White Memories, White Belonging: Competing Colonial Anniversaries in ‘Postcolonial’ East London

Article


Wemyss, G. 2008. White Memories, White Belonging: Competing Colonial Anniversaries in ‘Postcolonial’ East London. Sociological Research Online. 13 (5), pp. 50-67. https://doi.org/10.5153/sro.1801
AuthorsWemyss, G.
Abstract

This paper explores how processes of remembering past events contribute to the construction of highly racialised local and national politics of belonging in the UK. Ethnographic research and contextualised discourse analysis are used to examine two colonial anniversaries remembered in 2006: the 1606 departure of English ‘settlers’ who built the first permanent English colony in North America at Jamestown, Virginia, and the 1806 opening of the East India Docks, half a century after the East India Company took control of Bengal following the battle of Polashi. Both events were associated with the Thames waterfront location of Blackwall in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, an area with the highest Bengali population in Britain and significant links with North America through banks and businesses based at the regenerated Canary Wharf office complex. It investigates how discourses and events associated with these two specific anniversaries and with the recent ‘regeneration’ of Blackwall, contribute to the consolidation of the dominant ‘mercantile discourse’ about the British Empire, Britishness and belonging. Challenges to the dominant discourse of the ‘celebration’ of colonial settlement in North America by competing discourses of North American Indian and African American groups are contrasted with the lack of contest to discourses that ‘celebrate’ Empire stories in contemporary Britain. The paper argues that the ‘mercantile discourse’ in Britain works to construct a sense of mutual white belonging that links white Englishness with white Americaness through emphasising links between Blackwall and Jamestown and associating the values of ‘freedom and democracy’ with colonialism. At the same time British Bengali belonging is marginalised as links between Blackwall and Bengal and the violence and oppression of British colonialism are silenced. The paper concludes with an analysis of the contemporary mobilisation of the ‘mercantile discourse’ in influential social policy and ‘regeneration’ discourse about ‘The East End’.

JournalSociological Research Online
Journal citation13 (5), pp. 50-67
ISSN1360-7804
Year2008
PublisherSAGE Publications
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.5153/sro.1801
Publication dates
PrintSep 2008
Online11 Dec 2017
Publication process dates
Deposited23 Jan 2024
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