Narratives of migration, immigration, and interconnection
© Cambridge University Press 2015. In 1948, a Labour-led government under Clement Atlee passed the British Nationality Act (BNA). This legislation created a new category, ‘Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies’, which conferred citizenship rights on all Commonwealth subjects. The BNA was designed to retain some coherence over British identity at the very moment in which the Empire was disintegrating and the welfare state was consolidating; however, the legislation had unexpected consequences. During 1948 and 1962 (when Parliament passed The Commonwealth Immigrants Act to tighten immigration), approximately 500,000 Commonwealth citizens, most of them formerly colonial subjects of colour from the West Indies and Asia, arrived in the United Kingdom to live and work. This wave of migrants, often referred to as the Windrush Generation, tested the distinctions between citizen and subject, English and British, alien and native that were latent in immigration law and the United Kingdom at large. Although immigrants have had a presence in the United Kingdom for centuries, the BNA produced a significant minority population for the first time: one with a complex emotional relationship to England. Colonial subject-citizens had been educated in English traditions and imagined they were coming home to the Motherland. Such migrants found their expectations dashed when they encountered hostility from native citizens and endured isolation upon entering the United Kingdom. Both ghettoised and required to assimilate, postwar migrants faced economic and cultural challenges, which gave birth to new kinds of British fiction centred on the experience of exclusion, conflicts over the meaning of national traditions, and reflection upon the significance of collective identity in a multiracial, international society. These themes structure several generations of British literary history: the Windrush generation, the black British generation, and the global network generation. Windrush writers such as Sam Selvon, George Lamming, and V. S. Naipaul were invariably immigrant writers, while their successors in the black British generation included both migrants and their descendants born in the United Kingdom. Black British denoted a new and contentious category of minority identity for people of colour who considered the United Kingdom their primary homeland.
- The Cambridge Companion to British Fiction since 1945
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