanded significantly, the intellectual challenges that I faced demanded a great deal more reading and further study. In the early 1970s, the British Museum and Bloomsbury constituted an extraordinary hub of intellectual life; an area where publishers, academics, novelists, poets and artists were not only to be seen, but also heard. Radical activists debated the earlier 1968 ‘Student Uprisings’ and the way forward for the ‘Proletariat;’ while workers around the world were encouraged by struggles for Decolonization. It was hoped that Socialism would spread rapidly in the ‘Third World.’ Across Britain and elsewhere in Europe working class movements were on the march; and in many respects trade unions were among the vanguard for change. Given my role as an Organiser of workers in the very Round Reading Room in the British Museum where Karl Marx had sat and worked on his great revolutionary book Das Kapital (or Capital), though inevitably caught up in some of the heated debates, I did not join the Labour Party or the ranks of Socialists: namely Communists, Trotskyists, members of the International Marxist Group and the Socialist Workers’ 9


Party. Neither did I become too closely allied with the Liberal or Conservative Parties. Instead, my attention, time and energy were fixed on my deepening commitment to the pressing task of improving the lot of poorly-paid workers! As their representative, I took the job very seriously indeed. In fact nothing that I’d previously done was more instructive and meaningful. I was wellplaced to appreciate what it really meant to be in the rough-and-tumble of working class politics. Of necessity, I assimilated and appraised a steady stream of economic, social and political literature and had gained much knowledge about local issues and how they related to world affairs. Thus I was able to reflect upon my colonial history and heritage which brought a clearer understanding of the historic role that I was playing as an agent for change in the very heart of the former British Empire. ‘Historic moment’ was an expression much used among Socialists and Trade Unionists at the time; and as I experienced and understood it, history was not ‘bunk’ or something in the past, it had momentum and real meaning as I made representations on the shop floor in the British Museum and increasingly nationally and internationally. I’d become deeply immersed day-to-day and my leadership became an integral part of a palpable movement which an astute Bloomsbury bookshop manager and Rare Books dealer had called: ‘The Radicalisation of Bloomsbury.’ In spite of the clear direction that my life had taken, unlike trade union colleagues, I remained firmly committed to writing. After completing my first published book From Chattel Slave to Wage Earner, I had started another period of many years of research and writing on a more ambitious work: The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain. While engaged in the latter work, I was also powerfully drawn to writing about Paul Robeson. Later, after further research, I realised the magnitude and importance of Robeson’s life and work, importantly, his dramatic appearances in Shakespeare’s play Othello. Significantly, for the purpose of my book, I came to know that in the last of his three appearances as Othello, Robeson had played opposite Sam Wanamaker as Iago in the famous 1959 Stratford-Upon-Avon production. Since then, Wanamaker had become the Founder of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and the coming together of these two American Shakespearean actors (one black the other white) gave added value to my need for Wanamaker’s valuable close-up views on the aspects of Robeson’s work that had interested me. Thus as my desire to speak with Sam Wanamaker grew, I felt the need to interview him for the book which I’d titled Paul Robeson: The Man and His Mission. My immediate problem was: how to contact Wanamaker? After many attempts, eventually, through my own efforts, I was able to speak with Wanamaker. As if it was recorded yesterday, the themes that I’d raised during my Interview with him about life, art, racism, fascism, acting and Othello resonates powerfully today. It is, at once, historical and contemporary, instructive in many ways for a younger generation who seek answers to questions about themselves and the world they have inherited. That dramatic entertainment in the 10


form of Othello should so realistically portray life not only attests to Shakespeare’s understanding of his art, but also of the human predicament. At the time of my encounter with Sam Wanamaker, I was mindful of the primacy of difference and the essential need for mutual respect and empathy embedded in the interlocking aspects of British cultural diversity. Being ‘mindful’ was, however, one thing, but demonstrating, step by step, how much I understood about ‘difference’ in relation to social matters was the real test. The theme of difference, following my concern over Robeson’s statement: The ‘Oneness of Mankind’ had been emerging for some time as a core issue. Indeed, it had become a preoccupation that was moving towards a critical juncture in my ‘understanding,’ and thus my exploration, of the ‘Oneness’ idea. So while I continued to attend to the specific question of racism, I tested not our so-called commonality as human beings, but what now loomed as the biggest of social questions: our individual differences. In other words, arising from my experience of various kinds of racism, I tried to confront and develop a position; a view vis-à-vis race and racism as well as on other divisive societal issues. I immersed myself in garnering historical knowledge, without which I would have been unable to make progress. As it was, I’d read a treasure-trove of material; and given the tension between Empire, colonial labour and migration, I pondered the words in the Preface of The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain prior to its publication. ‘This book,’ I had written, ‘is an attempt to put in historical perspective the Black presence in Britain as it relates to the development of British capitalism and its control and exploitation of black labour. The making of the black working class in twentieth century Britain has been a long process reflecting essential changes in Britain’s labour needs over time, both at home and abroad. As overseas trade expanded, the discipline and control of labour (both Black and White) became imperative to Britain’s economic well-being. To ensure the continued exploitation of colonial labour, an ideology based on racial differences which bred an inferior/ superior nexus both in interpersonal relations and in international trade, was constructed to keep Blacks in subjection…’ Mindful that such an ‘ideology’ had its genesis in the minds (perceptions and attitudes) of those who championed Colonisation and Imperial Rule, I went on to argue in Chapter One that a significant consequence of the commerce and trade in slaves, cotton and sugar was that black people began to appear in England in increasing numbers. And throughout the period of slavery and thereafter, black labour remained a crucial factor in the development of the British economy. Having structured the book in three Parts, I ended it with the following paragraphs: ‘At the outset, as a “Class” black workers were deliberately made: policies and practices determined their Colonial backgrounds and created the conditions for their emigration to Britain;’ made them live and work in decaying inner city environments; made them accept low pay; made them feel guilty when receiving State Welfare benefits; and made them the subjects of humiliating public repatriation debates. Indeed the Black working class have been socially, economically and 11


politically pushed to ekeing out an existence (a precious one at that!) on the fringe of British society. Thus “made,” they have been criticised for being a “Society” apart, alien. While much political capital has been made from this, black peoples’ alienation brought deepening impoverishment and desperation. Wherever and whenever their exploitation had become unbearable, they fought courageously for redress, particularly in the workplace. By so doing, they consistently campaigned for solidarity with White workers, significantly without success! It was evident, however, that the “Black” British will not suffer gladly while they wait for a “dispensation” from above to be free from their “makers”...Their history of struggle against racism and harassment had evolved from resistance to open rebellion...Indeed the black workingclass in Britain have taken the initiative in the Class struggle. While they may hope for a positive response from the “labour aristocracy” and the white working class generally, their autonomous struggle (the direct result of British racism) will continue as their urgent, insistent demands extend to every aspect of their essential deprivations.’ After much anticipation, eventually on 6 February 1987 The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain was formally launched in London. Hailed as a ‘landmark book,’ the Reporter from New

Life wrote: ‘Last Friday, at 42 Belgrave Square an unusually cheerful “Diplomatic” function was held...at the High Commission for Trinidad and Tobago to launch an impressive new book by Trinidadian Ron Ramdin, The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain... High Commissioner Dr Ince stressed that “Black people in Britain are mature people,” and are sick of being treated as “boys.” Mr Ramdin’s book should go far to improving the situation with its long historical perspective on slavery and thereafter racism, showing how that maturity was painfully achieved.’ The West Indian News also reported on the Event and stated that ‘Reading and digesting nearly 700 pages of information, is not, readers will readily understand, the work of a moment! It begins by summarising “Capitalism and Slavery” and from there presses on to modern day Britain. It could be defined as the definitive work of Black Industrial Relations in Britain and what Mr Ramdin has done is to take a mass of details and put it in the most readable form...’ Soon after the Launch the first major Book Reviews appeared: Caryl Phillips, the Caribbeanborn novelist wrote in City Limits: ‘Well written and presented with admirable flair...With almost every turn of the pages the book breaks new ground.’ The New Society commented: ‘...this is a pioneering and invaluable work of scholarship and interpretation.’ The British-based West Indian

News described the book as ‘...a major work of research that is certain to be thumbed through by scholars of the future.’ The Inner London Education Authority News declared: ‘This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Blacks in Britain. What makes this work stand out from the steady stream of titles in the field is its detailed documentation...and the authority with which it is written.’

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Hitherto, I was painfully aware that research and writings on Blacks and Asians in Britain were seen as marginal and thus marginalised, such work was not regarded as worthy of ‘Academic’ study. With passion and courage I was determined to add to the precious few texts that existed, not just about Africans, but also about Asians. (Justification for my dual approach was the fact that Blacks - and others - continued to write mainly about ‘Blacks’ while Asians wrote only about ‘Asians’). Thus since the 1960s, as historian and writer on the Black and Asian presence in Britain, I was described as ‘a pioneer’ and works relating to these main groups were seen by a snobbish few as a ‘rant!’ No wonder some attitudes (largely based on ignorance) have persisted for in spite of Blacks and Asians being in Britain since the sixteenth century, leading historians and ‘mainstream’ histories rarely, if ever, mentioned their presence. Surely, I thought, serious academics in Britain and America would have something to say about the largely unknown subject that was the Making of the Black Working Class in Britain. Indeed someone had! Mike Savage’s Book Review appeared in Contemporary Sociology:

‘The title of this impressive book,’ he wrote, ‘echoes that of E.P.Thompson’s classic The Making of the English Working Class. This seems to be no accident: amid the welter of much interesting detail on the struggles of black workers in Britain, Ramdin seems to advance a Thompsonian argument. Even before the arrival of large numbers of Blacks in the 1950s, a strong black presence in Britain dated back to the 16th century. These forebears had created a distinct ideology by the 1950s notably that of Pan Africanism, developed under the aegis of Padmore, which was to provide the new immigrants with a set of beliefs that helped sustain a growing opposition to racism and Capitalism into the 1970s and 1980s. The book contains many virtues: I particularly welcome the careful contextualization of the Black presence...this said, there are some weaknesses...But these are minor points. As an account of the Black presence in Britain, Ramdin’s work offers a comprehensive and unusually readable account. If at times we need greater analytical insight, this is only testimony to Ramdin’s skill in laying out the basic contours of the Black working class.’ Some months later, another distinguished Critic, Ira Katznelson, wrote in The American Journal

of Sociology : ‘The title of this book The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain reveals the ambition of the author which is to do no less for the formation of Britain’s black working class than E.P.Thompson accomplished in writing the history of The Making of the English Working Class. Ron Ramdin, a Trinidadian independent Scholar... marries historical narrative, reportage, case histories, character cameos and vignettes to present the sweep of the story of the emergence of black consciousness and organisation from the outset of slavery (which placed some Blacks in 13


British ports) to the present. The densely packed 600 pages of text, notes and comprehensive bibliography attest both to the complexity of the too little known tale Ramdin presents and the comprehensiveness of his aspiration. His aim is a political history...accounting for and justifying autonomous black political activities, resistance and revolt in today’s Britain... One of the great strengths of the presentation is the joining of these parts into a panoramic whole that allows the reader to move across and between the book’s stories, to make comparisons and to raise questions about relationships between the Black experience in Britain and such macroscopic shaping forces as capitalist development, slavery and colonisation and the struggle for democratisation with the British State. A second considerable strength of the book is the manner in which it systematically joins domestic events with their international context. It is of course impossible to tell the tale of Blacks in Britain without situating their condition within the British Empire...This is a text worth having and browsing in, for the sweep of its narrative, the scope of its information and the character of it’s aspirations.’ And to cap it all, a few months later, just before Christmas, The Times newspaper listed the book among its ‘Pick of the Paperbacks.’ So where there was nothing, now I’d produced something substantial, a much-needed educational text for British schools, universities and the general reading public. Even though I continued to meet an increasing number of people from a wide cross-section of society, though hugely excited, occasionally, I felt more isolated than ever. Why? Perhaps because during the Seventies and Eighties, decades of rampant racism, there were very few persons with whom I was able to share my steadily accumulating research and writing as I extended the bounds of knowledge. Given the significance and timeliness of what I was doing, I persisted in paying attention, in particular, to the question of racism. For decades I was struck by the casual verbal attacks; the arrogant lack of mutual respect. Given my experience of racism from people of various groups (and knowing well it was not a clear-cut, black and white issue) I continued to test not our so-called commonality as human beings, but our difference! At this stage, I thought that I was on the right track as I tried to develop a clearer view of other aspects of divisive human behaviour. Why this resolve? And why now? Essentially because through authorship of three well-received books: From Chattel Slave to Wage Earner, The Making of the

Black Working Class in Britain, Paul Robeson: The Man and His Mission and an extended unpublished autobiographical essay, I was now much better informed about Empire, race, labour and social groups both in the Caribbean and in Britain. In effect, I had gained not only greater knowledge, but also more confidence and new insights. Around this time, given my deepening sense of alienation at work and my efforts to ‘belong,’ more often than not, I reflected on what I thought was the crucial message in my book on Paul 14


Robeson: his belief in the ‘Oneness of Mankind.’ I too, was attracted to this philosophy which Robeson first came to know through his contact as an actor with dramatic plays relating to the starkness of relations between Black and White people in the United States of America. Time and place was of the essence because America was a country in which there was ongoing racial conflict and much attention was focused there. Nonetheless, I also began to think of ‘race,’ racism and tribalism geographically, not just in Britain and America. Indeed after completing the Robeson biography, knowing well the heated arguments not only about race, but also about discrimination on the grounds of colour, class, gender, religion, culture and so on, I was determined to apply ‘DIFFERENCE’ to a variety of circumstances, both historical and contemporary, and to society in general. At this time, while social tensions rose, especially during the Seventies and Eighties, a number of groups had sought definition and redefinition of their identities, a sort of update as to where they were located, given the growing complexity of British social relations. Given my Indo-Caribbean background, during my twenty-five year residence in Britain, all too often I was perceived as either a ‘Paki’ or ‘Indian.’ Repeated attempts at correcting this erroneous perception had little impact. Denied my true ‘identity,’ while in a communitarian way I had, at first, found the concept of the ‘Oneness of mankind’ appealing, with the benefit of hard experience and the passage of time, it became more problematic. Thus ‘Oneness’ and ‘difference’ took greater hold of me. So much so that it became an all-consuming examination of the pros and cons of these concepts for prolonged stretches of time. For one thing, the all-embracing ‘Oneness’ was neat, familiar and felt remarkably comfortable and comforting, especially as I harked back to childhood and thereafter, when there was even a temptation to consider it as the last word! This was indeed the case for many who had tried to convince me that what really matters is: what is common to us. Common? Yes, they argued. But with time and closer examination, I felt this line of argument was not getting to the essential truth of the reality that confronted me. Faced with a variety of people and perspectives at this time of heightened social and political awareness, my preoccupation with difference evolved with compelling force both in my thoughts and writings! As if lulled into deep slumber by the ‘Oneness’ idea, I was rudely awakened when one day a fellow-West Indian of mixed African and European descent who, in his less than convincing imitation of a Trinidadian accent asked: ‘Where yuh from?’ ‘Trinidad,’ I replied. ‘A Trini?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘I’m a real Trini too,’ he said proudly. Then, with a sceptical reappraisal of me, he said. ‘Yuh look Indian.’ ‘Yes, I am Indian,’ I said. ‘But not an Indian from India. I’m from Trinidad.’ ‘Where in Trinidad?’ he challenged. ‘Marabella,’ I said ignoring for the moment the superior tone of his voice. Though he looked puzzled, when I added: ‘Do you know Union Park Race Track?’ he responded with the statement: ‘Yuh from the deep south!’ He spoke as if the island was hundreds of miles long. ‘I’m from up North. Laventille,’ he declared. ‘Are you?’ I 15


said, hoping it was the end of the matter. Instead, maintaining his sceptical edge, the man challenged me to draw a map of Trinidad, which I did. ‘Show me where Port of Spain is,’ he went on. I did. Then he said: ‘Show me where San Fernando is?’ I didn’t. ‘Show me where San Fernando is?’ he repeated. ‘F...o..!’ I replied. He laughed. I didn’t think his interrogation was funny. As a departure from my published books, I was commissioned by the publisher Heinemann Books to write The West Indies for the ‘World In View’ Series, a Children’s Educational book for 11-14 year olds. In spite of the considerable success of this attractively produced, world class textbook, interestingly one Trinidadian lecturer felt that only Caribbean-based ‘Specialists’ (school teachers) should write and publish such textbooks about the Caribbean. How stupid and shortsighted, I thought. But sadly, time and again, I would come up against this kind of anti-intellectual narrow-mindedness camouflaged as academic professionalism. By extension, there are those who think only people of a certain ‘race’ or background should write their particular histories. Given that New World Slavery and the system of Indentureship that followed it, constituted my history and heritage, I could not disagree more with such thinking for surely knowledge should not be based on, or bounded by, race, class, colour, gender, culture, religion, ‘nation’ or geographical location, but by less totalising, more meaningful ideas and arguments in furtherance of the ‘Social Good.’ Thus the civic and social responsibility of everyone was paramount. After reading a Review of The West Indies, I thought well of it, primarily because writing such a work had been a new challenge. It was also revealing in that while researching the book, I’d uncovered material which gave me tantalising clues that led to further investigation and a better understanding of my roots. Against this background of gaining knowledge about the complex area popularly known as the Caribbean, I saw more clearly the connectedness of things: of places, people and cultures in the region. During this thoroughgoing process I recognised the significance of a longer and broader study than a ‘Monograph’ on ‘East Indians in the Caribbean’ which I’d been commissioned to write by the University of Warwick and the publisher Macmillan. Clearly there was the need for a comprehensive work that would fill a major gap in Caribbean historiography; and so I jotted down the working title of the book that I planned: ‘Arising From Bondage: A History of the Indo-Caribbean People.’ Adding such a work to the African-oriented histories written by two of the Caribbean’s most distinguished intellectuals, the historians C.L.R James and Dr Eric Williams would, I thought, make an important contribution. My engagement with this research, writing and the acquisition of greater knowledge drove me to perform to the limit, as I’d been doing for years. Day-to-day, I pressed ahead, and now I realised something much more clearly than before: that I had in fact been practising what I preached which was, in effect, my particular perspective namely respect for difference and inclusiveness, both at the workplace and in communities. Thereafter, time and again, I wondered what motivated certain 16


office managers’ games and attitudes that were so embarrassingly petty and often painfully disrespectful of their staff. Later, as part of my research for a biography of C.L.R James (regarded as one of the Caribbean’s foremost Thinkers) I met and Interviewed the West Indian novelist George Lamming in London. By so doing, I thought I would learn more about the Trinidadian Marxist. Lamming knew James well; and interestingly over a long period of time. What he said was quite revealing. After a long absence in England and the United States of America, James went back to Trinidad. In Lamming’s opinion, James would have stayed in the Caribbean (indeed there were attempts by ‘Intellectuals’ and artists at University of the West Indies to keep him there) but in the hot-house that was Trinidad politics at the time, James broke-off relations with his former pupil Eric Williams; a breach which became acrimonious. Why? I pressed Lamming. James, he said, was received in a ‘humiliating way.’ All things considered, there was little or no hope that the relationship between James and Williams (Leader of the People’s National Movement and first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago) could have survived. The way the PNM was organised was not the kind of ‘Group’ that James could have been party to. For James, the difference between him and Williams was a ‘personal matter,’ not simply a policy issue. Lamming was, however, unhappy with the manner in which James had dealt with ‘race’ in Trinidad. His approach had to do with his Victorian upbringing, his concept of ‘coming out of Good Stock.’ James was a romantic who ‘universalized’ issues. He was essentially an intellectual who articulated ideas on cricket, politics and novels; a Thinker looking for connection. He possessed a sympathetic vision and in Lamming’s opinion, the only Caribbean person to have had that unique ‘vision!’ James’s mind was influenced by the imperative of philosophy. Unlike Williams, James had a philosophical mind; and in this respect, he was a bit of a ‘freak’ more to be found among French Colonials. British Imperialists, according to Lamming, were not interested in ideas. But being a Marxist/Trotskyist, James was a devout believer in the importance of political and social

Groups, especially those of a ‘Socialist’ conviction. In 1990 I had visited Spain to deliver a Lecture at the University of Seville entitled: ‘Towards 1992: Discovery, Black People in Britain and Ethnic Minorities in Europe.’ At the time, I felt speaking on such a theme in another European country was ahead of its time! On my return to Britain, I felt empowered for now I had a better understanding of myself and Spain which I had loved visiting. Meeting people and seeing new places touched and deepened my thoughts, thus underlining an essential historical connection with Spain. The themes of Slavery, Indentureship and matters relating to Europe, Africa, Asia and the New World, hitherto areas of relative darkness, became much clearer, prompting long gestated questions: Who am I? A West Indian? An Indian? A Caribbean person? ‘Melting pot’ and ‘multiculturalism’ were buzz-words at this 17


time in Britain; a consequence of the post-war influx of former British colonials. But now, more and more, the pattern of immigration changed with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from outside the Commonwealth. Amidst this state of flux and diversity (after decades, ‘flux’ had indeed become integral to my life), as I continued to think about the ‘Oneness of mankind’ and my experience in Trinidad, I reflected on the negative name-calling by members of different groups who publicly traded nasty insults relating to race, tribe, colour, class, caste, gender, sexuality, culture, religion and so on. Admittedly, prior to my first published piece of writing in the British magazine Race Today, I had tended to see all Trinidadians as one people, as working towards the same goal of nationhood. But ten years on, in my first book From Chattel

Slave to Wage Earner, clearly my thoughts had moved forward in the sense that this was a work which reflected my interest in identifying groups of people in Trinidad, differently. Five years later, in The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain my concern with different groups (and sub-divisions within them) became even more pronounced. In spite of this background of intense research and writing, I was still uneasy, even troubled by the all-encompassing ‘Oneness’ vision and felt it warranted explanation; in other words, it needed to be challenged head on. Confronted with a generalisation like the ‘Oneness of mankind,’ almost immediately I questioned: How do I unpack that other totalising expression, the much-talked about ‘commonality’ of beings? Unlike the Robeson biography, The Making of the Black Working

Class in Britain did not compromise the essential differences between different social groups. Nonetheless, rooted in my childhood and youth, as my thoughts and observations of ‘DIFFERENCE’ evolved, while social tensions and social injustice widened the fractures of scarred societies worldwide, I reflected on having written and published The West Indies, an exacting test of writing simply and with clarity for a younger age group about differences in relation to the histories and cultures of that cosmopolitan region. The significance of this book about intra-regional differences is that globally it had informed tens of thousands of young minds in the primary schools of many countries where English was taught. So far my understanding of history was still a relatively dark area. Having undergone the experience of years of reading and writing about the big picture diasporically in relation to Africa, now a new wave of interest and excitement gripped me while researching the little-known IndianCaribbean diaspora for my new book Arising From Bondage. As my ideas about social groups (importantly relations between the ‘general’ and the ‘particular’ within them) gestated, by 1993, I’d become increasingly concerned with identity and identification: Who was who or what? How did I relate to others? And interestingly, my former identity as a ‘West Indian’ had changed at a breath-taking pace when Africandescended people from the West Indies recognised and identified themselves as ‘Afro-Caribbean.’ Thus I was perceived as Other; and in turn, identified as ‘IndoCaribbean.’ With this shift, my ideas about histories, cultures and identity became more compelling as immigration characterised by an increasingly wider range of immigrants than 18


hitherto (largely from the European Union, the Middle and Far East and Africa) entered Britain. Furthermore, as migrations world-wide led to crossing national boundaries, more and more, my attention on a better life for all was centred not on groups, groupings or ‘universals,’ but on

respect for difference, importantly as individuals. This, I felt, should be the starting point of coexistence: a more meaningful way of realising fairness in relation to ‘Human Rights’ and thus social justice. In other words, an inclusive way forward, especially for the alienated and disaffected, would, I thought, offer the best prospect of engendering in each person (or citizen) a greater and more realistic sense of home and belonging in their communities. While pursuing my literary work, gradually a pattern of thought and direction had begun to emerge. My wide-ranging interests were concerned not only with European colonisation, African slavery and Blacks and Asians in Britain, but also aspects of the relationship between India and Indians in the diaspora, particularly in the Caribbean. This was all the more evident when my work on the epic Arising From Bondage was completed. It was a cathartic moment, to say the least. And even more now, my accumulated knowledge was in demand by students, most of whom were engaged in postgraduate research for PhD and MA degrees. As always, in my relations with students, I was only too glad to be of help. By now, I’d carved a niche of sorts as an author of the Black and Asian experience in both Britain and the Caribbean. As the number of public appearances, media interviews, and book reviews increased, the consensus among those who were well-informed was that the scope and depth of my books were unsurpassed. This, in turn, generated greater demand for my services as a Speaker. Nat Edwards, whom I’d first met in the British Museum some years before, had become a Senior Curator at the Open Museum in Glasgow; and on one of his visits to London, we discussed the possibility of inviting me to give a Lecture at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum before, as he put it, ‘you become too famous.’ Eventually a date was set and I flew to Glasgow where I was greeted at the airport by Mr Edwards who guided me directly to a BBC Studio to do a pre-Lecture Interview. A few hours later, I arrived at the Kelvingrove venue. Fully aware that Scotland’s Asian and Black population was much smaller than England’s, I began my Lecture by saying that ‘twenty seven years ago I came to England as a young immigrant with great expectations and it was not long before I realised that there was a pattern to my life, of which my experience in the workplace, the community and the wider society, formed an integral part.’ Among other things, I said that I’d written several books (including history, biography, a textbook for schools) as well as short stories and was presently working on a novel. I stressed that a fundamental theme in my historical works is the connection between Black and Asian labour and their relationships with white workers and the British economy. ‘Such issues following the Brixton and Bristol Riots of the early 1980s,’ I added, ‘were crucial to an understanding of some of the problems facing Afro19


Asian people in Britain.’ I went on to consider racial discrimination and the lack of inclusiveness in society, a theme which would continue to preoccupy me as part of my exploration of what I regarded as the essential social ideas: ‘Respect for Difference’ and the overarching ‘Home and Belonging.’ By now, in spite of geographical particularities, I was confident enough and ready to test these ‘ideas’ by relating them to communities elsewhere in the world. Just before the historic 150th Anniversary of Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad in 1995, I had read my Open Letter to a Close

Relative on the 150th Anniversary of the Arrival of East Indians in Trinidad on the local Heritage Radio. This was a new medium and format, indeed a bold approach through which I could inform the public. To my knowledge, hitherto, no Trinidadian or Caribbean writer had ever attempted such a thing and, as if to underline the Letter’s importance, my Interviews for the ‘Anniversary’ recorded in London were also broadcast on the BBC’s Radio Four as well as on the BBC’s Asian and Caribbean World Service networks. The Letter was published in its entirety in The Hindu newspaper in India and in the IndoCaribbean Review in Canada. Taken together, my message was read by thousands and heard by millions of BBC radio listeners around the world. In part, my

Letter read: ‘Dear Les, Your photograph is before me on the table where it has been on view since it arrived with your letter two days ago and, as I write, I am reminded of your Great-Grandfather; a former...Indian indentured labourer of legendary physical strength, independent-minded and outspoken, whom I vaguely remember. I was but a child, not much older than about five or six, when he died...On the eve of your admission to the University, I feel proud of your achievement. And I congratulate you on your exceptional letter. It has generated a rare excitement in me, especially in the manner in which you communicate, expressly your experimental handling of language: changing, evolving, growing (an audacious departure from the rigid, oppressive, policing language so neat, so final, so life-sapping, so prevalent) used to good effect by your imaginative, inventive and altogether refreshing use of words that suggest boundless possibilities...I am very pleased with your choice of English, history and philosophy, a trilogy that will, in time, aid your understanding of the world you live in. But be mindful also of the importance of hard experience, a precious asset that tests the most noble of ideas. More than a decade before you were born, a feverish zeal had gripped the people of your country, who were for a while, deeply moved by the Motto: “Together We Aspire, together We Achieve.” Alas much time has elapsed since then and the desired togetherness remains largely unachieved. Our continuing failure to respect racial difference shows how little we have learned since the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus had imposed his standard on these islands, and of other exploiters who followed with their refinements of oppression, instituting differences in race, colour and class to subjugate the colonised. You will, of course, be 20


18 years old on 30 May 1995, the day on which the country, more particularly sections of it, will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Arrival of the first indentured Indians in Trinidad...Such conscious seeking of knowledge as you engage in, can have beneficial results and will, I hope guide you in your pursuit of excellence as we approach the third millennium. All things considered, this is a unique historical moment for you, proud bearer of an inheritance that spans generations of courageous Indians who had crossed the “kala pani” (dark water). I feel confident that as you grow in Self-knowledge and come to know and rise above the more obvious man-made differences, you will reach out for the essential fellowship with your brothers and sisters who comprise the cultural mosaic that mirror the marvellous capability of human creativity in this extraordinary land, for knowing and respecting oneself is the best preparation for knowing and respecting others.’ The historic juncture of the ‘Anniversary’ provoked greater awareness. Since my first visit to the great Andalusian city of Seville five years earlier, I was struck by the uniqueness of Flamenco song and the mesmeric dance of the Gypsies. Often, while in Spain, I was perceived as ‘Gitano’ both by Gypsies and non-Gypsies. As I’d said to my Spanish friends, I was not uncomfortable with such a reference and even though I realised that many Spaniards (in Andalusia and elsewhere in Spain) did not take too kindly to Gypsies and Gypsy culture, nonetheless, it was a matter which forced me to pause and consider my own experience of identity and identification: In Trinidad I was a ‘Coolie;’ in Britain, I was a ‘Paki;’ in Spain, I was a ‘Gitano.’ How extraordinary, I thought, as more and more, I grappled with my difference from others, and vice-versa, whoever they happened to be. I was struck by how easy it was to allow what I’d felt so far about the idea of ‘difference’ to slip: indeed, it took courage and commitment, but I felt bound to continue through my writings, Lectures and Talks, to explore this ‘idea’ which I’d felt strongly about for years. So it was that while in Spain, not only did I feel the need to understand, but also to learn more about Gypsies and their Flamenco culture. In turn, this generated the possibility of writing a new book: ‘Isabella’s Legacy: My Discovery of Spain.’ In the process of doing so, discovering Spain was vital to my own submerged and tangled self-discovery! As it happened, there was no shortage of those who were ready to offer their perception of me. On one of my many visits to Seville, while sitting outside a café with a friend, we were joined by an Argentinian artist named ‘Molina’ to whom I was introduced as a Writer from Britain. Struck by my appearance, as if compelled, Senor Molina took a sheet of A4 paper from my folder and using my black (biro) pen, he drew a portrait of me. How interesting, I thought, that a stranger should so readily act in this way. Thereafter, pursuing research on ‘Isabella’s Legacy,’ I felt energized as I absorbed a cross-fertilization of emergent ideas while interweaving histories, cultures and identities.

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Following an invitation from the BBC to give the ‘Opening Address’ at an Inaugural Conference to be held at the Conference Centre in Marylebone, my task was to put in historical perspective the presence of Blacks and Asians in Britain in relation to the BBC’s responsibility of adequately serving these communities. How much did the assembled delegates and broadcasters know about the burgeoning ethnic ‘communities’ and therefore the wider context of their jobs? I wondered. My real concerns, however, were the ideas and philosophy that had already been evolving at a pace that took me to the margins and beyond the confines of such sensitive and contentious themes as immigration, race, tribe, colour, class, class, gender, religion and culture. Against this background, as I worked to complete an earlier project, a book titled ‘Black Britain,’ my thoughts continued to move away from the ‘Oneness of mankind’ and irrevocably towards the idea of difference, in particular, respect for difference. After the historic BBC Conference on Ethnic Minorities, Linda Mitchell, Community Affairs Editor, contacted me: ‘Just a quick note,’ she wrote, ‘to thank you for your Lecture at the Conference...Many people said how interesting they found the historical perspective. I’m sure they’ll make good use of the reading list.’ This response was gratifying, because I believed that an informed historical understanding was vital; a prerequisite to the formulation and practice of fair and humane social relations. In the afterglow of the Conference, I was approached, then honoured by being selected to give the prestigious Cardiff Whitbread Lecture. While writing the Lecture, I sometimes thought about my distinguished predecessors: Barry Unsworth, P.D. James, Michele Roberts and Victoria Glendinning. Prior to the Lecture, early in 1997, I had received a call from a Whitbread Public Relations Administrator requesting that I attend, for Publicity purposes, a Photo-Shoot with photographer Zac Macaulay. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Zac was related to Zachary Macaulay (Humanitarian and friend of William Wilberforce, the Member of Parliament and the leading Anti-Slavery spokesman) and his son Thomas Babington Macaulay, both of whom I’d read a great deal about because for some time, I’d been taking notes for biographies of both men. Following the ‘Shoot,’ Zac said he had a Family manuscript which might be of interest to me. Thereafter I was invited to his home and given a rare document titled: ‘MACAULAYS, GRIMWOODS AND OTHERS (For Private Circulation Only)’ which I read with great interest. The author of this fifty-four page manuscript was ‘Marcus’ who, among other things, wrote about his ‘dear Aunt Queenie.’ At this stage, I paused a while, then continued: ‘Every family should have a fairy godmother, and Aunt Queenie was the undoubted fairy godmother of ours. A lovely and loving person with glowing dark Indian eyes, a dusky complexion and nature I ever knew.’ So far, I had gained new insights into British Imperial history; and having explicitly integrated the concept of difference in ‘Black Britain’ (my completed attempt at a first inclusive history of Britain) through Marcus’s eyes, I was especially interested to read about one of England’s greatest historians, Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose

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History of England was, at the time of publication, one of the most famous books both in England and America. Marcus enlightened me further: ‘Today people think of Lord Macaulay...as an Essayist or a poet, or as historian. And indeed he was all of these. But in the days when he lived (the first half of the 1880s) lots of people wrote essays and poems and Macaulay’s history written late in life covered little more than a fragment of time say about 75 years. It is less well-remembered that Macaulay was, at intervals, as an MP, a Statesman and a Cabinet Minister and that for some years, he was one of the five men who governed British India and reshaped the course of (India’s) history, giving it a common language (English) and a brand new Code of Criminal Law, which is still largely in force to this day...’ Here, I paused to consider the salient and powerful fact that I, a descendant of Indian indentured labourers (‘helots’ of the Empire who were taken on British ‘Coolie’ ships from India to the Caribbean) was now an acknowledged Historian. Indeed I was an Elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society who had earned his professional status in Britain. I appraised and appreciated Marcus’s ‘Private’ manuscript, as providing an insider’s valuable historical perspective: ‘Today, thanks to television,’ he wrote, ‘India is thought of as having been “The Jewel in the Crown.” If that is right, then Macaulay in a few short years, helped to make it so.’ Then to my surprise, Marcus added for good measure: ‘Oddly enough he (Macaulay) started on this process not from any high-flown motives, but because he needed money.’ (Emphasis mine) So here it was, the unadorned truth, I thought. Why the need? Because Zachary Macaulay had fallen on hard times. Fortunately, his son was now well-placed to help. Marcus explained: ‘The chance to do so came by reason of an extraordinary way in which British India was then governed. That is by a weird sort of dual control system which had been instituted in 1784. In Macaulay’s time the East India Company still held sway, now governed by four men - the Governor General and the Governors of the 3 Presidencies of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, all Servants of the Company... at a salary of £1,500 a year. He thus became in a sense, one of the “masters” of the Supreme Council of India.’ Thomas Babington Macaulay had undoubtedly made history in India. On his return to England in 1838, he had started to write his widely-read History of England, a ‘Task’ which Marcus stated was ‘to occupy him for every spare hour of the remaining twenty one years of his life. He was, in fact, still at his desk, hard at it, when he died on 28th December 1859.’ But how does any man become a prominent historian? Marcus asked. As I paused again to consider the question, I asked myself: How did I, with my background in Colonial Trinidad, become an Historian? Just posing the question required a leap of the imagination. Nonetheless, my immediate interest was in learning more about Thomas Babington Macaulay’s place in British history. Pursuing this line of inquiry, both as writer and now as an increasingly well-known author, I was thrilled to read more of the insider’s view as to how Macaulay became an historian: 23


‘A private income,’ Marcus wrote, ‘though certainly useful is not enough. And having a famous father could actually have been a handicap. The fact is that TBM was born with a sense of history. With an enormous appetite for facts, he had been an avid reader since the age of three and has a freakish memory (inherited from his father) which enabled him to hold in his mind just about everything he read or heard...his family though of modest origins, found themselves surrounded by men who were at least in part, giants of their age. At Rothley Temple, where TBM was born and where his Aunt lived with her husband, Wilberforce was a frequent visitor. And Wilberforce was not only the Founder of the Anti-Slavery Movement, he was also the friend, the close colleague of William Pitt, the man who had become Prime Minister at the age of 24 and who until his death in 1806 had seemingly fought almost singlehanded the battle to keep Napoleon away from the shores of England...Lord Brougham, a strong ally of the Clapham Common “Saints” and their Anti-Slavery Movement was a brilliant Parliamentary Speaker and in 1820 he had, as Attorney General, joined with Thomas Denman (their Solicitor General) in the famous defence of Queen Caroline...It was Brougham who gave the young TBM some useful tips on how to become an effective Orator...(So)...the young TBM despite his “lack of pedigree,” rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential men of his day, watched history being made, and in the case of the famous Reform Bills of 1831 and 1832 took a leading part in making it. By now, he’d become so accomplished and famous a personality that it was said (and by an enemy at that) that when TBM spoke on the third and final Reform Bill in March 1832 “you might have heard a pin drop in the House.” His sister Margaret commented that the House “was entranced, almost breathless” and that he had been “Holding the House of Commons absorbed as the Opera House is by a first rate singer.” ’ Marcus concluded: ‘It seems as if Brougham’s hints on oratory may have been useful...’ Given my earlier voluminous background reading of the Macaulays, historically I was able to situate aspects of Thomas’s life in relation to certain events and dates. 1838, for example, was the year when the period of ‘Apprenticeship,’ relating to Africans who were enslaved in the West Indies, had ended. It was also the year when the first ‘Coolie ship’ with indentured Indians had arrived on the sugar plantations in British Guiana. I marvelled at the journeys that I had made: both physically and intellectually; at roots and routes; and incredibly at how intertwined were the lives of the Macaulays with Africa, India, the West Indies and with mine. Reading further, I learned that it was just a year after the end of ‘Apprenticeship,’ in 1839, that Macaulay had set about writing his History of England. As Marcus wrote: ‘it was not truly a history of England at all. Look inside the flyleaf and you would see the magic subtitle: “From the Accession of James II.” Only the first of the 7 volumes deals with England prior to the Accession of James II, and only the last deals with the arrival and subsequent doings of William and Mary. If you wanted to be unkind, you could say that Macaulay’s “History”...covered the period from 1685 to 1697 - a 24


total of 12 years...Now that Macaulay is hardly read...one wonders how he came to be a “bestseller” at the time. I think the secret may be that he wrote with prejudice - the prejudice of a convinced Whig and without confusing impartiality. He knew who and what he liked or disliked, and his readers were thus easily able to distinguish the “goodies” from the “baddies”...The result was a fame which in the 1850s, outshone that of his literary contemporaries including (hard as it may be to believe now) Charles Dickens, William Thackeray and Alfred Tennyson. Another result was an unexpected wealth...I am sure Macaulay enjoyed the fame, but the money did not turn his head at all - he just found it amusing, invested the capital and gave away most of the resulting income. I guess that for him the best moment came at lunch time on 28 August 1857, when a letter arrived from Lord Palmerston offering him a Peerage.’

So the exalted Historian of England became a Peer and thus informed my keen historical sense concerning ‘Barbarism,’ ‘Civilization’ and ‘Empire’ in relation to India, generated a desire to pause again and consider the significance of another date: 1857. This year marked a dark period of British-Indian history when the Indian Uprising or ‘Mutiny’ occurred with atrocities committed on both the British and Indian sides. One escape route for a few mutinous Sepoys (Indian soldiers) was to make their way overseas as indentured labourers. At this time, British enterprise conducted by the East India Company had extended far and wide to include the sugar plantations in British Guiana owned by British entrepreneur John Gladstone. Thereafter, as hundreds of thousands of Indians were transported to the Caribbean, Macaulay’s reputation was assured. Marcus concludes his portrait thus: ‘Macaulay must also have been greatly pleased in the Autumn of 1857, when he was elected High Steward of the Borough of Cambridge. It was after all, Trinity College Cambridge which had seen the first full flowering of his talents - and it is nice that he is still held in remembrance in the Chapel at Trinity as well as in Westminster Abbey. Zachary would despite all his grouchy criticism, have been proud of him.’ Taking a positive view, all’s well that ends well, one could say. But, I reflected, such a well-connected and illustrious family as the Macaulays were not mere participants, but actors deeply immersed in the great events and ‘Movements’ of their times, which included being closely associated with the East India Company and banking, as well as involvement in the Humanitarian and Anti-Slavery campaigns and, as a consequence, the postSlavery world of Indian Indentureship in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the British Empire. Being privy to Marcus’s Manuscript placed in my hand in the home of a descendant of Thomas Babington Macaulay had struck me then, as now, as a most significant and quite extraordinary coming together. A week after reading Marcus’s account, I expressed warm and grateful thanks to Zac, the photographer. Among other things, I reflected on 1857 which stood out powerfully, all the more 25


so because it was the year that saw the opening of the British Museum’s Round Reading Room; a studious place which Thomas Babington Macaulay had often used. Incredibly, 112 years later, this is where I, a child of Empire, had come to earn my living each day, and had, by the time of my meeting with Zac, written five published histories. It is interesting too that while writing these and other books, as if the ghost of Macaulay was in the Room, I came across many references to his great nephew, the historian George Macaulay (G.M.) Trevelyan, who was regarded as one of the last historians in the ‘Whig Tradition.’ Alas, my tradition was far removed from these Whigs. I was not, as Marcus had described his ancestor Lord Macaulay, ‘born with a sense of history,’ but though devoid of this ‘sense’ in early life, I came to know of that ‘history’ as part of British geo-politics, a direct consequence of Macaulay’s various controlling actions in India. Indeed, unlike Macaulay, I had emerged from a quite different set of circumstances and perspectives that were integral to both the pre-and post-Empire periods. Against this fascinating background, of great significance to me was this: From the moment that Zac (the photographer) and I had met, our mutual respect was evident; and, as time passed on the morning of the ‘Shoot,’ I felt increasingly at ease. Many photographs were taken that Saturday at the British Museum, but only one would be selected by the Publicity Department to publicise the 1997 Cardiff-Whitbread Lecture. A few days later, I received a photograph which was taken on the first floor at the north-eastern end of the Arched Room, where the spines of various sized rare books on wooden shelves formed an impressive, colourful backdrop. Zac’s trained eye had led him to decide on the locations and, of the many poses, I remember well that instant when the camera clicked. Eventually, the outcome and selection was a presentable image; a photograph emblematic of the art of Zac Macaulay that would forever give meaning to our respective, respectful, back-stories and identify me with the Cardiff-Whitbread Lecture for posterity. And so, with the new knowledge that came through my encounter with Zac, the connectedness and ongoing interweaving of histories and cultures revealed a great deal, thus deepening my sense of identity and further exploration. A few weeks after I’d given the Cardiff-Whitbread Lecture, my ‘Tour Guide’ for the Two-Day Event, Jeremy Badcock, had kindly sent me a Postcard with an interesting accompanying note: ‘The twenty four hours encompassing your Lecture and our time in Cardiff were the highlight of my year and I enjoyed your company.’ Having listened to me speak, as a mark of the importance which he attached to the message contained in my published Lecture Homelessness and the

Novel, he wrote: ‘Thoughts on the 1997 Cardiff Lecture:

The other day I fed my cat, a habit both she had I have come quietly accustomed to and I observed what I now perceive as recognised behaviour. She ate her meal then left the dining area 26


and placed herself on the rug in front of the fireplace. Here she diligently cleaned her paws and promptly lay before the fire. It occurred to me that she exhibited this form of behaviour every time I feed her and I wondered if indeed we are creatures of habit. For when I considered my own circumstances I began to recognise there was a distinct pattern in terms of my own activities. I then thought of how the cat would react if I was to place her in a different environment. I must admit I had my doubts, but why? Reflecting on my own life, I considered the consequence of a misdemeanour some years ago whereby I was legally placed in a culture which was totally alien to me; a culture which was totally antagonistic to my presence! There was no escaping the hostility or hatred that fellow companions expressed. A few years later, I sat and thought of my experience and came to the conclusion that as human beings we are all travelling our own journey in whichever shape or form. I remembered a young man from India once saying to me: “You are a gift to God. What you become is a gift to God.” At the time I found it to be a poignant statement and drastically affected my outlook on life. In a sense, it really homed in on the point we, as human beings are all in the same boat! Yet, for whatever reason we, at times, ostracize ourselves from each other. Possibly the reason for this may lie in the spatial framework in which we exist. It seems there are three dimensions to our lives: the past, the present and the future. Each one integrates with each other enabling us to formulate the judgements we make. The past seems to have an enormous bearing on our decisions; the culture in which we are indoctrinated has immense influence. Yet the future grips us with anxiety. In terms of the cultural difference that exist within the world, I wonder if relinquishing the past, nurturing the present and looking forward to the future might usefully assist us.’ That Homelessness and the Novel should elicit such serious ‘Thoughts’ from a seasoned literaryoriented intellectual was most gratifying. Mr Badcock had taken the time to carefully set down his innermost feelings which were significant because they related to my own intellectualphilosophical development as I refined and incorporated different strands of thought into various aspects of my writings. Given my continuing exploration of ‘Home and Belonging’ and difference, Mr Badcock’s question: ‘In terms of cultural difference that exist within the world I wonder if relinquishing the past, nurturing the present and looking forward to the future might usefully assist us?’ seemed too general and simplistic. In this post-Cardiff-Whitbread Lecture period, as historian, biographer, writer and thinker, I felt I’d entered a new phase on my intellectual odyssey of developing the central ‘ideas’ in my writings that were becoming more meaningful. At this juncture, I’d like to make it very clear that while the focus of my books was on two particular social groups: ‘Blacks and Asians’ (and migrants generally) at no stage in my writings were white Britons and other Europeans excluded. And while exile and homelessness were (and are) key inter-connected themes, thus far, it was respect for difference and inclusiveness that had 27


been the hallmark of my literary endeavours in relation to the lives, identities and cultures of groups and individuals in society. Taken together, my work thus far had constituted a timely and unique collection of writings that were both historical and contemporary. By now, with few exceptions, given that every country in the ‘Global Village’ had its ‘Minorities,’ increasingly people were becoming ‘Commuter Immigrants,’ a description which became the working title of a new book proposal. By implication, the continuous movement of people in and out of Britain was, of course, directly related to the big questions that preoccupied me: home and belonging and where and what is home? Recognising that difference drives evolution and that it is the catalyst and evolutionary essence of social life, I continued to push the boundaries hoping to gain deeper insights through historical writing. By 1999, I was editing the penultimate draft of the manuscript of ‘Black Britain,’ which explored difference much further than I’d done. In essence, this compact book provided something rare; a first in British historiography: In 402 pages (including Bibliography and Index) I took a long view - 500 years of the Black and Asian history which, among other things, dealt with various groups to which race, tribe, colour, class, gender, religion and culture were germane. Moreover, pursuing the theme of inclusiveness, my intention was to present a major text-book about the still surprisingly little understood Black and Asian presence in Britain in relation to the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish and the English. A large, ambitious undertaking? Yes. And to what purpose? In part, to make the crucial connection that Britain had been a ‘melting pot’ for centuries; a ‘multicultural Britain,’ long before post-war immigration in the twentieth century. Given that since the 1950s, the face of Britain had changed markedly (and continued to change) I persisted in my search to find a different, more appropriate title for the book. Why? Given my evolving ideas about social relations and society, I felt that ‘Black’ in the book’s title ‘Black Britain’ was too general, a ‘political colour’ that was too totalising for the emerging, essential ideas embedded in the final manuscript that I’d presented to Pluto Press for publication. So if ‘Black Britain’ was not the title, what should it be? Considering the various themes in the book and possible titles, including ‘Images of Britain’ and ‘Imagining Britain,’ several times I got close, but was not quite there. Then, it came with stunning clarity: REIMAGING BRITAIN! So the idea of ‘difference’ that I’d been patiently exploring eventually emerged as the central, recurring theme of the published book Reimaging Britain: 500 Years of Black and Asian History. Historically ‘Blacks and Asians’ had formed a major component of what constituted ‘Minorities’ in Britain; and bearing in mind the larger context, the book’s opening sentence is: ‘Difference has always been a feature of Humankind.’ It ends with the words ‘We should celebrate human difference.’ What was of great significance is that my years of day-to-day practical concerns and my intense study of groups in societies had led me to focus and try to unpack the ‘Oneness of mankind.’ So while engaged with Reimaging Britain, difference became more integral to my 28


writing; an approach which I consistently followed. At this stage in the evolution and application of the idea of respect for difference, to avoid confusion and/or misunderstanding, in Reimaging Britain I was explicit about the ever-changing British population and wrote that Black and Asian people ‘...like their forebears have struggled for the right to demonstrate their sense of identity in the heart of the former Empire. Today’s youth demonstrate a strong sense of belonging: They want to win for Britain. And when they do, they proudly parade their Union Jacks. They do not want to be misrepresented like a Norman Tebbitt pastiche. They are engaged in a massive pop culture that is seemingly everywhere in Britain...The popular contemporary trend now is “Cool Britannia,” a phenomenon that can be found all over Europe. British identity is flagged up time and again in the debate over Europe, as though it is something specific, a sameness common to everyone! The absurdity of this is emphasized when one considers that pluralistic Britain is considering whether or not to become more fully involved with pluralistic Europe. (That was in 1999: Its even more so in 2015!) In making a decision as to Britain’s future and the European Community, those in power should not forget the groundswell of feeling reflective of the “new” Britain of British youths and Black and Asian people generally. For their part, the actions they take proclaim that they too are integral to the historical flux, by inscribing as a corrective to Western versions, their own histories; participants in the act of cultural renewal, of making and remaking themselves, of enforcing the crucial connection between racism and culture, thus giving real meaning to life as lived and creatively expressed in their own hybridised art forms which defy, redefine and transform “Englishness” and “Britishness” through a regenerative and liberating accommodation of multiple British identities.Thus Blacks and Asians vis-à-vis other groups have been making positive contributions to the process of reimaging Britain.’ And so after decades of thought, in terms of more meaningful social relations, important as ‘groups’ were (and are), I began to see that they needed to be approached in more or less the same way that I’d adopted since I had written about, and became deeply interested in, the ‘Oneness of mankind.’ What did this statement really mean? I continued to question. Surely this ‘Oneness’ was too much of an aggregate to make practical sense to each and every person of whom it could fairly be said: one size does not fit all. A related matter was why, in spite of years of sustained pressure from Socialists of every kind, did I not become a Marxist or Trotskyist? As time passed, I began to see more clearly that the ‘Marxist Tendency’ to totalise social relations was, and is, indeed problematic. Why? Because concepts and groupings such as race, tribe, class, colour, gender, culture, religion and so on, tended to deal with aggregates, rather than with individuals. Thus more and more, I began to relate ‘Freedom’ and ‘Human Rights’ as unrealisable expressions if, in essence, they did not apply to the individual. This, I thought, was the acid test of any ‘ism’ (ideology) or social, economic or political theory. In other words, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Human Rights’ should ultimately relate to oneto-one relationships. 29


I came to see difference and recognition of the individual as increasingly relevant, especially in today’s burgeoning multicultural communities. I better understood that without ‘respect for difference’ in society, all else was that bit more problematic taking us further away from the essence of what should constitute the ‘Common Good’ and thus meaningful social relations. So applying difference in an inclusive way to a work of history, - RON RAMDIN - - 40 - as set out in Reimaging Britain, marked a clear shift away from the approach of other British histories and historians who, by and large, were regarded as ‘mainstream.’ It was with this clarity of thought that I accepted an invitation to give a Public Lecture in Murcia, Spain. Unlike the earlier University of Seville Lecture which was exclusively for students, this was for the general public; and because of its relative newness, it was no less interesting or perhaps contentious and controversial in its subject matter. I felt it was to my credit that, once again, I was in a European country ready to speak about ‘Multicultural Britain.’ Distance brought confirmatory perspective. Addressing the Spanish audience on cultural diversity in Britain, I felt that I’d moved decisively and further along the lonely intellectual path that I’d been treading. Apart from speaking to various audiences, the message of Reimaging

Britain not only reflected my ever-deepening thoughts which underscored filling an historical gap, it also provided students and interested readers with ‘new’ information. Put simply, the book was a bold attempt to bring into being something tangible where there was little or nothing! I thought it important to state that while much of what constituted Black and Asian history in Britain had focused largely on the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, Reimaging Britain broadened and made more inclusive the scope and brought the ‘history’ up to date in the late twentieth century. Moreover, I stated: ‘the book takes a new approach to “British history,”

reconfiguring the images of Britain that arise from relations with its colonial and former Colonial possessions - a perspective that contextually juxtaposes the Scots, Welsh, Irish and English (the “British”) with Black and Asian peoples whose histories until recently have more often than not been considered separately, rather than seen as reflecting the interdependence of their histories. Blacks, Asians and Whites in Britain have been influencing each other for centuries and this legacy is reflected in the hybridised lifestyles of Black and Asian youth. British history should no longer be written from the point of view of English nostalgia. Rather it needs to reflect multiculturalism for this has been Britain’s “identity” for centuries...’ Cultural exchange has been ongoing; just prior to the 1990s, I wrote: ‘no fewer than eight cultures co-existed in the British and the long-standing presence, history and culture of Blacks and Asians in Britain had accrued a profound and incalculable contribution to Britain at every stage of its modern history.’ And given that Ethnic Minorities increasingly define themselves as British, identify and see Britain as their home, the relentless trend towards reimaging Britain continues. Indeed, the “Frontier” is there for the crossing as various groups seek to redress the 30


balance of diversity and disadvantage. In the process of reimaging Britain, I identified music, drawing, painting and photography, the dramatic arts and literature through which Black and Asian people have been making their marks. The artist Sonia Boyce, for example, who integrates ‘material into the creation of a pictorial space,’ tells stories which addresses ‘the black woman’s experience in White society. She is intent on the re-creation of Self by using her own image not as a mirror, but as a metaphor, the means through which she emphasizes core issues relating to the “regeneration of cultural identity within a racist society.” She deals with imagery which transcends stereotypes and, in form and subject matter, encourages broadmindedness by demonstrating that drawing is (or can be) as expressive a medium and carry as much potential as painting. Thus the picture plane was seen as a space to be patterned in every sense of the word, in order not to imitate the world, but to create it.’ On migration and literature, I cited a number of writers and their writings in relation to Britain. ‘With the passage of time, the migrants’ and migrant writers’ experiences were expressed in many works of fiction and non-fiction such as George Lamming’s The Emigrants (1954) and The

Pleasures of Exile (1960), Andrew Salkey’s Escape to An Autumn Pavement (1963) and V.S. Naipaul’s The Mimic Men (1967). In The Emigrants, Lamming addresses the nature of the migratory experience: ‘The interpretation we give hist’ry is people the world over always searchin’ and feelin,’ from time immemorial them keep searchin’ and feelin.’ ’ In the ‘postmodern’ world an ever-increasing body of literary texts are related to migration; indeed ‘Writing Across Worlds’ was among the major themes expressed. As citizens not just of one country, but many, one writer proclaims the ‘boundless Kingdom of the imagination, the half-lost land of memory.’ Alienation had become an important subject of study for both Social Scientists and literary scholars, who together can advance our understanding. But of all the writers who came to London in the Fifties, Sam Selvon, in his trilogy The Lonely Londoners, Moses Ascending and Moses

Migrating, perhaps evokes best the black migrants’ post-war attempts to recreate ‘home’ in a ‘City of words.’ The migrants’ entry into Britain confronted Selvon with his own identity. It is this confrontation which inspired him to use language in his art to decolonise, both in style and content, the traditional imperialist novel. His Black Londoners are rootless characters through whom he uses language to remake the city in their own image. He used the ‘oral Calypsonian ballad’ to good subversive effect; a striking departure from the strictures of ‘Queen’s English’ or ‘Standard English.’ Indeed his efforts at literary decolonisation not only colonises England in reverse, but also looks forward to the later works of Caribbean poets and writers (such as James Berry, Michael Smith, Jean Breeze and Linton Johnson) who combined the literary with the oral. Professor Michel Fabre of the Sorbonne University has said of Selvon that he ‘does no assimilate into the mainstream (of writing Standard English) he explodes it.’

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Finally, given the great challenge of producing such a ‘multicultural’ work like Reimaging

Britain, I set down the crucial concluding paragraphs with my own brand of literary inventiveness as follows:

‘...whether or not the novel is dead, these writings are creations by people from the former British Empire, whose British-born children are, in effect, redressing the balance by writing back in a new linguistic mixture; a vital and inescapable task at the heart of the post-Colonial enterprise. Given that post-Colonial literature is “essentially political,” its creation and study necessitate serious questioning of the axioms upon which the whole discipline of English has been founded, for they are not immutable “truths,” but changeable social and political constructions. Like Boyce, the writers of post-colonial literature and other Afro-Asian artists before her who had learned to draw and to paint, the multitude of Black and Asian youths in the 1990s (who are among the majority of the “underclass,” the long-term unemployed with precious little space for manoeuvre) are engaged, through momentary configuration of images and attitudes in reinventing themselves within the “Britannic melting pot.” At the end of the bloodiest century in recorded human history, diversity and disadvantage have underscored this multifaceted Black, Asian and “British” history of racialized interdependence which, in turn has been characterised by Black and Asian peoples’ dignity, courage and self-belief. But although the “brothers” and “sisters” are still denied the “upper-hand” they have learned much about the use of colour! Such an imposition had subjected and consigned Black and Asian people to the wretchedness and frustration of being at the margins of a racial divide along economic, social and political lines. From these unpromising circumstances, in the fast-changing proliferating multi-coloured, cross-cultural mosaic of cultural coexistence (reflecting more light and less shadow, subtle nuances giving perspective to a modernist version of an essentially primal story) has appeared to contradict certain prevailing norms and values, the legacy of white mythologies. The post-Empire counterpoise has been converted into highly-charged creative “UN-British” lifestyles, new and positive images of their humanity imprinted on a time-worn canvass; portrayals that are evocative of the art of living with difference in a society in which elites, contrary to political realities and incontrovertible evidence of a pervasive racist culture, still perceive themselves and British institutions not as striving for, but as providing the ever-elusive “Equal opportunities” for all. Few would argue against the advances made, but the vision of cock-eyed power-brokers, architects of the economy and patrons of the arts continue to inspire in those they mislead, a desire and urgency to add their individual and collective brush-strokes in the making of a truer, though less-defined and unfinished picture of British life and living which insists that the people in these “Sceptred Isles” far from being the “Lords of humankind,” have been, and are, of many cultures with a tendency to look outwards and more realistically at themselves and release the imagination from the Empire within.’

32


In my concluding paragraph, I wrote:

‘Clearly, at least from the time of the Viking invasions, among the peoples of the British Isles, the legacy of British traditions is integral to what has evolved in today’s multicultural Britain. So in speaking about contemporary British cultural identity, certain questions arise: for example, Whose Britain? Whose culture? And whose identity? We should therefore be concerned with Britain as a complex society in terms of age, gender, sex and the family, ethnicity, language, youth, culture, class, politics, the environment and heritage; a diverse Britain with conflicting groups’ interests. Not surprisingly, each of these groupings has its own interpretation of Britain and none can claim to be solely representative because each is influenced by region, religion, education and profession. We should therefore speak in the plural, of identities in terms of British culture, rather than identity. By so doing, in this post-Empire, devolutionary, pro-Europe period of British history, British civilization and society in the face of the uncertainties of a fast-changing world in which the ugliness of racism looms large - we should not miss the opportunity at the new millennium, not merely to acknowledge, but also to celebrate the creative potential of human difference.’ Given my exploration of the idea of difference in relation to social groups, I reflected that

Reimaging Britain was much more than just another history! I had thought long and hard as to how I should end the book which necessarily contained many groups, sub-groups, cultures, subcultures and identities. And now past the millennium, I posed the question: Was Reimaging

Britain just about ‘race’? Was it just about Blacks and Asians? No, was the simple, but resounding answer. I felt my focus and preoccupation were about something other than just the groupings of race, tribe, colour, class, gender, culture, religion and so on. Later, I realised that what lay at the core of social dynamics was something deeper and more truthful, clearly not the above categorizations because people (individuals) of the same race, tribe, class, colour, gender and religion, for example, are not identical. Indeed group categorizations over-emphasize and tends to promote the deadening, life-sapping effect of suppressing the energy and creativity of persons through sameness, the opposite of what concerned me: namely that the heart of the matter was clearly not the above-named groupings, but the lack of respect for difference! Mindful that it is difference which drives evolution, I came to a clearer understanding and firmly believed: what is common to us is our difference. Given that this ‘truth’ (or reality) as I saw it, relates to all that I’d been writing about for almost thirty years, it was a profound revelation. It explains why for so long I’d been uneasy and increasingly concerned about the ‘Oneness of mankind’ which was about totalisation and aggregation (for example, the Marxist concepts of ‘class’ and ‘society’) which overlooks the essential importance and value of the individual. In essence then, Reimaging Britain was (is) about difference. Thus I coined the phrase: ‘Difference is the DNA of social relations.’ At last, it seemed, the cross-fertilization of my 33


thoughts expressed in my multi-faceted writings thus far as historian, biographer, novelist and travel writer began to make sense. So altogether, my travels, lectures, research and writing, including work on Isabella’s Legacy: My Discovery of Spain became significant, covering a major period of my journey of self-discovery. Put simply, my call to ‘celebrate the creative potential of human difference’ was, of course, contrary to what the Elites have been repeatedly telling me and others. In fact, prior to and at the millennium, the truth of Reimaging Britain was no less germane than it is today. But after this bold advocacy, I was keen to apply the idea of ‘respect for difference’ elsewhere in the world in the hope of underlining its validity. If it could not be applied in different contexts, then my hopes for it as a sound, democratic idea would be dashed! As it happened, an ambitious study that I’d been working on was completed and ready for publication. In fact, the book titled Arising From Bondage: A History of the Indo-Caribbean

People was the first work of its kind on East Indians in the Caribbean. After the twelve years that had passed spanning conception to publication, I was thrilled that Arising From Bondage was at last available for all who wished to read it. In the Preface I wrote: ‘This book is an attempt to fill a major gap in Caribbean historiography: the first comprehensive narrative which puts into historical perspective the struggles of the Indo-Caribbean people... Arising From Bondage is an epic of extraordinary perseverance and courage of an enterprising people whose contribution to Caribbean societies had been (and is) enormously important, even though it has been little understood and much undervalued. It is hoped this book... will not only help students interested in the rich mosaic of cultures in the Caribbean, but will also attract general readers and bring us closer to a more informed view and better understanding of the people of the Caribbean.’ A ‘rich mosaic of cultures’ had indeed existed, yet hitherto, the Indians’ presence and contribution in the Caribbean was largely ‘hidden.’ I added: ‘Given that there is an estimated 10 million persons of South Asian descent living outside Asia...this work will complement existing and potential studies of Indian populations in other parts of the world, thus retrieving it from relative obscurity. It needs to be said that for too long the unrelenting struggle of the Indians have been seen in certain circles as a footnote to Caribbean studies, a view which it is hoped this timely book will help to correct. If it is true that until recently Indians in the Caribbean have been ignored and therefore “written out” of history, then it would be appropriate to assert that the time has come to “write them in”...Indo-Caribbean history and culture must be retrieved from the margins and placed at the centre as an integral part of discourse on Caribbean historiography...For the period between Emancipation and the achievement of Political Independence of various territories in the Caribbean, there had been no 34


proper, comprehensive, long-view history of the Caribbean...In so far as Arising From Bondage tells of essential aspects of the post-Emancipation period, it is invaluable.’ One major aspect of the book is that, in great detail, it tells the story of the recruitment, arrival, settlement and development of the Indo-Caribbean people. Furthermore, and of special significance, in terms of my own intellectual development and the refinement of certain ideas, I wrote: ‘Though many Indians are proud of their heritage, with few exceptions, contemporary Indians are deeply attached to their New World environment, having continuously adjusted in varying degrees to changes imposed upon them and to their changing contexts; and by adopting new concepts, they have helped to shape the circumstances of their childrens’ lives and, in turn, the succeeding generations have influenced their descendants who became increasingly integrated in their particular societies... Diversity, so characteristic of this part of the world, must be cherished and until the Elites can recognise difference and act in response to the popular appeal of the masses to bring about social change through genuine respect for the human rights of others, the contradictions endemic in Caribbean societies, underscored by domination and control, will continue to be over-emphasized at the expense of a more integrative approach to future policymaking. Politicians who so readily exploit human differences of one sort or another, do so often knowing well the essential similarities that bind people socially. But whether or not the Elites recognise and respect difference for what in essence it represents, the Indians’ massive contributions to their societies are incalculable. Historically (like the enslaved Africans before them) they have been resilient in adversity and after more than a century and a half of resistance and revolt endemic in the process of arising from their bonded status and its residual prejudices, both individually and collectively, their lives movingly evoke an epic and exemplary story of human resourcefulness, dignity and self-determination, sustained by a deep spirituality invoked through imaginative interpretations of songs, dance, artforms, elaborate rituals and colourful, symbolic festivals of ancient tradition. As we approach the end of the century, new identities and new views are being forged from tensions arising from the underdeveloped world...particularly in the Caribbean in response to new technologies and the possibilities of the richer world that are likely to test the human spirit in disturbing ways. But, for some time now, the peoples of this region have been creating a multi-hued, multi-faceted admixture of enriching cultures. The history of the Indo-Caribbean people could well surprise us by yielding some invaluable lessons and some warnings; a legacy and a compass melding elements of East and West which informs us of the Indo-Caribbean people and their descendants’ odyssey towards new horizons.’

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Worthy of note, is the fact that to date, the book contains the most comprehensive Bibliography on the subject. I reflected that during childhood and over many decades of research and writing in Britain, I was constantly bombarded by the categorization of people in terms of race, class, colour, gender, culture and religion. These labels or expressions were becoming almost meaningless in the sense that the person was, more or less, overwhelmingly subsumed, indeed in many cases, oppressed by group psychology. And so my challenge against the largely accepted prevailing views continued with due intensity. The Launch of Arising From Bondage, held at the Hilton Hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad, was an extraordinary event. Before an audience which included the Head of State, what I had to say was clearly and strongly presented in my Address:

‘Your Excellency President Robinson, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Noor Hasanali (wife of Former President Hasanali), Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, for as long as I can remember, I have been bombarded from every conceivable angle by aspects of human difference. As a child, and years later, as a young man, my lack of understanding was compounded by religious leaders and politicians, the one preaching about the “Oneness of Mankind,” the other proclaiming from every platform: “All ah we is one!” In both cases the theme was unity. But therein lay, in my view, the core problem of human relations vis-à-vis human rights and freedom. The question of human difference has preoccupied me increasingly in recent years and, it seems appropriate on returning to my birthplace for this Launch that I should reflect upon the genesis and evolution of my book Arising From Bondage.’ After speaking for about fifteen minutes, I concluded: ‘At any given time (and this applies to each of us in this room) we are who we are...Respect for

each other can only be based upon this understanding. Over-emphasis on the group, on the society, tends to diminish the individual and should, because of its oppressiveness be resisted. Understanding this has been at the core of my voyage of self-discovery. In many ways, what I’d left in Trinidad had echoes in what I found in Britain; and 38 years on, I am still deeply concerned with ethnic groups and “race relations.” Clearly, the Caribbean is a multicultural region and in speaking about contemporary Caribbean cultural identity we must consider certain questions: Whose Caribbean? Whose culture? And whose identity? We should be concerned with the Caribbean as comprising of complex societies in terms of age, gender, sex and family, ethnicity, language, youth, culture, class, politics and heritage; a diverse Caribbean with conflicting group interests. And not surprisingly each of these Groupings has its own interpretation of the Caribbean and none can claim to be solely representative because each of us is influenced by region, religion education and profession. We should therefore speak in the plural, not of identity, but of identities. The Caribbean has been described as a unique field of good Race Relations and while 36


there are areas where, from time to time, racism rears its ugly head, with the approach of Indian Arrival Day 2000, as we launch Arising from Bondage...we should not miss the opportunity at the millennium, not merely to acknowledge, but also to celebrate the creative potential of human difference.’ Thus, in principle, I applied the same social approach contained in the closing paragraph of

Reimaging Britain to the different Caribbean context. The Book Launch highlighted an extraordinary literary Homecoming in that Trinidad’s most respected academics, politicians, journalists, media people, booksellers and book enthusiasts paid homage to Arising From

Bondage. Of significance was the positive response to my Address, in particular, the recognition of respect for difference that I’d been exploring on my intellectual-literary odyssey. These concepts were identified by Professor Ramchand in his perceptive remarks: ‘The titles of Ramdin’s published books suggests the interests of a modern Caribbean person who has experienced the meeting of worlds. At the same time they tell of his gradual discovery that all of we cannot be one, if the one did not embrace and respect equally and take its changing shape from all ethnicities that meet in this place.’ Soon after the Launch, a local journalist and a well-known political commentator had both published articles in national newspapers which cited my ‘Address’ and the questions that I’d raised on place, culture and identity. These ‘articles’ were interesting, not least because once more, my book’s essential message had direct relevance not only to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, but also to those living in other countries. Thus Arising From

Bondage was (is) a valuable educational resource. Following the spectacular millennium celebrations, in 2001 while tension and racial strife increased in certain areas of London and elsewhere in Britain, it seemed right that, apart from my books, I should also press on with the promotion and application of difference and mutual respect as a Public Speaker. Over the years, having spoken in the main to mixed (black and white) audiences, most of whom were from Ethnic Minority backgrounds in Britain, now after appearances in Spain, France and the Caribbean, my focus at home was to inform ‘mainstream’ British society. Writing history, so integral to my developing ideas, had caught the attention of a few leading historians and intellectuals in England and, as a consequence, I was presented with a great opportunity. This came from one of the finest and best publishing institutions in Britain and the world: The Folio Society of England. I was commissioned to write an Essay for the book England

1945- 2000, the latest publication in the Society’s multi-volume History of England Series. The suggested theme was ‘Immigration Since the War’ to which I added the prefix: ‘The English 37


Test:.’ My engagement with this important, but contentious subject made me aware of the weight of responsibility upon me not only as Historian, but also as a Writer. It was a big chance to test the idea of difference, not only with the general reading public, but also with my peers who were among the best, most distinguished historians. Furthermore as the only non-white commissioned author, there were a few things which I felt needed to be said in my contribution to this prestigious publication. As Editor of England 1945-2000, Professor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto in his Preface wrote:

‘For the Folio History of England we have sought classic works by historians eminent in their day and influential since - books still worth reading for their status as literature or their contribution to historiography. Where no properly Classic volume is available recent works have been adopted well-written, impactful at their first appearance and likely to endure! All the volumes are intended to represent important strands in the fabric of English history writing during the last hundred years. They have been chosen for their diversity of methods, at widely separated moments from the first decades of the 20th century to the last...The truth of English history if we could get at it - would consist of a totality of all possible perspectives: by shifting in and out of different viewpoints, the Folio History will therefore get closer to the “Truth” than would a conventionally planned series unified by a very limited set of guidelines and shared assumptions... The Series first appeared as the Folio Society celebrated its Fiftieth year. As it draws to its close, England seems alive or alert with promise or foreboding. Reading about England’s past is the best way of preparing for her future...’ The Introduction to England 1945-2000 was written by Lord Roy Jenkins, then Chancellor of the University of Oxford and former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary in the British Government. He began by stating:

‘Thirty years ago, Sir Keith Thomas, one of Oxford’s most eminent Historians wrote a famous book entitled Religion and the Decline of Magic. The period under review in these essays might appropriately be called Prosperity and the Decline of Belief. The belief which declined however is not so much religious faith (although that has diminished too) as faith in the destiny of the country...’ After a detailed historical analysis of the ‘country’ Lord Jenkins concluded:

‘The Essays which follow will help to show how England which emerged from the Second World War got where it is today. I must confess to having very little idea what will be revealed by a similar volume another fifty years on.’

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My completed Essay The English Test: Immigration Since the War, opened thus:

‘Since Elizabeth I issued her proclamation of 1601 to deport “Such...blackamoores which...are carried into this realm” because as she put it, “there are already here to many considerynge how God hath blessed this land with great increase of people of our owne nation as anie countrie in the world,” calls for a repatriation of “Foreigners” from England have echoed down the centuries. But few could have imagined the changes that would succeed the traumas of the Second World War; namely that Shakespeare’s “Sceptred Isle” which had for centuries so masterfully ruled the waves would through an influx of migrants be transformed from part of a multinational state into a multiracial, multicultural society. The insistent and unusual demands of war-time broke down barriers, but others were erected as large numbers of Colonial people of various nationalities were uprooted from their homes, having accepted the challenge of serving King and Country - a chastening and enlightening experience which led them to consider the prospect of employment in England. West Indians, Africans, Indians and Pakistanis, “Colonial migrants,” came to England in the post-war years at the invitation of the British Government. Unlike the Poles and Italians (who it should be said, did suffer some initial prejudice) the non-white migrants were overwhelmed by discrimination, and often deeply dispirited and disillusioned by the unpleasant experience of seeking employment and housing... Post-war Black and Asian immigration remained a sensitive, volatile issue on the English political agenda, flashpoints being the Smethwick Election in 1964, the Kenyan Asian Crisis in 1967 and passage of the Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1968 which represented (as one writer noted) a “major politicisation of racism in Britain and both Parties (the Conservatives and Labour) had cooperated in its implementation.” This was the period which also saw the rise to political prominence of Enoch Powell, spokesman against Black and Asian immigration, whose inflammatory speeches loom large in English history... Today, instead of embracing the enriching contribution of different religions, languages and cultures, many English people feel threatened believing mistakenly that a pristine Englishness is being corroded and will eventually be lost. They forget that an English racial and cultural mix has been evolving for centuries. Nevertheless politicians, policy-makers and civil servants have, at various times, tended to demonise the “Foreigner” for his/her difference. Not surprisingly, colour prejudice and racial discrimination have been highly contentious issues in English post-war history and, over the years, a number of measures have been taken to address them... Queen Elizabeth II’s England may need to change more than it has but it has changed enough to recognise the merits of this challenge. Such writings as “Listen Mr Oxford Don” creations by people from the former British Empire, are in effect, redressing the balance by writing back in a new linguistic mixture, a vital and inescapable task at the heart of the post-Colonial enterprise. The actions that migrants and their descendants take proclaim that they too are integral to 39


England’s history by inscribing as a corrective to Western Versions, their own histories, participants in an act of social and cultural renewal. So, in the wake of intra-British, European, African, Middle Eastern, New Commonwealth and Caribbean post-war immigration, the consequences have been enormous. And in speaking about contemporary English cultural identities, certain questions arise: Whose England? Whose culture? Whose identity?’ Thus my Essay highlighting English plurality was one more piece incorporating the main ideas of home and belonging and respect for difference. Afterwards my relief, a sense of having done my best, was palpable. Reflecting on my work as historian, biographer, novelist and now as essayist, I had joined a distinguished, select list of English writers, including Thomas Babington Macaulay. Interestingly (given the Macaulay family’s Colonial connections) I was mindful of my historic role as a descendant of indentured labourers for ironically, I had also written about this ‘Sceptred Isle,’ but of an England which Macaulay (the former highly ranked, influential Administrator of India) could hardly have imagined! If this was a major break-through for me in gaining access to the wider British society, as a consequence, another opportunity beckoned: Following publication, I was called upon to appear as one of four speakers to promote the book England 1945-2000 at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival of Literature in 2001. On arrival at the Everyman Theatre, Sue Bradbury, Editor-in-Chief of the Folio Society introduced me to the highly-respected Professors Felipe Fernandez-Armesto and Richard Hoggart, and Peter Jay (former British Ambassador to the United States of America and a well-known BBC personality). These were my Co-Debaters on ‘20th Century Power,’ all of whom I’d heard a great deal about. They’d been at the top of their game for years and were eminently qualified to speak to the jampacked Everyman Theatre audience. Professor Fernandez-Armesto Chaired the Debate; and after each speaker had delivered a five-minute Presentation, he put the first question to me. When the Debate was opened to the floor, the first question was again put to me. During the exchanges, I referred to difference which was central to most of what I’d been arguing. This was as big a public engagement as I could have hoped for in that I had to hold my own before a well-informed cross-section of intellectuals and the highly literate British public as I presented the ideas that I’d been exploring and applying daily to the realities of my life. According to the Folio Society’s Editor and Organisers of the Cheltenham Literary Festival, the ‘Debate’ and performances of the Debaters were an unqualified success. Thus my Essay The English Test: Immigration Since the

War became an integral part of English historiography. If in terms of authorial experience Cheltenham was an eye-opener, a step up for me, so to speak, a few months later, there was more to come; in fact, I was offered a great chance to air my ideas across Britain and on the world stage. Michael Blastland, a Producer at the BBC had invited me to participate in a Debate on the highly-rated Radio Four programme ANALYSIS which, at the time, was presented by Professor Fernandez- Armesto. The theme of the programme was 40


‘PATRIOTISM: THE LAST REFUGE.’ The participants in the Debate were Oliver Letwin (Conservative Shadow Home Secretary); Brendan O’Leary (Professor of Political Science and Director of the Art Centre at the University of Pennsylvannia); Professor Lindsay Paterson (the Institute of Governance at Edinburgh University); George Shopflin (Jean Monet Professor of Politics at the School of Eastern and Slavonic Studies, University College, London); Marianne Talbot (Lecturer in Philosophy at the Department of Continuing Education, Oxford University) and myself, introduced as Dr Ron Ramdin, author of Reimaging Britain. The Debate was broadcast on the BBC nationally, during the first week in November 2002; and, because of its timeliness in terms of Current Affairs, covering such themes as nation, immigration, difference, home and belonging, I think it is worth quoting the essential part of it. Opening the programme Professor Fernandez-Armesto said:

‘Patriotism is a virtue. It is altruistic: it puts community - the patriot’s state as nation - above self. Patriotism is generous: patriots make sacrifices for their country. Patriotism is progressive because citizens who want to make their country the best strive to make it better. And yet, if you are patriotic, I think you shouldn’t be. Not that patriotism is a bad thing: Like maths and dancing, it fills one with wonder, but in materialist, consumerist, individualist, atomised, kaleidoscopically mutable society we inhabit, all patriotism seems surprising. Chauvinists and xenophobia give it a bad name. Abandoned traditions leave others little to be patriotic about. So how does a patriotism survive? How does it survive nowadays? Oliver Letwin, the Shadow Home Secretary, is the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany. How does he define (his) patriotism?’ Oliver Letwin: ‘I’m like my fellow citizens nurtured by Britain the country that gave me

freedom under the rule of law and a very good standard of living and protection from marauders and so I have a duty as I see it to support this country against its enemies. ’ Fernandez-Armesto: ‘So its quid pro quo - its what the country done for you that makes you

patriotic?’ Oliver Letwin: ‘Yes. Exactly.’ In turn, Professor O’Leary said: ‘Patriotism, I think is

associated with loyalty to a political community, a state in our contemporary language and there’s a rationale behind that, namely that loyalty to the State should be based on some notion of rights and duties accompanying one another...It is surprising that with the great role that contemporary states play in the organisation of contemporary lives that they should be the residual site of some degree of affection and a national obligation. I think one can write and speak a history particularly of the working class which would say that its patriotic attachment to the state has grown in proportion to the Welfare State and that it’s much more rational and rooted in its self-interest than it might have been in previous times.’ Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘Brendan O’Leary is Irish and therefore knows something

about the struggle for Statehood. He says patriotism is traditional - a deal you make with the 41


State. States buy Patriotism from their subjects with services, protection, nurture...Britain may have jettisoned a lot of the traditional baggage of the Patriotism of the past, but the regime of political rights and Social Welfare has created a new focus of allegiance. Oliver Letwin is susceptible to this idea even though he’s from that Conservative tradition which is suspicious of the State.’ Oliver Letwin: ‘I have been happy enough to live under its Laws and to benefit from it so it has

a right to expect from me a return.’ Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘And that would include things like the benefits of the Welfare State.’ Oliver Letwin: ‘Yes. That is part of it...It’s the whole structure of a liberal democracy.’ Following Oliver Letwin and Professor O’Leary were the contributions of Lindsay Paterson, George Shopflin, Marianne Talbot and myself. Listening to the programme recently, I reflected on the pros and cons of the disputed ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ debate just before Britain went to war against Iraq, and on what Professor Paterson had to say: ‘I’m pretty sure that if the UK government decides to join in the war against Iraq...there will be support for our troops out there facing danger. At the same time, however, I doubt if that will actually still debate here. So I think what we see there is a very deep attachment to Liberal freedom that we were in fact supposed to be defending allowing people to continue to debate the validity of the War even while its in progress.’ At this juncture, I thought that such a deep attachment to liberal Freedom, so fundamental to democracy (and democratic traditions) was indeed the key prerequisite of my idea of respect for difference. In response to what Professor Paterson had said, Professor Fernandez-Armesto continued: ‘So is that a form of patriotism? I mean, are those liberal values precisely the culture to which people feel allegiance? ’ Professor Paterson: ‘Yes, I think that’s the key point here. We don’t any longer, if we ever had it, have a notion of our country, right or wrong.’ Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘Whether you advocate values or culture as the underlying generators of the continuity of Patriotism, the problem is particularly acute in Britain today; not just because we’re facing the prospect of a war which will galvanise some people’s patriotism and dissolve that of others. There are deeper, long-term structural difficulties. We’re living in a country of rapidly multiplying loyalties.’ Reference to ‘we’re living in a country of rapidly multiplying loyalties’ was a turning point in the Debate. All the more so, because it echoed my own thoughts arising from history, culture and identities. In relation to ‘British Patriotism’ Professor O’Leary stated ‘there is a civic territorial identity which united Scots, Welsh and the English - that’s begun to fragment and its quite clear that significant proportions of the Welsh and Scots populations either have vigorous dual identities and, in some cases, strongly nationalist identities. They prefer to see the break-up of 42


Britain and it will be a major challenge for the power-holders at Westminster to maintain the notion of a British patriotism in the circumstances of running a multinational state.’ Because patriotism had ‘amazing powers of adhesion,’ considering that it was perfectly possible for people in Scotland, for example, to be both Scottish patriots and British patriots, Professor Fernandez-Armesto commented that while the Irishman O’Leary feared ‘conflicting patriotisms may be uncontainable in a single State, the Scotsman Lindsay Paterson is confident that they can co-exist. But how elastic is this sort of patriotism which can embrace difference and sanctions uneasily compatible allegiances?’ Oliver Letwin responded by saying he was ‘not a pessimist about this in the sense that I think that most people think themselves as both English and British or Scottish and British or both Welsh and British. Except for Northern Ireland, I think there always has been and there remains bifocalism.’ Given that bifocalism could become trifocalism, Professor Fernandez-Armesto argued that ‘you could also have European patriotism and, of course, its not just devolution and Europeanisation which are blurring loyalties, there was immigration too.’ Moreover, the presence of immigrant populations in northern world democracies prompted the following response from Professor O’Leary: ‘If you’re a State which is taking significant populations of peasants in, they’re quite happy to be socialised in return for Citizenship. It is somewhat more problematic I think for current states either to homogenise or to integrate to their immigrant populations.’ But how loyal could we expect our present and future immigrants to be? On this question, Professor Paterson added: ‘Let’s take, for example, the role of Islamic culture...in fifty or one hundred years time, will we not in fact have a variety of Islams in Western Europe just as we have of Christianities. I’m not just talking here about the distinction between Protestantism and Catholicism but actually the way in which the various Protestant Churches and indeed the various branches of the Catholic Church have quite recognisably distinct national characteristics.’ Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘The Britishness of British Islam then, will become a source of patriotic pride for British Muslims. For Paterson, patriotism which seems so elusive and insubstantial can actually be stronger than culture, absorbing and redirecting culture of foreign origin. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to this but historical precedent on Paterson’s side.’ Professor FernandezArmesto then asked: ‘But what if he is wrong? Isn’t it more likely that mixed cultures means divided allegiances? Dr Ron Ramdin arrived 40 years ago from the Caribbean. His book Reimaging Britain is about British identity. Does he think the British today can sustain patriotism of the past?’ Dr Ron Ramdin: ‘The truth is they can’t sustain it because we are in a new British society, a new situation of multiculturalism in which there are many diverse groups. And one has to ask the questions today: Whose Britain? Whose culture? And whose identity we are talking about. So you cannot invoke that sort of patriotism anymore. In my view, patriotism now will have to include a sense of belonging that would help to make the affected excluded groups feel they belong with no 43


one culture imposing its will upon the others. For example, if patriotism was problematic for the Scots, Welsh and the Irish during Empire days with being “British,” it has become even more problematic in today’s devolutionary pro-European Britain which is confronted with harnessing the creative potential of cultural difference to formulate a new political community. So everything is in a state of flux - nothing is static, its evolving and...’ Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘How can you be patriotic about something which is always changing, which is always shifting, which is always in transition, which doesn’t have any stable values?’ Dr Ron Ramdin: ‘That’s the reality. Britain today is not what Britain was 50 years ago. It’s this constant (continuous) reconstituting of what the values were, are and will be. All my life I’ve looked for something that would give me a sense of security, something which I believe in and what I came up with, time and again (in spite of disappointments) is the recurrent need to reassess, to renegotiate and I feel quite secure in that now.’ Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘So you feel secure in your state of flux? ’ Dr Ron Ramdin: ‘Yes, I do in my state of flux.’ Admittedly the sense of homelessness that followed my arrival in England had diminished and gradually given way to an increasingly strong feeling of belonging. What follows are the closing contributions to the Debate. Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘Can the British lion become a chameleon? Ron Ramdin’s starting point is unchallengeable: patriotism has to adapt to survive. His analysis recalls working class patriotism in the 19th century - which was also perhaps confidence in a process of regeneration towards an evolving, increasingly democratic image of Britishness. I can see that some people might like an environment of perpetual renegotiation: it may enhance their sense of freedom. They may want to fight to defend it. This sort of sentiment could, perhaps replace patriotism, but it can hardly become patriotism. On the contrary, renegotiation could adulterate loyalties or create new conflicting ones, as communities of different ethnic origins define themselves in relation to each other. This is suggested not only by apparently unbridgeable fissures which divide some ethnic groups, but also by psychological studies of the way patriotism happens.’ In turn, Professor George Shopflin said: ‘Each cultural community has a particular way of putting its case. I think the technical terrain for this is a thought-style. In the case of the AngloSaxons its emphasis is on pragmatism, if you like empiricism, of dealing with a problem that’s immediately in front of us...’ Far from being clear-cut, guiding the Debate, Professor FernandezArmesto said: ‘There is something odd about British people who are willing to abandon or abolish their own traditional and historic peculiarities of culture, yet anxious to impose loyalty tests on immigrants. For British louts abroad, hatred of foreigners seems to be their last refuge, the closest they come to patriotism. Maybe in multicultural society and a multicivilizational north we would be better off without patriots.’ 44


Thus far, I felt the person who came closest to my now long-gestated position was Marianne Talbot who said: ‘I think that in a way being patriotic is precisely self-differentiation, the same for feeling identity with your Brownie pack...I mean I don’t think there is anything particularly bad intrinsically about distinguishing oneself from others. It is one’s attitude to the others from whom one can draw an analogy here with the Bully in the playground who doesn’t respect himself and so takes it out on others. He, because he has lost a sense of self-esteem, distinguishes himself from others and needs to put others down in order to bring himself up! I think if you don’t feel a sense of belonging in your own country’s culture, you’re likely to turn into a cultural Bully.’ Professor Fernandez-Armesto: ‘For Marianne Talbot patriotism can give you confidence for co-existence - self-respect - which precedes respect for others. Plausible in theory. But has Ron Ramdin found it works?’ Dr Ron Ramdin: ‘In the way that patriotism has affected me at the time (of my migration and thereafter) negatively, terribly negatively, I felt it can’t be a good thing. But then, you know, there are positive things about belonging...For example, having been in Britain for (over half a century) I’ve had many opportunities to do things. I look at that as positive. Whether or not I’m a patriot is another thing, but I do feel “British.” And so, my sense of belonging was at one with respect for difference. Finally, Professor Fernandez-Armesto closed the Debate by saying: ‘Perhaps true patriotism survives if we don’t think about it too much, for in this field in which scrutiny leads to scepticism perhaps there are abiding values at present which may re-emerge as they did in Russia or France or China after the Revolutions. Those bifocal and trifocal allegiances of which we have heard are testing many countries’ patriotism today. In some, including Britain, it may fragment into regional patriotism or dissolve amid renegotiation or vanish into some future super-State. For as long as it lasts, it will surely be abused. I suspect, however, that in Britain, at least, it will go on surprising us by its durability as well as its mutability: because an attachment which has so little for so long clearly has amazing powers of adhesion.’ The high regard and social importance of this timely and fascinating ‘Debate,’ broadcast twice in a week, was reflected in widespread public interest. According to the BBC Producer, Professor Bernard Crick of Birkbeck College at the University of London, a leading spokesman and academic, was one of the first to request a copy of the Transcript of that ANALYSIS programme. In the wake of the Debate on ‘Patriotism...’, given that a pending film project ‘The Sand Road’ about my life and work had stalled, interest in it was revived by another company. Tuareg Productions came forward to consider doing an hour-long Documentary film, but with a new title: ‘Making a Difference.’ This was significant in that it mirrored even more clearly my ideas and the exploration of social realities. ‘This document is about a very unusual life,’ the film synopsis stated, ‘the life of Ron Ramdin, an uplifting story of a teenage boy’s courage and determination to 45


gain experience and knowledge...it is the story of self-discovery, dedication, compassion and hope...Ron’s life and work had made a difference to many people and certainly to Ron himself. He believes that respect for each other (in our various communities) can be genuine only when, as he says in Reimaging Britain, we recognise and “celebrate” the creative potential of human difference.’ While considering the ‘Making a Difference’ film proposal, I received an invitation from London Metropolitan University and the British Trades Union Congress to do an Archival Recording of my decade-long Leadership role during the tumultuous years of industrial struggles; and, as if in furtherance of my ongoing work, the British Library’s fortnightly Newsletter Shelflife published an article which read: ‘HERITAGE Partnership: Ken Livingstone has appointed Dr Ron Ramdin of Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections to serve on the Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage (MCAAH). This Project a Heritage Strategic Initiative will play a ground-breaking role in establishing partnerships and a programme for action that will address the dearth of effective representation in London. Since Ron is serving on the Commission as an individual, the Library was represented by Graham Shaw, Director of APAC (Africa, Pacific and Asia Collections), at an Open Session at City Hall. Among the issues raised were the need for community involvement in the Curatorial interpretation of objects and Ethnic Diversity in the staffing of institutions.’ With the approach of the 200th anniversary of Anti-Slavery legislation in Britain, I had hoped that the British Library would curate activities connected with this ‘anniversary.’ Indeed, I was pleased to hear about the possibility of the British Library hosting a Diversity Exhibition. Words, words, words. Over the years, countless words were written and spoken mostly by me in the hope that such an ‘Exhibition’ would happen. Now, at last, I thought, the Library’s commitment to act would truly reflect the modern community it served. Having spoken out in my usual positive way during the crucial foundational years of the British Library (especially on behalf of the poorly-paid) I was perceived and demonised as a ‘Communist’ by certain managers and branded a ‘black sheep’ out of step with the fold. So following publication of the ‘HERITAGE PARTNERSHIP’ article, through continued input on the Mayor’s Commission, my hope for greater inclusiveness in recruitment and policy-making, for example, in the British Library (and other British institutions) was higher than ever. History, culture and identity continued to inform my activities in relation to multicultural Britain and cosmopolitan Trinidad. On Sunday 15 August 2004 during the ‘London Mela’ held at Gunnersbury Park, I gave a ‘Talk’ on a much-neglected subject: ‘The Indian Influence on Trinidad Carnival.’ My presentation was, in essence, as follows:

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‘Much was said and written about the Trinidad Carnival and steelband or Pan. But a little known aspect of the story is the IndoTrinidadians’ cultural contribution to the development of the steelband and Carnival in Trinidad, in particular their “Tassa drums” and the Hosay (or Muharram) procession.’ In this former colony, while drumming was an essential component, I went on to say: ‘Since 1845 the Indians’ songs and music which they had brought with them from India gradually impacted on the development of Creole culture in general, especially on Carnival. The Hosay or Muharram procession in St James (Port of Spain) in the later 1840s was a cultural reservoir for the convergence of peoples and cultures. Creativity and craftsmanship were expressed in the construction of floats and effigies in the parades, songs, dances, tassa drumming and stickplaying. The musical instrument which linked all these was the Tassa. The Tassa drums are basically used in Indian culture as a means of communication to, and in praise of, God... These drums were prominent during the Hosay celebrations in St James... In Trinidad, gradually communal Indian-African separatism began to disappear. Music had a unifying effect and the commingling of Africans and Indians grew over time. Africans’ consistent contact with Indian culture dating as far back as the 1850s is reason to believe that Carnival in general, and Pan in particular, drew some of its features from Hosay as more and more Africans participated in Hosay and Tassa drumming. One consequence of this was the coming closer of the Tassa with the steelband... When Carnival came to St James, Indian Tassa drummers saw an opportunity of extending their music-making into a secular affair for the first time. The practice has still been retained in St James which is especially interesting for it was considered the home of the steelband movement. The possibility existed that some features of the Hosay would rub-off on the Carnival celebrations, especially when the participants and venues were more or less the same...But how much of an influence was the Tassa? According to Errol Hill, the drum was as prominent in Indian music as in African and the arrival of the Indians helped to reinforce and enrich the already strong rhythmic foundation of native music. During the Annual Hosay parade, Africans not only observed, but also participated in playing Tassa...Anthropologist Dr J. D. Elder concurs with another writer Mr Simmonds on the point that Pan, like Carnival and calypso, was a result of cultural mixture of European, Asiatic and African strains...Great controversy rages on the origins of the steelband; and to attribute the beginning of the steelband movement to a single individual or band or place would obscure its true significance. It was a national community effort which bore fruit after years of evolution. No amount of collection and collation of documented and oral information could give an accurate account of the history of Pan until researchers pay cognizance to the Tassadrumming which was played annually during Carnival and Hosay to the delight of Afro-Trinidadians since the 1850s. While considering the Trinidad Carnival and Steelband music, we should remember that Indian culture in Trinidad had never been seriously considered outside its own sphere of involvement. Despite the attempts of some purists to dismiss

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the fact that Tassa was influential in the making of Pan, the artefactual elements of the Tassa, it was argued, is still visible in certain characteristics, features such as the steelbands’ two sticks; metal cylinder; heat to provide tonal quality; posture of the musicians; and the thong around the neck. The steelband is related, but does not belong to the family of African or Indian drums. It is essentially a product of Trinidad of which both Afro and Indo-Trinidadians should be proud. The connection of Trinidad Carnival and steelband music with India is therefore clear and, it is in this context that we should view the timely and beautifully made film “Din Shuru.” Importantly, we should also bear in mind that it was the mutual influences of the Africans and Indians and their descendants who were instrumental in creating the steelband and carnival in Trinidad.’ Predictably, a lively discussion followed my Talk. Soon after the ‘Mela,’ I was contacted by Ms H, a relatively new Senior British Library Consultant Manager. As a direct result of my appointment as Commissioner on the Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage, Ms H informed me that the Library was planning to hold an ‘Event.’ Given that I was regarded by many as the foremost historian of both Blacks and Asians in Britain, she suggested that we should meet. We did and during the brain-picking discussion that ensued, to the various questions put to me, I responded positively. To hear officially that the British Library was considering holding a Conference on ‘diversity’ I was moved immeasureably! Why? Largely because after two decades of working in a variety of ways towards greater inclusiveness particularly in the Libraries, Museums and Galleries sector, now there was more than just a glimmer of hope. Furthermore, I learned that the focus of the Conference would be not on an ‘Exhibition’ but on the theme of ‘Exhibiting Diversity.’ Having long held dear the true meaning of the words Difference, Diversity and Inclusiveness, when Ms H said: ‘We are looking for a high-profile person from the black community to introduce and present the Conference,’ it was clear she was looking for a person from a particular ethnic background. In the conversation that followed, either knowing (or not knowing) that I’d been living, working and writing about ‘diversity’ in Britain for a long time, Ms H (an unusually young ‘Consultant’) not merely inferred, but made it quite clear that I was a relatively new immigrant (even though I’d been in England for 42 years!) whose presence in Britain was preceded by other groups. In her view, immigrants from East Europe or the former Soviet Union and AfroCaribbeans were much longer settled and therefore more integral to Britain (more British) than an ‘Indianlooking person’ like me from Trinidad. Oh dear! I thought. This was the first time that I’d experienced the undisguised privileging of one minority over another in a major British institution! More broadly, in terms of ‘race’ and racial superiority, this positioning and ‘privileging’ was indeed the very approach used so wilfully and callously by Europeans to initiate, justify, consolidate and perpetuate the all-too familiar effect of racial oppression and the consequent horrors of slavery. 48


Eventually, the Exhibiting Diversity Conference was held on 27 September 2004 and I was very pleasantly surprised to read in the ‘Handout’ that the British Library regarded ‘Cultural Diversity’ as one of the current buzz-words in the Museum and Archives Sector; and that ‘although almost everyone would subscribe to the concept, everyone is also likely to have a different view about what it is and its place in their everyday practice. In principle, this would allow everyone ownership of the label which might be a fairly healthy situation. In practice, the Sector’s view of Cultural Diversity continued to be deeply influenced by the legacy of our Imperial past. Historically our national institutions were showcases at the hub of the Empire, illustrating the variety and diversity of its populations and at the same time demonstrating the implicit power and control of British administration.’ In effect, this was saying pretty much what I’d been writing and speaking about for almost two decades. But what followed in the ‘Handout’ was relatively new and very much in keeping with my own and the Mayor’s Commission’s view: ‘In recent years, however, the role of the diversity sector and the needs of its audiences are no longer the product of an established consensus about their heritage and identity. While cultural diversity may well be part of some institutions’ self-image as sites of international excellence, their own routine processes do not offer many challenges to traditional views of National Collections or create an incentive to embrace inclusive practice. Some of what we need to do in creating new models therefore is to encourage institutions to consider with fresh eyes the opportunities and the obstacles which are already implicit in holdings and acquisition instead of simply seeing diversity as a programme of importing prefabricated “ethnic models.” Exhibiting Diversity is an opportunity to pursue a new approach, joining a campaign of debate and action aimed at encouraging new thinking about how to reflect not only on the Diversity of our audiences, but also the diversity of their thoughts and aspirations.’ Though it contained exciting ‘buzz-words’ of a new vision, a statement of intent, how much of the ‘Handout’s’ statement was rhetoric? I wondered. Put simply, at the outset, the Conference’s message was ‘how to construct ways of meeting the challenge of cultural diversity.’ The word ‘diversity’ was clearly a step in the right direction. A challenge? Yes. For me, after the years of championing ‘Diversity’ in the British Library, it was thankfully no longer just a word whispered by a Director or Senior Manager in the confines of an office or during a post-meeting chat along a corridor, but now openly proclaimed. To all present, the British Library Conference’s aims and objectives were admirable. So far during the Mayor’s Commission debates and discussions, my keen sense of history was especially invaluable; all the more so because the objective of the Commission was eventually to publish its findings on Museums, Archives and Libraries in a Report and make 49


Recommendations. From the Commission’s earliest days, there were a few people (including a British Library Director) who did not think such a ‘Report’ would, given the time constraint, be completed as envisaged. I took the opposite view. And while we Commissioners persevered with our work, in spite of the daunting task of fifteen head-strong individuals (‘experts’) often necessarily disagreeing on a range of issues, as time passed, I sensed an air of growing excitement among fellow-Commissioners. Knowing well the historic significance of MCAAH, my innate, unflagging enthusiasm found expression in both verbal and written contributions. As we advanced towards finalising the ‘Report,’ Ms Coaston, as Senior Strategy Officer, requested that I write the Report’s ‘Historical Section.’ I responded positively to this call and wrote the crucial First Draft that would underpin the Final Report. Prior to completion, Drafts of other Sections of the Report were circulated to which, I duly offered my contributions. For example, on ‘Education For Life,’ I felt bound to state: ‘that this crucial chapter (‘Education for life’) exposes the paucity of historical resources, what is missing and what are needed as correctives, indeed what comes through powerfully is the urgent need for, as the chapter states, a holistic, integrative non-Eurocentric text and context; a history that is inclusive; a history about roots and routes that provides not only a general framework, but also illustrative detail which takes a long view; one that is an alternative...to traditional “British” histories. In other words, a history that covers a 500 year period encompassing colonisation, slavery, indentureship and migrations (from the far-flung Empire to the ‘Empire Within’) and necessarily difference, identities and cultures.’ In essence, this response more or less expressed the view contained in my Lectures and Talks delivered over two decades, which predated the British Library’s Conference ‘Handout.’ If nothing else, I felt my role as ‘Historian’ fully justified my inclusion on the Commission for I’d written a much-needed educational resource highlighting the vital importance of ‘history,’ and how the past had impacted on my personal quest, indeed my relentless one-man crusade of promoting ‘respect for difference.’ Now, as a starting point, I suggested that most, if not all, of the main concerns (for example, the perceived gaps) expressed in the Report’s ‘Education for Life’ chapter were amply addressed in an inclusive history of Britain entitled Reimaging Britain: 500

Years of Black and Asian History. I conveyed this to the Commissioner responsible for writing the ‘Education’ section, essentially because to my great surprise this person was yet another example of a ‘professional’ charged with formulating and thus determining potential education policy, who knew nothing about the abovenamed, well-known book. Furthermore, I stated that as ‘the only history book of its kind, I have seen no reference (in the Draft of the Report) to this text (Reimaging Britain)...which may well be an understandable oversight, but I feel bound to raise the matter because We on the Commission should guard against the charge We make of 50


“deracination” and the fact that British publishers are not publishing our “hidden” histories, when We ourselves (as Heritage Commissioners) may omit fundamental resources that exist. ’ Taken together, in spite of much talk about Empire, race, history, culture and diversity (after years of intense research and writing) I still found myself arguing strongly for due consideration to be given to books which I deemed to be key and timely works; vital resources for British schools and universities. Eventually the Commission agreed to include ‘overlooked’ educational texts. In its published Report: Delivering A Shared Heritage, the Commission stated that certain books, including Ron Ramdin’s Reimaging Britain, ‘detailed an inclusive history of Britain and should be compulsory reading for all Teacher Training Agency (TTA) Staff and those in teacher Training institutions, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), QCA and Ofsted).’ At this time of busy networking, soon after meeting Ms Mitricia, Director of the Romanian Cultural Centre at the Exhibiting Diversity Conference, she wrote to me in the hope that we would be able to talk about the Romanian contribution to Cultural Diversity in Britain and, of course, in Europe. Her reference to ‘Europe’ immediately reminded me of my pioneering efforts way back in 1991 when I’d travelled to Spain: first to the University of Seville, then in 1998 to give a Public Lecture in Murcia. Prior to the latter visit, I had presented a Paper at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris. Taken together, the ripple effect of the small pebble that I’d thrown into the pond of multinational, multicultural Talks and Lectures had echoes elsewhere: indeed it seemed that among a variety of practitioners in recent years, diversity was gaining momentum. The Romanian Cultural connection (coming so soon after the British Library’s Conference) was a significant reference point in relation to diversity in Britain and Europe. Furthermore, Ms Mitricia had expressed her interest in knowing more about the British Library’s programmes and projects and had invited me to attend cultural events at the RCC in London. She concluded: ‘We would be very happy to have you join us at any or all of the film presentations.’ Thus the ‘ripple,’ coinciding with a tidal wave of world events, continued to spread. So from the Caribbean and Britain, then through my public appearances in Spain and France, now with the Romanian connection and the steady influx of thousands of European migrants into Britain, Ms Mitricia’s interest and kind Invitation added to the enriching mix of my everexpanding vision; an evident and insistent concern which I now attempted to incorporate in my long-gestating first work of fiction: Rama’s Voyage. How could the ideas that so concerned me be integrated in the novel? This was a challenge. But after the publication of Rama’s Voyage, it was significant that the key themes of self-discovery, home and belonging were recognised in a perceptive Book Review from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India. The Reviewer, Dr Priti Singh of the University’s School of International Studies, wrote:

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‘Rama’s voyage is more than a voyage. It is a quest for identity and self-definition, a search for individuality. Denied to the peoples around whom the story is woven - the indentured labourers from India on their way to Chinidad (Trinidad) as they knew it. While there are many others on the voyage who stand out, the journey is centred around Rama, a simple yet powerful name in Indian mythology. It is this simplicity and strength of character that is brought out in the portrait of Rama.’ So far so good, I thought. With increasing interest, I read further:

‘Rama an orphaned child, personifies many traits - courage, valour, humanity, love, forgiveness, but also personalized by a lack of identity. He has no name and no home. He is a child yet to discover himself; a wanderer lured by a “silver tongue” Recruiter onto the ship because like most of the others on the voyage he wants to move forward to a better future. He feels a general uneasiness about his life and is one of those who are “in the middle of nowhere, but going somewhere” in search of truth and a sense of belonging. Unlike others who consciously seek the truth, to Rama, the TRUTH is, “in an extraordinary way, revealed.” Was India not home for the indentured labourers? Yes, it was but they carried a part of India with them wherever they were, even in the middle of nowhere on the ship. Eventually, the voyage brought the Indians closer together because it was together that they could help each other to survive. “Mother India” was for them “so far away and yet so near.” This separation from the Homeland was a telling juncture; a pivotal aspect of the novel. The Reviewer continues:

‘Interestingly, it was in the final lap of the voyage that Rama discovers his identity. Not only is his past and parentage unfolded to him, he is also assured a part of his future. About his past, he discovers he is the son of a King and one of his mistresses - both of noble birth and as untouchable. At the same time, he is bethrothed to Indeeya so that they can start their new life together in Chinidad. Just as he is reaching Chinidad he is no longer alone. All his life, whomever Rama forms an attachment with, he loses. Yet, he survives. He discovers himself. And that is what the journey is all about - discovering one’s strength in the struggle for survival in spite of being “captives cocooned in the bowels of the Trinity Hills, a capsule of seasickness, melancholia, disease and death.” The adverse circumstances eventually drew the Indians together like “moths to the flame of their common humanity,” irrespective of their class and caste, survival, not social rank or caste was of vital importance on the voyage. While some of the higher caste still looked down upon the lower castes, to Rama it made no difference. “This was a matter which he little understood... It did not bother him. For him there was no going back. It was as simple as that.” The experience of the Indians brought them together creating the “Jahaji Bhai” 52


spirit, the “Brotherhood of the ship.” It was a new beginning. A new life in a new country that would demand great love and courage. The message was clear: “Truth is one, the sages call it by different names.” Therefore, wherever you go, it is ultimately the “self” that matters and one’s ability to rise above the self. To meet the challenges, life brings one’s own way and to find the truth. It is a voyage into oneself to discover the truth and to cross the dark waters (kala pani) of the once-in-a-lifetime voyage and to make a future out of it. To meet one’s destiny and to end one’s homelessness, the sense of “Un”belonging or lack of identity in the “new land of the Virgin West.” This is the “other place” where “homelessness would end.” Rama is greeted in this new land by majestic mountains which remind him of the Himalayas and high above the mountains a brilliant rainbow appears. Rama then feels that “there was something extraordinary about being there.” For the orphaned Rama the voyage had been an odyssey towards hope, in search of the truth and a home. This then was HOME.’ In the Trinidad Sunday Guardian, another Reviewer Ms Seesahai, wrote: ‘...the novel opens up

like a painting where each character reveals a story in its own right yet each is used to cement a powerful story.’ Furthermore the Reviewer highlighted the integral relationship between the individual and the group in the novel: ‘It is like a tapestry where all the threads are woven only to finally form the finished product. For example, in the beginning through Rama we saw the man with the “box” and to the very end the same man plays the harmonium to celebrate their arrival. The characters are so wellcoordinated that it is like an orchestra using all its players to perform a piece of great music...The shouts, the drums, the intense heat of the tropics were images that grew and diminished, like the rising and falling of the ship. Here again we see the author’s fondness of allegories - the work is filled with a bitter-sweetness and melancholy, and yet so realistic.’ Both the Trinidad Sunday Guardian’s fine in-depth Review and JNU’s Dr Singh’s Indian perspective on this fictional work pleased me for they not only marked a significant milestone in my literary career, but also recognition of the central character, the boy Rama and his compatriots on their unpredictable, revealing journey of self-discovery and the hopeful quest for home and belonging. Among my ever-accumulating papers was an Article entitled: ‘The Role of the Individual in Society’ which I promised myself I would read one day when I had more time: Just past midDecember 2005, I felt that time had come. As I read, I thought of the Marxists and Socialists (many of them well-educated Middle and Upper Class people) that I’d known who hated the idea of the ‘individual.’ They thought that one was a greater person for surrendering to the totalising effect of the social whole. ‘A great man is great not because his personal qualities give individual features to great historical events, but because he possesses qualities which made him most 53


capable of serving the great social needs of his time.’ I pondered these words in my quiet moments. Thereafter, my reading took a more deliberate, emphatic turn towards matters beyond cause and effect to include philosophy relating to Greek-Roman, Indian, French and German texts. And while the individual and society concerned me as much as ever, thus far, my writings regarding particular, as well as the general ever-increasing number of groupings, led me irrevocably in a certain direction: not simply to recognise race and racism or sex and sexism and so on, but to observe something deeper, more elemental and fundamental to human social formations. Not only did I see difference as the ‘DNA of social relations,’ I also coined the phrase: ‘what is common to us is our difference.’ The application of these philosophical insights, arising from experience, study and observation as expressed thus far in my literary work would, I had hoped, continue to evolve and become even clearer. A few days after my second novel The Griot’s Tale was launched at the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, another Launch took place at the Carnegie Library in San Fernando. In advance, several copies of The Griot’s Tale were distributed to members of the Library Book Club so that they would be well informed and thus fully prepared to ask me questions. After my ‘Presentation,’ a Question and Answer session followed during which a member of the audience, an Indian doctor, perplexed about my choice and creation of the main character in the novel, asked: ‘Why did you choose to write about an African?’ I answered: ‘The novel is not about the Griot’s ‘race.’ It is about his humanity!’ At this juncture, given that the love story at the heart of the novel was a marriage between two people from different backgrounds, a young Trinidad-born female Film-maker of mixed Indian and African parents said: ‘Ron Ramdin should be congratulated for his courage in writing this book about the African hero.’ This plainspeaking woman had touched on the very essence of my novel which was about identity, love, crossing boundaries and especially respect for difference. In the novel I’d been uncompromising because it was the very absence of respect for difference that historically had led so often to the institution and justification of human bondage. Overall The Griot’s Tale was well-received by the Carnegie Library Book Club Members. But just before the end of the Launch, a man at the back of the room stood up. ‘I do not want to spoil the evening,’ he said. ‘But I think you should know that there is a group of people in Trinidad who do not like Indians writing about Africans.’ ‘Well,’ I responded readily, ‘such people should be reminded that Trinidad has long been a multicultural country and certain basic freedoms and human rights, hard won by people of all backgrounds, should be observed. The idea that only Africans and their descendants should write about Africans is a notion that must be swept aside by the residents of today’s diverse communities. This quest for racial purity is therefore not only a sad commentary on multicultural Trinidad, it is also a redundant one!’ Such an alarming attitude among many Afro-and IndoTrinidadians towards each other may have inhibited the greater success that I’d hoped for The Griot’s Tale in Trinidad. At the time, decades on since I’d first left 54


the Sand Road and the village, I reflected: many things had changed, but some had not. Respect for difference remained a seemingly distant goal. But, as ever, I continued to hope that attitudes would indeed change for the better. This Trinidad experience was perhaps the best example, as good a test as any, as I continued my relentless championing of mutual respect in society. A further test was not long in coming. Soon after publication of The Griot’s Tale in the Spring of 2009, I was invited to give the London ‘Heritage and Legacy Lecture’ at the Museum of London in Docklands, Canary Wharf. I accepted the Invitation and began work on the Lecture which I titled: ‘London: Home and Belonging.’ In essence, it seemed, my life and the experience of migrants’ generally had been underscored not only by where and what is ‘Home?’ but also by the quest for ‘Home and Belonging.’ In one form or another, these were enduring themes; and Literature was of particular concern. Twelve years before, when I gave the Cardiff-Whitbread Lecture aptly titled: Homelessness and the Novel in the Welsh multicultural city of Cardiff, I’d said: ‘If expatriate novelists feel compelled to write self-consciously it should not surprise us if the need to transform reality into a corrective artform becomes less urgent.’ But for me, the artform is, and has always been, of the essence. As I’ve said elsewhere, art is a symbolization of the experience of being and having not lived in the period during which the new novel that I’m writing Fields of Lilac is set, through the imagination, the genesis and evolution of this fictive story will necessarily come into being as a work of invention and inventiveness. It should therefore come as no surprise that this third novel is connected with human displacement and something that I’d said towards the end of the Homelessness and the

Novel Lecture: ‘It is now thirty five years since I stood looking out at the shimmering bay for the last time as I waited to depart. Since then...I have engaged in the fictive process, most recently in creating Rama’s Voyage (the story of a homeless waif from the streets of Calcutta in search of a home oceans away...in the new and hostile world of the Caribbean plantations) an historical dimension of my own imaginary homeland.’ While composing the London ‘Heritage and Legacy’ Lecture, both a sense of place and displacement were uppermost in my mind as I drew together strands of history, immigration, cultures and identities. As tens of thousands of migrants continued to arrive in an increasingly more complex multicultural Britain, I felt my focus on ‘Home and Belonging’ in London was justified: Having been my home and sanctuary for over three decades, no place on earth could be compared with London for its commingling of diverse peoples: an incredible, bewildering place. No wonder, at this time, London was seen as the world in a city; the global city. Hitherto, I’d read a great deal about London’s social history. In his book London: The

Biography, commenting on the ‘City as Body,’ Peter Ackroyd wrote: ‘London is...half of stone and half of flesh’ and is ‘in a continual state of change and expansion.’ Given this continuity, the idea and experience of human habitation, of being at home in London had, over time, assumed different meanings. 55


Geographically and culturally this great city had been ever expanding from ‘Inner London’ to the Greater Metropolitan ‘Outer London’ areas; and while all who live within its borders are ‘Londoners,’ could London be said to be a ‘state of mind?’ If London defies easy classification, it would, however, be correct to describe it as an international city. Among others, it has been home to William Blake; and if the whole world of nations and races could be found in this place, it has been (and is) fundamentally a city of ‘misery and suffering,’ so much so that ‘The bowels of God had opened and rained down shit upon London.’ It is a city of contrasts, where poverty and wealth coexist; and where, as Blake put it, ‘Without Contraries, there is no progression.’ Within this diverse whole, it is the atomic spring and inventiveness of difference that has generated and generates the ferment of endless creativity. For the millions of people who inhabit the city, there may be, as one writer has argued, as many different cities. In fact, it is well-known that Londoners born and bred, who visit other parts of the city, experience ‘fear and alarm.’ Why? In part, because they fear difference. It is nonetheless this juxtaposition of totality and variety of life in London that matters. As James Boswell had written: ‘When a person is tired of London, he is tired of life...’ So London as the city of possibilities and vision is a reflection of the interconnected world of literature: poetry, drama and the novel expressed in the works of Chaucer, Fielding, Blake, Jonson, Smollett and Dickens, among others. London artists, also engaged with innovation and change, have expressed their vision. Ackroyd captures the relentless flow of creativity when he wrote: ‘Some of the great stories of London concern those who have taken on new identities and new personalities to begin again, to renew oneself is one of the great advantages of the city. It is part of the endlessly dramatic life.’ Apart from Ackroyd’s work, another, different account, A Peoples’ History of London, laments the ‘forgotten history’ of the city as the ‘world capital of revolution.’ It’s authors Lindsey German and John Rees add that ‘in the eyes of Britain’s heritage industry, London is the traditional home of the Empire, Monarchy and power; an urban wonderland for the privileged where the vast majority of Londoners feature only to applaud in the background. Yet for nearly 2000 years, the city has been a breeding ground for radical ideas, home to thinkers, heretics and rebels from John Wycliffe to Karl Marx. It has been the site of sometimes violent clashes that changed the course of history: the Levellers doomed struggle for liberty in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Silk Weavers, Match Girls and Dockers who crusaded for Workers’ Rights; and the Battle of Cable Street, where East Enders took on Oswald Mosley’s Black Shirts...a city of pamphleteers, agitators, exiles and revolutionaries, where millions of people have struggled in obscurity to secure a better future.’ I have indeed borne witness as a radical player in London’s ‘People’s History’ for like my predecessors from Wycliffe to Marx, the Silk Weavers, Match Girls and Dockers, I too, in my half century of activities (both during my long-standing role as a working class leader and as a

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writer) have struggled to make a Home in the huge, complex metropolis and secure a better life. As a ‘sacred city,’ we should also be mindful of London’s stark contradictions and continuity.

‘If London were a living thing,’ as Ackroyd has argued, ‘we could say that all of its optimism and confidence have returned. It has again become the “Capital of capitals” in every cultural and social sense... The levels of the centuries are all compact revealing the historical density of London. Yet the ancient city and the modern city literally lie beside each other; one cannot be imagined without the other. That is one of the secrets of the city’s power. These relics of the past now exist as part of the present. It is in the nature of the city to encompass everything. So when it is asked how London came to be a triumphant city, when it has so many poor, and, so many homeless, it can only be suggested that they too have always been part of its history. Perhaps they are part of its triumph. If this is a hard saying, then it is only as hard as London itself. London goes beyond any boundary or convention...It is illimitable. It is infinite London.’ These may seem like grand claims, but they contain essential truth. Against a background of wide reading, however, as I worked on my ‘Lecture,’ I formulated my own interpretation of ‘Home and Belonging’ as a Londoner: all the more because I was an unusual inhabitant of the great city. My approach was essentially historical and literary; a writer’s perspective on that all too often neglected dimension - the Black and Asian immigrant presence (the city’s largest and most recent ethnic groups) and contribution. After all, if there was not a continuous influx of migrants, there would be no London as we know it. On completion, the following is the gist of what I’d said during my Lecture: ‘Some of the greatest works in English literature have been imagined and written in London.

From as early as the 18th century, men and women from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean had walked the streets of the city; and some were moved to put pen to paper. For them and those who followed, the idea of “home and belonging” in London had been a major concern... Because of London’s reputation as “the world in a city,” exiles from Third World countries have displayed the compulsions of history-as -nightmare most ambiguously. Such writers are among the literary sojourners in the countries of the mind...and the more prolonged the absence from his homeland, the more idealised and like paradise it seems...(but) the expatriates desire is, of course, rarely fulfilled. He rationalizes his continued stay in London and faces rejection with some resolution and with hope that success will come one day. Nostalgia is central to the Black and Asian writers’ need to invoke ethnic origins, to become rooted somewhere. But their eventual return to their Motherland, years later, exacerbates the feeling of rootlessness after realising how distant they have become from the local peoples’ cultures. Such a person therefore feels marginalized, homeless in both cultures... Some writers could not avoid the ever-present and encroaching power of their past...Not surprisingly houses and hotels figure prominently in their work...Generally in Third World 57


expatriate fiction, the effect of exile on characterisation is to create characters as symbols, men as ideals, concepts rather than particularized characters...Though writers through the ages have used allegories, expatriate novelists have created them more often than not. There is even an inclination, arousing them to lead the reader away from the experience to an inner, less accessible world. On the other hand, there is the vibrant creative language of decolonisation, of subversion. Expatriate novelists experimented with language, drawing upon the whole spectrum of the English language from “Standard” English to patois/West Indian English and a mixture of both. If allegorical, abstract, self-conscious writing and the language of the rootless and isolated were salient features of expatriation and unbelonging, by the 1970s Grace Nicholls declared: “Anywhere I hang my knickers is home.” And of James Berry, it could be said that his work reflected both where he had come from and the sense of life and being in the adopted city. Coincident with such responses to London was the effect of economic change on the immigrant communities. Between 1971 and 1976, unemployment in London rose with the loss of some 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Inner city areas with large estates, such as Lambeth bore the brunt of high unemployment, “estates” that were “home” for thousands of young Blacks and Asians (hardened and scarred by the school experience) who had entered the world of work. Unlike their parents, they very quickly rejected “slave labour” and “shit work.” In “Yout Rebels” Linton Johnson encapsulates this new attitude: “Rough scene, Braking away, Taking the day Saying to the Capital neva, Movin forward hevva.” Increasingly in the Seventies, the relationship between Black youths and the police went from bad to worse: “Sus” laws were introduced and enacted with alarming frequency. Race Relations deteriorated; then came the “Riots.” Through the Eighties and Nineties in London, among the most outspoken were Johnson and fellow-West Indian poet Benjamin Zephaniah. With his ear close to the ground, Johnson evoked the rumblings, as the police, at times with brutal force, broke up social gatherings: “When nite come, Police run dem dung, Beat dem dung a grung, Kick dem ass.” Some commentators regarded these words unfavourably. But with the death of the teenager Stephen Lawrence and worsening inner city Race Relations in the years that followed there was, among a new generation, pent-up anger. In the poem “Down De Road” the violence against black youth was expressed thus: 58


“In the heat Of the anguish You just turn: Turn on your brother, An you lick him An you lash him An you kill him.” Disturbing language indeed! So from the “rootlessness” and “symbolism” of the characters presented by Black and Asian writers, there had been a change in perspective as increasingly they turned to realism: their characters evoking rebellion and remonstrance. With all that was happening in their home-grounds, literally on their doorstep, these youths had no choice but to stand their ground and with time, their resistance stiffened and spread. Adding to their vocabulary, they repeated their opposition saying no to “Slave labour,” no to “shit jobs.” And no more intimidating harassments. We belong here! This is our home! A reflection of this heightened awareness of oppression was the timeliness of a number of poems...In the early Nineties, there were also the “Yardie Trilogy” by Victor Headley, novels portraying a world of the poor: having poor education, poor social prospects and drug dealing. A bleak vision? Yes. But, we should also remember the voices of hope, including that of the popular Malori Blackman. Taken together, the words of the above-named writers express “home and belonging” from different perspectives and at different times. For myself as a writer, my understanding of “home and belonging” is that to belong is to feel an integral part of, or, at least to be engaged to some meaningful degree with the community. To participate is to feel represented. For those who practice the art of writing, a fundamental, recurring question is this: why is so much Black and Asian writing sidelined by the Publishing industry? Why are Black and Asian writers not taken on and promoted by Literary Agents and mainstream publishers? Why are such writers not better represented in British publishing? Is it really true that the Gate-keepers in the publishing industry believe that Black and Asian writing is largely a predictable rant and therefore not publishable? It comes as no surprise that one of Zephaniah’s poems is entitled: “Political Poetry.” Such a description of literature reminds me of Toni Morrison’s clarity of expression in ‘Playing in the Dark’: “Excising the political from the life of the mind is a sacrifice that has proven costly...a criticism that needs to insist that literature is not only “universal” but also “race free,” risks lobotomising that literature and diminishes both the art and the artist.” Thus literature in relation to British Publishing, like African and Asian Heritage in London, is still placed in an exclusive rather than an inclusive relationship. The ongoing problem with Black and Asian literature in London (and Britain) had been (and is): How to mainstream it?

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Far from “Colonizin Englan in Reverse” as Louise Bennett, the Jamaican poet had written, here in London, especially among Black youths, the growing, deepening sense of UN-BELONGING is starkly reflected in acts of seemingly mindless violence. Since Olaudah Equiano, Robert Wedderburn and Ram Mohun Roy had penned their words, in its making and re-making, London has been “home” for generations of Black and Asian people. The eighteenth century scribes were the precursors of those novelists, poets and writers, who followed. Historically, their voices expressed the concerns of their times and this, it seems, is echoed today as many Londoners struggle for integration, not assimilation. Thus the quest for home and belonging is ongoing: And given the excitements and hope it inspires, this eternal city will no doubt continue to inhabit the minds of writers in their feverish pursuit of both real and imaginary homelands.’ My Lecture in the Museum of London’s Docklands Museum was so well received that afterwards, during my book-signing, a queue had formed and all the available twenty-five copies of my novel The Griot’s Tale were sold! On my way home, walking past the splendid shops and viewing the sky-scraper setting of Canary Wharf (an impressive display of wealth) I was sharply reminded of the ever-changing nature of London. But bearing in mind that the Slave Trade and Slavery was the backdrop of The Griot’s Tale, this place was where West Indian sugar, molasses and rum (produced by African slaves and their descendants and Indian Indentured labourers and their descendants) had flowed in and stock-piled in warehouses over centuries. Thus given the overall message incorporating themes of migration, exile, difference, homelessness, home and belonging in London, the venue for my Lecture could not have been more appropriate. A few years later, giving the Eulogy at my mother’s funeral, I talked about her generosity and how much she disliked injustice. I cited her concern about my dark skin and her attempts to minimize the impact of any devaluation of my complexion in colour-conscious Trinidad. So it was that following my early experience of physical difference, I began a long and tortuous journey which led me to an understanding of profound significance in relation to the human condition. Thus in later life, I came to write Reimaging Britain, a history of multicultural Britain. It may seem outlandish today, but colour was one of the discriminatory factors that was integral to my new way of looking at the history of Britain, the Caribbean and, by implication, all nations that reside on the earth. It is, I think, worth reiterating this very important point: while race, tribe, colour, class, gender, culture and religion, for example, are divisive aggregates that can (and does) affect individuals negatively, I would strongly argue that they are but aspects of a deeper truth, the all too pervasive reality that is the lack of respect for difference. Social cohesion, it seems, can come only through an individual’s acceptance of difference. We cannot get away from our past (necessarily a combination of factors inclusive of the ‘divisive aggregates’) which, at every stage of our evolution, makes us who we are. But it is an erroneous argument to assume that people perceived as belonging to one or other of the ‘aggregates’ are the same. First and foremost, 60


individuality (personality) is unique to each person who should be approached and treated as such for as I have argued elsewhere mutual respect (not that ghastly word tolerance) can only come from self-respect. On reflection, over many decades, my thoughts were more or less focused on two main related themes: ‘Home and Belonging’ and ‘Respect for Difference.’ Interestingly, the over-arching theme of ‘Home and Belonging’ in Britain is no less significant now than it had been in the past. Why? Because historically everyone in Britain has had an ancestor who was not indigenous to the place to which they had come. In other words, the forebears of today’s British citizens (and those past) have all come to these shores as immigrants. Those who came and settled can be traced back for centuries. Thus Home and Belonging are integral to citizenship and the questions of Being and Beingness are fundamental to where and what is home? Twinned with the search for ‘Home’ on my intellectual odyssey is the second related theme arising from the question: Who am I? in relation to the essential value and importance of difference and how we humans organise and have our Being and Beingness where we live. As social beings, relationships are, of course, vital. Historically, many social systems have been tried, including Capitalism, Socialism and other isms; and most notably philosophers of great renown have not been silent regarding their views on social relations - the social compact (or ‘Contract’). How should society be structured? How should it function? And for whose benefit? Plato, Aristotle and Nietzsche have written in defence of slavery. Plato has expounded on ‘Philosopher Kings’ and their right to rule over all, while Nietzsche declared that ‘Every culture needs an exploitable working class, a “slave class.” ’ He adds: ‘there is nothing more dreadful than a barbaric slave class that has learned to regard its existence as an injustice and sets about taking revenge not only for itself but for all generations.’ These philosophers were against social mobility of the classes (the masses) which, in effect, meant slavery. While I strongly disagree with the views of Plato, Aristotle and Nietzsche on slavery and oppression, others like Karl Marx, have made forthright statements about ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ in the social system that he had advocated. But, as all these ‘systems’ show, the aggregations of the various ‘isms’ (ideologies) and consequent groupings have had an innate totalising effect which stymies, instead of allowing freedom. This tends to diminish and enslave individuals. Democratic rights, as I see it, can therefore be meaningful when each person in society is allowed to exercise his or her ‘human right’ in accord with an inclusive social and political system. The aggregations of race, tribe, colour, caste, class, culture, gender and religion are therefore basically problematic. Why? Because of their propensity to inhibit people. For example, persons of one ‘race,’ ‘colour’ or ‘gender’ (or any aggregation) do not always agree (why should they?) and should therefore be free of being stereotyped, thus enabling expression of the multiplicity of views within their social ambit.

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Above all, difference, the DNA of social relations, is the idea that has preoccupied me most in life and which I have, in different ways, applied to my writings. Through its exploration, I have developed an ever-deepening social sense, arising from my ‘individuality’ (in conjunction with society) that has evolved through a long process of self-examination and self-discovery. This atomic realisation helped me to become increasingly inventive which, in turn, has led to certain creations: for example, bringing into being literature that hitherto did not exist. And if in the late Seventies and Eighties, I was, as described by some, a ‘pioneer,’ today my writings span seven genres: history, novels, biographies, travel, a play, essays and autobiography. This literary output, forged amidst grinding austerity, but enriched by great ambition, has clearly added to the everchanging mosaic of British cultures. I am a staunch believer in civilized, democratic society founded and maintained on humane values; and as I have argued, respect for difference is the key to unlocking the door to real social progress. As Adamah, the central character in The Griot’s Tale declares, ultimately LOVE is denied and devalued without respect for the OTHER! ‘Agreements’ and everything else taken on trust between human beings, either as individuals or between groups and communities, cannot be one-offs. Such ‘agreements’ must be reviewed, revised and renegotiated regularly if they are to achieve fairness and therefore retain validity. Given the contradictions at the heart of the human condition, we are, it seems, constantly and necessarily bridging gaps. As I have demonstrated, this original Essay is based on experience and my multi-genred oeuvre; in other words, my overall thinking and creativity. And given my belief that art is a symbolization of the experience of being, through the art of writing (the DNA of civilization), I have crossed many boundaries; an art that has enabled me to see more clearly the stark realities of human diversity and survival. Historically, in times of economic necessity (for example, during wars, famine and the spread of disease) and religious persecution, humankind have always sought and found ways of moving on; mass migrations were inevitable and in today’s globalized world, like Britain, few countries can claim to have an ‘indigenous’ population. But wherever human beings congregate in so-called civilized communities and societies, the insistent calls for ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ would indeed remain elusive, meaningless slogans, unless people genuinely relate to each other with

respect for difference.

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A collection of Ron Ramdin’s work.

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Culturepulse ron ramdin special issue 44  
Culturepulse ron ramdin special issue 44  

A Dedication to Ron Ramdin for his contribution to Literature in the Diaspora

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