Fleming on "Questions of Colour"

edited May 2014 in Literary 007 Posts: 274
Though Ian Fleming was a devoted reader of The Times Literary Supplement, he only contributed one review to the journal. He was presumably asked to tackle this particular book because of his familiarity with Jamaica. What follows is a discussion of race and the "colour problem"--though written around the same time as Live and Let Die, its tone feels more progressive, though some parts of the article would be unacceptable for publication today.

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Times Literary Supplement. January 01, 1954.

QUESTIONS OF COLOUR

Fernando Henriques: Family and Colour in Jamaica. With a Preface by Meyer Fortes. Eyre and Spottiswoode. 18s.

There are about 250 million Negroes in the world and one of the great problems of this and future generations lies in promoting their happiness and well-being. Over the centuries, this will only be achieved by an extension of the colour bar so that part of the earth’s surface—perhaps the African continent—becomes a Negro dominion or reserve, or else by progressive removal of the colour bar until, through miscegenation, the entire population of the world is coffee-coloured. In England, until very recently, we barely perceived the problem. The solitary blackamoor was a nursery figure, a pet. In the plural he was a horde of fuzzy-wuzzies to be handled with glass beads or machine-guns.

But suddenly, almost since the war, the picture has changed; or rather our eyes, educated in humanity by the twentieth-century blaze of social enlightenment, see it differently. Suddenly we perceive the Negro as a tragically unhappy man ridden by a sense of inferiority which accompanies him, like a deformity, from the schoolroom to the grave. In our sympathy we lavish education and culture and medicine upon him only to be pained when, with advancement, he reaches for the weapons we once used against him and turns them upon us—weapons of legal and political argument, weapons of “giant powder” and steel. Floundering, we bomb him in one colony and in another invite him to fork-lunches at the Residency. Here he is a tool of Moscow, there he gets the O.B.E. Now he is pacified with a new constitution, then he is threatened with a battleship. Whichever way we attempt to disintegrate the black cloud on the horizon, it still remains larger than a man’s hand and, to those who think about it, just as menacing as if it were shaped like a mushroom.

Mr. Henriques is a social anthropologist and, while he might be indulgent towards these generalizations, in Family and Colour in Jamaica it has been his concern to focus a microscope over a small portion of this black cloud and to provide a detailed field-study of the mesh of colour relationships that exist even in a community as politically advanced and socially enlightened as Jamaica. The result is not only a valuable contribution to social science but a work of general interest, written with intelligence and sympathy.

The author, himself a member of a famous Jamaican family still prominent in the island, is lecturer in social anthology in the University of Leeds. It was thus not difficult for him to return to Jamaica and move among the people with intimacy and yet with eyes wide open. He concentrated on the County of Portland and its capital, Port Antonio, and his minute focus on the habits of and customs of this parish provides some of his most interesting passages of descriptive reporting. But it is his examination of the minutiae of colour relationships within Negro society that brings out the bitter colour warfares that accompany the usual economic class struggles.

“Colour,” he emphasizes, “is evaluated in terms of actual colour, hair formation, features and skin textures,” allowing for infinite combinations all of which have social significance. Thus, a dark person with “good” hair and features ranks above a fairer person with “bad” hair and features, and so on. Families become divided on colour lines, but in other spheres there are even greater frustrations. Choice of a career, promotion, public and private acceptance by others, marriage, in fact all social position is largely determined by colour. Even poverty plays a secondary part. Always there is that dreadful moment, generally at school, when some incident on the playground, some remark overheard in the street, will suddenly bring home to the little black boy that the fair boy will have the advantage of him for the rest of his life. It is no wonder that the conclusions reached by this stimulating and humane author are not encouraging, and the only disappointing feature of the book lies in the absence of some brave and though-provoking suggestions for the future which would stir our minds as well as our hearts.

Comments

  • chrisisallchrisisall Brosnan Defender Of The Realm
    edited May 2014 Posts: 14,055
    Quite progressive for its time, yes. The simplifications can be overlooked IMO.
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger Where women smoke tobacco and wear short petticoats
    Posts: 17,450
    So glad we do not have a negro problem here, in this community. I love our negro co members, and in case you wonder: I am a honkey myself.
  • chrisisallchrisisall Brosnan Defender Of The Realm
    Posts: 14,055
    Silly silly British man.
  • Posts: 6,408

    Silly silly British man.

    Who's a silly British man?
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger Where women smoke tobacco and wear short petticoats
    Posts: 17,450

    Silly silly British man.

    Who's a silly British man?
    Where are you from, Willy man?
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