Thursday, 22 August 2013

The West Indian Front Room

The West Indian front room.. became one of the key diasporic locations for West Indian immigrants and their children (like me)

I remember the front room well.
My parents never locked the doors to their 'empire' but we knew... as children, that front rooms (not only ours) were special places.

My defining memories of the front room include the 'gram'... the ornamental enamel fish... a red and yellow crotchet table mat,
A picture of the last supper... and the blue/green eyed Jesus picture with eyes that seemed to follow me around the room.

The series/documentary below, is a fantastic nostalgic, historical analysis of the social shifts that occurred in Britain during the 1950's onwards, with the arrival of black immigrants from the Caribbean, and looks at the formation of the front room, and how it was located in this social setting.

West Indian parents were considered too strict for some in working class Britain. To be fair, many were disciplinarians had high expectations for their children, and took education very seriously.

It's not uncommon to hear of after dinner recitals of the times table, and homework inspections being carried out in homes, yet ironically many children ( of my generation) were classified as in need of 'special education' or even un-teachable, coming from homes which were somehow dysfunctional with authoritarian parents.
This pathologizing of black children grew apace, and every so often rears it's head from time to time, even now.
It depends which book you read, who you speak to, or what archive footage you watch however because ironically, a counter stereotype emerged of West Indian parents not caring, or caring less about their children’s education than African or White British parents.

These divisive, divide and rule assumptions are quite inaccurate, yet surprisingly resilient, as on occasion I still hear these assertions being made.

Speaking as one who grew up in a West Indian home, with West Indian parents, and had many West Indian friends, and visited other homes, both family and friends alike... it was virtually impossible to leave without being questioned about how you were getting on at school,and being told to ..'listen to your parents!'.. 'work hard, and do well'

So where are we now?
Well... we don't live in a vacuum.
Society changes... and changes in attitudes, social pressures, and our hybridic identities ensure an almost confusing blend of expectations vs realism and individuality vs community

We have no 'front room ' now.

Once the front room was a safe haven, perhaps a make believe reconstruction of the colonized becoming the colonizers.
Living the dream of an imagined ‘empire’.
Yet the space became a battle ground.
The old vs the new
The phantasy vs the reality.
Whilst it may have been possible for the older generation to shut the world out once inside these front rooms, it was impossible for the youngsters to do the same.
Something had to give.

I wonder now about our living spaces, and what they mean to us. How we define ourselves with relation to our belongings. What items we consider precious, and why.
What do Caribbean living spaces now say about us?

I don't have many, but no..some pictures were just never going to make it onto my wall..

Looking back though.. I am sad to see it go
It was a strong cultural site. It was that in between space Caribbean – England (with me positioned in the middle)
There was real meaning there.
It spoke of Britain, it spoke of the Caribbean, it spoke of post colonialism, it spoke of my parents, and my parents generation.
It's part of our history

slightly out of sync voice over in this episode

Oh yes Jim Reeves.. and blue beat singles

Story on paraffin heaters..When I was a baby.. Christmas eve. a door fell on a paraffin heater.. went unnoticed, and burnt the house down.
A bad fire.. we all got out, but unfortunately not all unscathed.

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