Rob Waters

Thinking Black: Peter Fryer’s Staying Power (1984)

Peter Fryer’s Staying Power (1984) remains a – perhaps the – foundational text of black British history. Staying Power emerged out of a radical moment, and its intellectual energies drew on a wider formation which encompassed Paul Gilroy, A. Sivanandan, and other leading radical thinkers. Defining this radical formation was an investment in blackness as a radical resource: in the black past and the black present, it was supposed, lay the possibilities of alternative political futures. Indeed, this was what made these pasts ‘black’. This paper places Staying Power within this wider intellectual and political formation to explore the race politics of Fryer’s book. Reading Staying Power historically, the paper suggests that the questions which Fryer brought to his exploration of Britain’s racial past and present were informed by his own politics and his own historical moment, and asks how far this approach still determines the historiography of race and immigration in Britain today.

Rob Waters completed his PhD at Queen Mary in the summer of 2014. He currently teaches at Queen Mary and Birkbeck. His current research explores the formation of street-level black radical politics in London between 1958 and 1981. He has published previously on African American Civil Rights and British immigration politics, on the aesthetics of black radicalism in Britain and the Caribbean, and on television as a site of racial formation.

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