Conviviality and parallax in David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History

European Journal of Cultural Studies 22 (5-6):979-995 (2019)
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Abstract
Through examining the BBC television series, Black and British: A Forgotten History, written and presented by the historian David Olusoga, and in extending Paul Gilroy’s assertion that the everyday banality of living with difference is now an ordinary part of British life, this article considers how Olusoga’s historicization of the Black British experience reflects a convivial rendering of UK multiculture. In particular, when used alongside Žižek’s notion of parallax, it is argued that understandings of convivial culture can be supported by a historical importance that deliberately ‘shocks’, and subsequently dislodges, popular interpretations of the UK’s ‘white past’. Notably, it is parallax which puts antagonism, strangeness and ambivalence at the heart of contemporary depictions of convivial Britain, with the UK’s cultural differences located in the ‘gaps’ and tensions which characterize both its past and present. These differences should not be feared but, as a characteristic part of our convivial culture, should be supplemented with historical analyses that highlight but, also, undermine, the significance of cultural differences in the present. Consequently, it is suggested that if the spontaneity of conviviality is to encourage openness, then understandings of multiculturalism need to go beyond reification in order to challenge our understandings of the past. Here, examples of ‘alterity’ are neither ‘new’ nor ‘contemporary’, but instead, constitute a fundamental part of the nation’s history: of the ‘gap’ made visible in transiting past and present.
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