Through a combination of critical memoir and family history, Hazel V. Carby’s Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands offers an intimate history of empire—an excavation of close connections across space and time, of empire’s presence in the most intimate spaces and relationships, and of the sedimented yet contingent racial logics underlying constructions of Englishness and Britishness. This brief discussion essay considers the book’s eccentric form and method as a challenge to imperial history, its methodological commitments, and its archival moorings. Carby offers a powerful critique of narratives of the black presence and racism in postwar Britain that center on the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948. By way of conclusion, the essay follows Carby in revisiting the so-called Brown Baby debate at the end of World War II, an episode in the reracialization of Britain that offers glimpses of the diversity of perspectives and political imaginaries among people of African descent and their extensive ties to a wider black Atlantic.
An Intimate History of Empire
Marc Matera is an associate professor of history and a codirector of the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (2015) and the coauthor, with Susan Kingsley Kent, of The Global 1930s: The International Decade (2017) and, with Misty L. Bastian and Susan Kingsley Kent, of The Women’s War of 1929: Gender and Violence in Colonial Nigeria (2011).
Marc Matera; An Intimate History of Empire. Small Axe 1 March 2021; 25 (1 (64)): 175–185. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-8912837
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