OK, after that sugar-sweet and milky-white double shot of Noël Coward and Vera Lynn, perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves that London is — and for the past 500 years (or more), has consistently been — a city of immigrants. With this in mind, here’s the Trinidad-born calypso legend Lord Kitchener singing a hymn to his newly-adopted hometown.
It’s maybe worth noting that Kitch wrote this song on the boat to London, and so the sentiment of the song is perhaps somewhat aspirational, not necessarily a true reflection of his experience as a new immigrant in London in the 1950s. (And we know he wrote the song on the boat because, amazingly, a film crew documenting the influx of Trinidadians into London just happened to interview him as he disembarked on June 28, 1948, and he took the opportunity to sing this song for the camera.)
We also might take a moment to think about how awesome it is that singers from British colonies like Trinidad and Jamaica sometimes take the titles of British aristocrats for their stage names. When he was at home with his family, “Lord Kitchener” was simply called “Aldwyn Roberts.”
Anyways, there’s a lot of worrisome right-wing rhetoric floating around the UK these days about “preserving” Britishness in the face of the “threat” of multiculturalism. In most of these cases, it’s obvious that the superficial pretense of protecting “British values” is meant to disguise the real underlying motives of racism and xenophobia. We’ll spend a lot of time exploring this aspect of contemporary British culture next semester, but for the time being, let me reiterate that London is and has always been a city of immigrants. Even in Shakespeare’s time, we have records of people complaining that the city is being overrun by foreigners and longing for the good old days when Londoners were really Londoners.
Whoever they might be.