Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Student Experience
Diversity Digest Volume 10, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity and Learning: “A Defining Moment”
Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned
The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements
Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer
Creating Institutional Transformation Using the Equity Scorecard
Curricular Transformation
Service Learning, Multicultural Education, and the Core Curriculum:
A Model for Institutional Change
Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
A Sustainable Campus-Wide Program for Diversity Curriculum Infusion
Campus-Community Involvement
El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet
Faculty Involvement
Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education
Transitioning on Campus: Creating a Welcoming Climate for Transgender People
Complicating Diversity Categories: Jewish Identity in the Classroom
Student Experience
Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies
Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London
Graduate and Professional Degree Attainment for Students of Color
Affordability of Postsecondary Education for Students of Color
Diversity and Learning Resources

Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London

By Idroma Montgomery, recent graduate of Arcadia University and editorial assistant at an independent academic publishing company.

I could say that I became a true inhabitant of London when I started to recognize and observe the fault lines of social exchanges and race relations that rested uneasily beneath the prided multiculturalism of the city. London remains one of the most diverse and progressive cities that I’ve seen, and its constant social tension pushes it forward in both positive and negative ways. To be a tourist was to not understand this energy that infused the land, to not see the possibility of transformation. As an African American female, I was no stranger to the effects of marginalization and being rendered “other” in my own country. I often worried how my race would affect my presence while in Britain. Being a black American, however, allowed me to navigate the city in a way that many of my white counterparts could not.

The English do not automatically associate blackness with America. Within their society I became one of three things on sight: Afro-Caribbean, Nigerian, or biracial English. I was accepted as a citizen in some respects because I was not considered truly American, at least until I opened my mouth. Because of this, I was able to participate in more mundane racial interactions that infused city living, and thus, in part, view how people of color live and exist in London’s many boroughs. Though I had previously learned about the different ethnic groups that composed the city, it wasn’t until I lived among them that I truly understood their importance. I was forced to learn the accents, dialects, and customs that formed the cultural space around me in order to not be “outed” as a foreigner. I became intimately familiar with not only the physical space of London and other parts of England, but its people as well. I learned to understand the madness that is English culture; it was no longer “quaint” or “exotic,” but a space with which I could truly interact and which I could help to shape. I was no longer a transitory entity but a stationary one, able to take on the freedoms and responsibilities that living in a city entailed. I became an inhabitant, not only because of my shared experience within those few months, but also because I recognized that from then on, I was affected by what occurred in the city, that it had become an indelible part of my personal landscape.

Through this cultural transformation, I also gained a heightened form of what W. E. B. DuBois termed “double consciousness.” Not only did I have to reassess what it meant to be American in a different cultural context; I had to learn what it meant to be black in England. In many ways, it was race coupled with ethnicity that formed national consciousness. In London, I was most surprised by my own interactions with the black populace. Unencumbered by the presence of different ethnicities within the States, I realized, shockingly, that the centuries of shared experience that united black Americans did not exist for British blacks. Even my routine transactions in public spaces differed according to whether I was speaking with a Caribbean, a Nigerian, or a first- or second-generation citizen. I found that when confronted with a host of nationalities with such a strong remembrance of their own histories, “African American” as an identity became problematic. For possibly the first time I recognized what it meant to have a country, to be both American and black. From that small epiphany I started to view race relations in a completely different manner. For all our differences, minorities in America were still completely American; in England there was, quite literally, a struggle to figure out what British identity meant in a place that could host thousands of differently identifying groups. My sense of basic racial dichotomy, black and white, was completely shattered in light of all the groups I learned to live beside.

I was also able to view the dynamics of globalization as it affected the local environment. Globalization ceased to be some amorphous, all-encompassing entity and gained specificity and a sense of locality. Through student life especially I learned how many of my peers, even the ones from small towns and rural areas, had grown up with a dizzying array of cultures around them. It became commonplace for me to see signs in both English and Hindi, to walk past not only churches and temples, but also beautiful mosques all over London. Even tragic events like the 2004 tsunami gained resonance as I realized that for a large population of the country, this was no faraway occurrence but one that could easily involve family and a life left behind. I heard Indian boys address each other as “brown soul brother” and listened while South Asians and Asian Muslims discussed how much they had been affected by leaders such as Malcolm X. I began to feel a kinship with the South Asian population as I noticed how they were influenced not only by their own culture and heritage but by black American and Caribbean cultures as well.

This culture blend extended into aspects of my life outside of academia. In music it was not unusual to hear traditional Punjabi bhangra folk songs merged with reggae and rap, or French artists who combined pop music with Spanish melodies. I heard rap from all over Western Europe and parts of Asia that reconfigured American patterns in order to reflect their own cultural realities. In museums, in the Tube, and on the street I saw paintings and photography from all over Africa that tried to come to terms with what it meant to be African and European in a postcolonial environment utilizing traditional and Western methods. I saw that while American culture did have a global influence, in most cases this influence became transformed to suit the culture it resided in. It was no longer completely American but something forged by each local community, made foreign and completely unpredictable through each interpretation. American culture became a vessel in which these countries could modernize themselves; it became both subject and object.

Editor’s Note: This article is included with thanks to Jeffrey Shultz and Ellen Skilton-Sylvester of Arcadia University.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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