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Paul Gilroy delivers 2024 Rex Nettleford Lecture on the evolving significance of studying Africa’s diaspora

On 16 May 2024, Paul Gilroy, Professor of Humanities and UCL and the founding director of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism and Racialisation, delivered the 2024 Rex Nettleford Lecture. In his talk he argued that “the UK seems to be forgetting the Caribbean” in its historical discussions about Empire and scrutinised what he described as a “nationalistic yearning” to weave a “clean colonial narrative”.

He said that he wanted the lecture to “trouble that amnesia and in memory of Rex Nettleford promote the importance of the Caribbean in the modern story of this archipelago and indeed the world.”

Gilroy also explored the Black radical tradition, theorized by Cedric Robinson, discussing its impact specifically on the Africa’s diaspora in the Caribbean.

“In contrast to the kind of veneration that’s been accorded to Cedric Robinson’s interventions, the meaning of Rex Nettleford’s diverse contributions, his political trajectory, and any lessons his work might have to contemporary understanding of the politics and intellectual work on the African diaspora, have been overlooked or obscured as a result of their lack of congruency with current fashions,” he said.

“And when Nettleford’s name has been acknowledged, inevitably there’s a contest over the value of his interventions, and that process can only, I think, intensify as the effects of Cold War and Black Power politics in the Caribbean cultural and political life are subjected to greater scholastic attention and the political culture of the period is considered anew.”

Gilroy concluded his talk as follows: “The fundamental challenge is to make colonial history contribute to the development of new planetary standards, which can’t be derived from liberal priorities and pearl clutching that resolutely avoids any instructive reconsideration of colonialism’s bloody archives and bad habits in the context of this new settlement, which is pending and which has been made urgent by climate change.

“We require another solidarity. A new involution, capable of responding to the triage of humankind that is underway.”

Each year, Oriel College, Oxford, holds an essay competition in which year 12 students are invited to submit essays on colonialism and its legacies. The authors of the best essays are presented with their prizes at the eponymous Rex Nettleford Lecture.

Rex Nettleford was a student and later Honorary Fellow of Oriel College who made distinguished contributions to the fields of scholarship, culture, and education, serving as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies from 1998 to 2004.

After Gilroy’s lecture, Dr Nick Gaskill awarded winners of the 2024 Rex Nettleford Essay Prize with their prizes.

The winners were:

Theo Kamara on ‘How Have Ideas about Nature Shaped the Histories and Legacies of Colonialism?’
Jay Tufnell on ‘Education in Palestine under the British Mandate’

Certificates of Commendations:

Sara Yusef on ‘How Have Ideas about Nature Shaped the Histories and Legacies of Colonialism?’
Aarya Cheruvath on ‘Pick an example of popular or vernacular culture . . . and explain it in relation to the histories of colonialism’