My research is concerned with how global race politics and the struggles of decolonization have shaped the modern history of Britain.
My first book, Thinking Black: Britain, 1964–1985, looked at Black Power as a political and cultural force in Britain. Ideas of blackness mobilized through the rubric of a transnational Black Power were crucial in the conceptualization of what a postcolonial Britain might become, and held a significant place in the development of New Left politics in Britain. In Thinking Black, I chart black radical Britain’s wide cultural-political formation, tracing it across new institutions of black civil society and connecting it to decolonization and black liberation across the Atlantic world. The book shows how, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, black radicalism defined what it meant to be black and what it meant to be radical in Britain.
My current research focuses on the history of multiculturalism in London. I am interested in how, in London’s transition to a mass multiculture in the second half of the twentieth century, integration was posed as a project of uplift, social reform and good citizenship, working through established institutions, practices and understandings of political and social integration developed through imperial liberalism, anti-colonial nation building, and Britain’s transition to a mass democracy. I am interested also in the limited traction that this framing of integration had, and how it stood in a contested relationship with popular cosmopolitanism, anti-racist activism, and forms of racial exclusion and violence. As part of this project, I have created a digital map of black London in the late-twentieth century, charting some of the research.
I am also interested in history writing as a practice of decolonization, and in memoirs and fiction as forms of historical evidence. In both these contexts, I am interested in the intersections between literary and historical studies.