Did a movement similar to Négritude exist in the UK or amongst Anglo-Saxon Africans?

Were there British equivalents of French West Africa's Léopold Sédar Senghor, Alioune Diop, or Aimé Césaire - poets and writers who rejected France's colonialism and took pride in their cultural and racial identity?

I know that the British, in contrast to the French, pursued indirect rule rather than assimilation, but surely must have been intellectuals who fought against colonial rule on the basis of affirming African-ism?

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    Maybe the closest equivalent would be CLR James and 'Black Jacobins'.
    – neubau
    Sep 26 '14 at 16:59

According to your linked Wikipedia article, that movement essentially started out as a Francophone version of the Harlem Renaissance. One important point here is that the Afro-British would not have nearly as much incentive to start their own movement, as the existing one already used their native language. In fact, a sizable amount of participants in the Harlem Renaissance were in fact originally from British possessions in the Caribbean. For example, writers Claude McKay and Eric D. Walrond were born in Jamaica and British Guiana (via Barbados) respectively.

So I could answer that the English-speaking version of Négritude was the Harlem Renaissance, but it would be more historically accurate to say that the other way round.


There may not have been a movement in Britain, but there were certainly individual left-wing anti-colonial intellectuals from the British colonies who wrote works in this vein. C. L. R. James from Trinidad was one, recognized even today for Black Jacobins, a history of the Haitian revolution published in 1938.

This event (contemporary to the French Revolution) seems to have inspired anti-colonials, whether they wrote in French or in English – Césaire also wrote a history of it.

James’s first version of the story was a play, apparently, and he later wrote the first novel by a West Indian published in the UK, according to Wiki. It might be instructive to compare his biography to Césaire’s. After the war Césaire managed to become the mayor of the capital of Martinique, and he was instrumental in setting up the arrangement where the island remained a département of France on its own terms. James was more of a loner, his leftist politics never achieved anything concrete for Trinidad, and he ended up mainly writing about cricket!

Concerning the Négritude movement, it’s worth remembering that its founders were not only anti-colonial activists, they were also poets and novelists who wanted to gain recognition as such not at home in the colony, but in the metropole (Paris). French writers, especially on the left, were more likely to form movements at that time (the 1930s and 40s) – would André Breton, leader of the Surrealists, have recognized Césaire and supported his poetic efforts without the calling card of Négritude? Perhaps not.

In Britain in those days, on the other hand, literary movements were unusual – only Pound’s Imagism and Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticism come to mind, and these were both on the right politically. So for James or his friends, founding such a movement might have been rather pointless. I think it’s this, more than the different ways Britain and France managed their colonies although there may also be linkages in this regard, that answers your question.

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    Thanks. This is actually for a paper on ethnopsychiatry. I wanted figures who challenged the epistemological assumptions on which colonial medicine was based. Easier to find in the French case as it seems they had a more philosophical/aesthetic bent. C L R James looks promising.
    – user6800
    Sep 29 '14 at 11:28
  • I suppose you already know about Frantz Fanon.
    – neubau
    Sep 29 '14 at 12:04
  • Ha yes. He was highly critical of both colonial psychiatry and negritude.
    – user6800
    Sep 29 '14 at 13:31
  • @RosalindRei Just curious - What was Fanon's beef with colonial psychiatry and negritude? Sep 29 '14 at 14:16
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    He believed that they essentialised 'The African' just like European racial discourse did except in the opposite direction by glorifying 'what is least intellectual in us', referring to the supposedly African sense of rhythm that allowed them to 'penetrate the spirituality of objects'. However I think he also recognised the necessity of such a movement because racism had completely destroyed the colonised subject's sense of self. Hence he deemed it only almost as demeaning as white European racism.
    – user6800
    Sep 29 '14 at 14:25

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