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Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail

Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail: Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail
    Book Description:

    The port city of Liverpool, England, is home to one of the oldest Black communities in Britain. Its members proudly date their history back at least as far as the nineteenth century, with the global wanderings and eventual settlement of colonial African seamen. Jacqueline Nassy Brown analyzes how this worldly origin story supports an avowedly local Black politic and identity--a theme that becomes a window onto British politics of race, place, and nation, and Liverpool's own contentious origin story as a gloriously cosmopolitan port of world-historical import that was nonetheless central to British slave trading and imperialism.

    This ethnography also examines the rise and consequent dilemmas of Black identity. It captures the contradictions of diaspora in postcolonial Liverpool, where African and Afro-Caribbean heritages and transnational linkages with Black America both contribute to and compete with the local as a basis for authentic racial identity. Crisscrossing historical periods, rhetorical modes, and academic genres, the book focuses singularly on "place," enabling its most radical move: its analysis of Black racial politics as enactments of English cultural premises. The insistent focus on English culture implies a further twist. Just as Blacks are racialized through appeals to their assumed Afro-Caribbean and African cultures, so too has Liverpool--an Irish, working-class city whose expansive port faces the world beyond Britain--long been beyond the pale of dominant notions of authentic Englishness.Dropping Anchor, Setting Sailstudies "race" through clashing constructions of "Liverpool."

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2641-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Setting Sail
    (pp. 1-33)

    “To understand Black people, you’ve got to understand Liverpool.” So argued my friend Scott, a sixty-year-old Black man born and raised in that city. I first met Scott in 1991, a few weeks after beginning fieldwork there, back when I still thought my research was just set in Liverpool rather than being about “Liverpool.”

    On the occasion of my first interview with Scott, he came over to where I lived bearing a folder labeled “Anti National Front,” a reference to a political party on Britain’s far right. The folder’s voluminous contents forced its seams to burst. The newspaper clippings and...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Black Liverpool, Black America, and the Gendering of Diasporic Space
    (pp. 34-58)

    The termsBlack LiverpoolandBlack Americarefer to racialized geographies of the imagination. The mapping of racial signifiers onto geographical ones lends such terms the illusion of referring to physical rather than social locations. The fact that there is no actual place that one could call Black Liverpool points attention to the ways that social spaces are created in tandem with processes of racial formation. Black Liverpool was born in the context of its joyous but contentious engagement with Black America, as imagined from a distance and as experienced up close.¹ The radical Blackness engendered in that diasporic encounter...

    (pp. 59-69)

    When London’s Notting Hill riots occurred in 1958, Britain’s empire was dissolving, its economy was ailing, and its social fabric was unraveling. Black people, Stuart Hall famously argued, were the signifiers of this crisis (Hall 1978; Hall et al. 1978). Here I examine the rise of nationalism in an era of decline that culminates in the 1981 British Nationality Act and, also in 1981, a series of uprisings among Blacks and Whites across Britain. In the process, I pursue Hall’s insight about the meaning of the Black presence by attending to contestations over place anditsmeaning.

    Although many other...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Genealogies: Place, Race, and Kinship
    (pp. 70-96)

    Donna Haraway suggests that in the United States race works fundamentally through naturalized links between biology and kinship. She implicates kinship more stridently here: “It is time to theorize an ‘unfamiliar’ unconscious, a different primal scene, where everything does not stem from the dramas of identity and reproduction. Ties through blood . . . have been bloody enough already. I believe that there will be no racial or sexual peace, no livable nature, until we learn to produce humanity through something more and less than kinship” (1997: 265). In a related context, Loic J. D. Wacquant emphasizes the specificity of...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Diaspora and Its Discontents: A Trilogy
    (pp. 97-128)

    On Saturday nights in south Liverpool, at about 1:30 in the morning, when the pubs in town close and the clubs shut their doors, many merrymakers make their way to Liverpool 8 to the African Community Centre and Social Club—better known as “the African.”¹ In its former life, or so I was told, the African was a synagogue. Now, by day, it is the site of one group’s ethnic organization. By night it is a popular after-hours spot frequented mostly by Africans, White women, and Liverpool-born Blacks, whether of African or Afro-Caribbean background. And like most leisure spaces in...

  9. CHAPTER SIX My City, My Self: A Folk Phenomenology
    (pp. 129-160)

    This quotation is fromThe Atlantic Sound, by Caryl Phillips, who was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to Britain with his parents when he was a child. His book describes his sojourn to three places important to the history of slavery: Accra, Charleston, and Liverpool. Above, Phillips has crossed the Atlantic on the first leg of his journey. Britain is finally sailing into view. His sensual longing for the white cliffs of Dover, and the womanly hills that lay beyond them, evoke his claim on Britain, where he travels with a sense of (patriarchal) ownership. Just beholding those white...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN A Slave to History: Local Whiteness in a Black Atlantic Port
    (pp. 161-186)

    Denouncing his bondage and narrating his runaway plot to freedom, Frederick Douglass wrote, “Every slaveholder seeks to impress his slave with a belief in the boundlessness of slave territory, and of his own almost illimitable power. We all had vague and indistinct notions of the geography of the country” (1994a [1855]: 310). Because Douglass’s enslavement was effected, in part, through the control of his conception of space, his runaway plot depended on his ability to imagine a point geographically and politically beyond his master’s reach but within his own. Years after his escape, as an abolitionist on the lecture circuit...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Ghost of Muriel Fletcher
    (pp. 187-214)

    In a nationally televised documentary about race, a host of Black people from around Britain were surveyed on the topic of identity. Two of the interviewees, from Liverpool, were a brother and sister of mixed racial parentage. Asked how they identified themselves, the brother said that he is Black, while his sister said (I am paraphrasing here), “Sometimes I say I’m Black, and sometimes I just say I’m half and half.” A friend of mine had watched the program in a pub with his friends and later recounted to me how they all cringed at her failure to assert, simply...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Local Women and Global Men: The Liverpool That Was
    (pp. 215-242)

    As Scott and I stood on the corner where Pitt Street used to be, he brought its global milieu back to life by instructing me to visualize African, Chinese, and Arab people walking around in traditional garb. Veronica, Scott’s junior by thirty years, also conjured a spectacular internationalist vision of the Black community’s past. But she placed it around the Granby Street of her youth. As we strolled through Liverpool 8 running some of her errands, Veronica pointed out the row of modern, prefab council houses along Selbourne Street. Waving at them dismissively, she informed me that those didn’t used...

  13. POSTSCRIPT The Leaving of Liverpool
    (pp. 243-249)

    “The Leaving of Liverpool” is a traditional song that dates to 1885, when a sailor was overheard singing it on a ship. The song has been recorded many times since. One version of the lyrics comes with the instruction to sing “expansively.” In any event, the song begins like this:

    Farewell to Prince’s landing stage

    River Mersey Fare thee well

    I am bound for California

    A place I know right well

    So fare thee well my own true love

    When I return united we will be

    It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me

    But my darling when I...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 250-274)
    (pp. 275-296)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 297-306)