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25 March 2010

MCT: Stuart Hall

"New ethnicities", the essay in this book, dates from 1989, and was published in an ICA book Black Film, British Cinema. It's an odd piece, in that it uses some very theoretical arguing (about the nature of representation) to make some very understandable, almost common-sense points.

Essentially, the argument is that it is now time to develop a more nuanced view of race and the problem of representation by and of blacks. Hall says that previously there has been a fairly simplistic view where the black experience is rather homogenised. Perhaps understandably, give the more urgent need to correct and transform the existing position, there has been a tendency to view 'black' as an umbrella definition. He argues that, of course, 'black' is a politically constructed term, and that hitherto the argument has overlooked the differences within black culture - eg gender and class, as well as, though he's less explicit about this, the different experience of different ethnic groups. (I think that around this time there had been racial violence in Birmingham where Afro-caribbeans had been in conflict with Asians.)

So he says that the concept of ethnicity is more important. Everyone has an ethnicity, including white English people who, if you let them, will act as if ethnicity was something only black people had. It's important to recognise and use that fact, and with it to recognise that among black people there's the same range of experience as among any others. He quotes Hanif Kureishi:
writing [about Britain today] has to be complex. It can't apologize or idealize. It can't sentimentalize and it can't represent only one group as having a monopoly on virtue. 
True, but simple, and quite disappointingly trite, really.

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