Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Culture: Small Axe vs big Empire, a look at reggae's role in deconstructing colonialism

Prof Bill Schwarz
The last time this writer heard Bob Marley described as the "saviour of a generation" it was from an Anglo-Jamaican who had grown up in Brixton and who actually placed the Gong just behind "Crown Prince" Dennis Brown in that regard.

So it was especially poignant to hear, on Thursday evening last, a similar description, coming from a white British academic. Prof. Bill Scwarz, who studied English and History at York University, before going on to the Centre for Contemporary Studies at Birmingham. 

Speaking at a Lecture organized by the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the UWI Mona, Schwarz was even more pointed, stating that Marley had "saved a generation of Black Britons from suicide" owing to pressures heaped upon them by the white racist power structure in the two-decade aftermath (up to Marley's time) of the mass migrations of the 1950s and early 60s.

Schwarz eloquently added that in reggae and Rastafari, the black community found a "new mode of memory" one that was indeed critical given the given the trend towards a massive "forced forgetting" imposed by the demands of a then fading imperialism.
He cautioend however, in the ensuing question and answer session, that the memory and the nostalgia toward empire had hardly faded in Britain and that old modes of thought still resonated, even among the youth. 

As a corollary, he urged the audience not to construe multiculturalism - a social phenomenon first advanced and argued for by the late Jamaican academic, Stuart Hall - to mean racial or cultural harmony or some kind of "Obama post-racial" kind of society in Britain. He pointed out that violence against Black youth remained at alarmingly high levels, and - in answering another question - posited the view that in the post-Marley msuical era, there did not seem to be another obvious saviour (nor the obvious desire for one) emerging.   

His expansive discourse also touched on the role of religion and various belief systems in the Deconstruction of Colonialism ( or in the preservation of it, depending on one's view)

Prof. Schwarz has also taught Sociology and Politics at Warwick, Cultural Studies at the University of East London, and Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, and arrived at Queen Mary in 2004. I am an editor of History Workshop Journal.

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