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London’s Cosmopolitanism: A Postcolonial Condition

In an increasingly urban culture, certain cities have become hubs of activities: social, economic, and cultural. This immense possibility encapsulated in the cityscape has naturally translated into mass movements towards them. This has led to these city centres possessing a dynamic social makeup — no longer homogenous — it defies boundaries of ethnicity, religion, colour, and so on. Cities become a flexible, open, and fluid space: a true cosmopolitan haven. However, this does not mean that these cities are free of power relations and that the various communities that populate them have an equal relationship with each other. In short, hierarchies still propound. In this article, I would explore the landscape of London, a highly cosmopolitan city, to understand the postcolonial ramifications of such a social framework.


Cities are made up and altered by the people who inhabit them. It is not just the new people who have to adapt to the environment of an alien space, but they too imbue cities with their own characteristics. To illustrate, one can look at one of the biggest, major cities in the world: London. In the present time, it would be difficult to ascertain the original cultural affiliation of this city. Its dominantly modern culture is an amalgamation of various people, languages, regions, and ethnicity, that constantly interact and interplay with each other. This is evident by the city’s large-scale celebration of different cultures, cuisines, and festivals, as emblematic of a whole-hearted accommodation. For instance, Diwali, a Hindu festival, is celebrated with great pomp and show at Trafalgar Square (a central public square); the Chinese New Year is marked through a spectacular parade; and even the Christmas markets have food stalls serving cuisines from all around the world. Moreover, many sections of the city are marked by their ethnic diversity: Southall has a distinct Punjabi community, Wembley accommodates a Gujarati community, Chinatown represents a rich Asian culture, Brick Lane is famous for its Bangladeshi residents and their culture, and so on.


All of this would foster a very positive image of the city as it embraces all with their particularities and differences. Yet, it would be wrong to forget that most of these migrant cultures share a postcolonial relation with London, and that still taints the interactions of people who live in London. London was at the centre of the dark colonial history of England: as the administrative centre which sanctioned the various colonial exploitations and reaped the gains from these exploits, and as the representative head of the whole operation being the capital city and the seat of the Crown. The city still bears the marks of this history in its monuments and narratives. For example, the museums of London — such as the Victoria Albert Museum, British Museum, and Tower of London — hold artefacts collected from various parts of the world, and these are obvious reminders of the cultural and economic ravishes done during colonial rule. The narratives employed when displaying these objects might emphasise the cosmopolitan richness of the nation, but they carry the undercurrent of colonial appropriation and robbery.


Additionally, the mass migration to London is not innocuous; it is prompted by a postcolonial mentality. The third-world countries, that have experienced the yoke of colonial rule, still uphold the dichotomy between the East and the West at a (sub)conscious level. Edward Said, a postcolonial thinker, elaborated upon this binary that the colonizers created to assert their superiority against the inferior native in his famous work Orientalism: “European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self". Earlier, this difference was used to legitimize colonial rule by presenting the West as naturally superior to the colonized cultures. However, the remnants of such ideology are still visible in people’s choice to move to London. Movement from East to West is seen as a progression, as the West comes to be associated with the idea of development, civilized behaviour, and freedom of thought. An Economic Times article states that Indian students are increasingly preferring London to pursue their education: “According to the most recent statistics, more than 98,000 Indian students came to the UK to study last year, up 90% on the previous year”. People are investing their future in London to suggest that London is seen as the ideal space to facilitate growth, provide career opportunities, and offer good living conditions. Therefore, the cosmopolitanism of London is partly a result of this postcolonial privileging of the West over their homelands.


Finally, the trace of this postcolonial mentality also surfaces in people’s behaviours and actions. Many immigrants are governed by a ‘postcolonial hesitation’ where they continuously monitor and modify their behaviour to adjust to the norms of the new society. They constantly wonder if they are doing it correctly: Is their language proper? Are their manners appropriate? Are they fitting in nicely? As a result, categories of hybrid identities proliferate: a person formed by the mix and match of various cultures. Homi K Bhabha, another postcolonial thinker, views this hybridity as a liminal state where the postcolonial subject responds to both their native and outsider’s culture, as explained by the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies: “Bhabha’s hybridity is advocated as a position or effect in between existing positions”. This could have positive implications as identities become incessantly hyphenated and thus open. However, it can also be threatening in promoting Anglophilia where the native culture is blotted out by the whiteness of the new culture. Many derogatory categories also emerge, as explained by Priyankaa Joshi: “A “coconut” or an “Oreo” is someone who is Black or brown on the outside and “white on the inside”. Other food-based insults with the same meaning include “Bounty”, “choc ice” and “banana”. These terms are levelled at people of colour who don’t act, speak or dress in a way that’s considered “authentic” to their race”. All of this leads to adverse psychological effects on the person who is trying to cope in a foreign land with a postcolonial sensibility.


To conclude, it can be said that London’s cosmopolitan environment is not free of the political impulses of postcolonialism. The heterogeneity of London is part of the colonial legacy, and in turn, produces a cosmopolitan postcolonial society: varied, yet carrying the marks of the colonial past, still upholding the power relations, and producing hesitant hybrid subjects.






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