Elements of Racism in The Lonely Londoners

The postmodern writers all over the world assert that their countries possessed a prestigious history, culture, and heritage; and they also valorize the past from which they have drawn the raw materials for their works. The traditional view and territorial entity are the unique characters generated through their migration from one region to the other or from one settlement to another settlement are raw sources of postcolonial and postmodern writers’ work. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, arguing that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative rather than certain or universal.

Postmodernism is skeptical of explanations that claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. World Wars, colonialism, the rise of urbanization all these factors led the writers to write about racism, feminism, capitalism which were undoubtedly some crucial matters of the late 19th century. Having said that, the purpose of this paper is to discuss the elements of racism in Samuel Selvon’s postmodern novel The Lonely Londoners.

Racist tendencies have been strong in Britain since the arrival of significant number of immigrants after the Second World War. There are inadequacies between the white British people and members of ethnic minorities in Britain, considering employment, housing, income, and so forth. Back in the 1950s 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s, physical assaults on black Caribbean immigrants and other ethnic minorities were quite frequent. Not to claim that in the 1990s and onwards there have been no racially motivated attacks, only there have been fewer of them.

However, subtle forms of racism continue in Britain even nowadays as black people are discriminated against when it comes to jobs or housing. For Afro-Caribbean and other black immigrants, it was obvious that racism is a significant problem in Britain. In the beginning, there was very little discussion concerning the issue: Public and political discussions were more about the problems caused by immigrants and uncontrolled immigration than about problems the immigrants themselves face, however, almost all black immigrants experienced some kind of racial discrimination when they lived in Britain. Unfortunately, black immigrants were quite right about white people and their attitudes towards black people. Although immigrants were encouraged in the beginning to come to work in Britain, ordinary people perceived them as a problem. Especially, the working-class people felt threatened because black immigrants largely seek similar jobs and housing as they do. It was the working-class people that had most things in common with them, and they were also most likely to live and work next to them. So, the feelings towards them were hostile in the easiest sense. “It is a crime, all of it. First, they come here where they don’t belong and they know it. Then they want their relatives and their relatives’ relatives. ” All you have to do is look at a map and you can see how small the country is. There isn’t any room for these people” (Marwick,218).

Samuel Selvon’s novel The Lonely Londoners are considered as a milestone in the decolonization of the British novelistic tradition. Elements of racism can be seen all over the novel. The novel is targeted to both groups of readers, the black and also the white people. The white readers can see it as a declaration of the detachment from the culture that always suppressed and underestimated the black people and the black readers in Britain can see it as an encouragement for forming a particular subcultural group that is worth noticing. “The Lonely Londoners depicts the impact not simply of racism in housing and the workplace but of racial fetishism in the sexual arena. Selvon thereby underlines the damaging effects of racism on immigrant cultures on both a material and a psychological plane” (Dawson,30). The situation of every migrated character is surely empathetic. Some of them do not want to be here but had to, in order to earn money for living. Some of them wanted to be heard as they believed and heard of the “American Dream” but as soon as they came to Britain, they realized, that is not the dream they really dreamt. “The empathic humanity of its characters, its inspired critique of racist and social injustice, its profound epistemic negotiations and creolization still outshine the work of later Black and Asian British writers” (Eckstein,1). The only character different from the rest, at least when it comes to language, is Harris. He behaves like Englishmen, dresses like them, and also speaks like them. The narrative comments on it: “Man, when Harris starts to spout English for you, you realize that you don’t really know the language” (Selvon,103). However, the rest of the characters do not approve of his way of speaking and behaving. They believe that he should remember his origin and that he should live according to it because they do not want to change their lifestyle as well. The Afro-Caribbean characters in The Lonely Londoners are willing to live next to the white people of Britain but not like them. They all have a reason for keeping their old lives. Some of them, such as Galahad, because even if they behave like the white Britishers they will always remain black anyway, which basically keeps them away from better lives.

Furthermore, an interesting and somewhat problematic issue about the language used in the novel is, that the language is not authentic. “It is not spoken in any part of the Caribbean, it is rather a blend of various different variations and dialects spoken throughout the Caribbean” (Bentley). One of the reasons why Selvon did not usefully Creolized English is quite obvious. He wanted even the speakers of Standard English to be able to read his novel. By using this form of artificial Creole, he managed to accomplish both goals: to make the novel accessible to as many readers as possible but also to use it as a token of distance from the British mainstream culture. Moving ahead, one of the first settings of the novel, the railway station, where many black immigrants are present, either waiting for some relatives or just looking whether someone they know from home arrived, a comment on the situation in Britain appears: “English people starting to make rab about how too much West Indians coming to the country” (Selvon 2). Black immigrants know that they are not welcomed, that white people do not want them in Britain, and that they cannot expect any kind of friendly behavior from them. However, what is quite ironic is the conclusion the black immigrants themselves make. The novel was written in 1956, before any new Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed and there is a mention that British people complain, however, they are too diplomatic to actually do something about it. Nevertheless, the immigrants were wrong in this respect and only six years later, the new restrictions were introduced. Tanty who just arrives in Britain and does not know about the grudge against the black immigrants has an interview with a white reporter and the next day in the newspaper her picture appears with a headline “Now, Jamaican Families Come to Britain” (Selvon 12). Her nephew Tolroy did not want her to speak to the reporter and he would not speak to him at all because he is already familiar with the atmosphere in Britain. Moreover, even if he wanted to tell him something, like Moses who wanted to take a chance and express himself, he would find out that the newspaperman actually does not care about his opinion. Comments and situations like this appear throughout the novel. Immigrants are less likely to get jobs or they are only hired for unskilled jobs. Because the immigrants fight for every penny, they live in overcrowded second-rate houses. The immigrants acquiesce with the situation as is visible from the episode when Moses tells Galahad that no matter that he is a skilled electrician, he will probably be offered an unskilled job. Moses tries to explain this issue to Galahad who is a newcomer to London:

“These days spades all over the place, and every shipload is big news, and the English people don’t like the boys coming to England to work and live.”

‘Why is that?’ Galahad ask.

‘Well, as far as I can figure, they frighten that we get a job in front of them, though that does never happen. The other thing is that they just don’t like black people, and don’t ask me why because that is a question that bigger brains than mine trying to find out from way back.” (Selvon, 20)

To conclude, the lives of the Caribbean immigrants in the United Kingdom in The Lonely Londoners were not easy at all. They came to Britain expecting great job opportunities but they had trouble in finding jobs because of their skin color and in the end, they had to take jobs that did not correspond to their qualification. They expected that they would earn some money but their jobs were so badly paid that they did not manage to save almost anything. What they did not expect, as can be seen in examples of Galahad and Tanty who are newcomers to Britain, was the hatred and malice. In fact, that is exactly what they encounter every day when they meet white Britishers.

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