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Wyatt, Olivia

Wyatt, Olivia

PhD Student @ QMUL


Olivia Wyatt is a PhD student at QMUL researching the politics of complexion within twentieth-century Black Britain. Her MA dissertation on the community activism of Caribbean women in Leeds was awarded the Women’s History Network MA Dissertation Prize and the Marion Sharples Prize – it will feature in the second New Perspectives on the Histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain, edited by Professor Hakim Adi and due to published by Pluto Press in summer 2023. As an undergraduate student, she co-founded From Margins to Centre? as a conference for undergraduate students to explore the intersectional histories of marginalised communities. She also volunteers with Harewood House as a researcher of the Lascelles’ connections to Caribbean slavery, and she has written for History Matters, BBC Radio 4 and History Today.

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Problems of Pigmentocracy


“If You’re Brown, You Can Stick Around”: Caribbean migrants and the issue of pigment in Britain
Summary: Throughout the post-emancipation period, the advantages granted to lighter-skinned people institutionalised colourism to varying degrees within parts of the Caribbean. By tracing the ways in which elements of the colonial pigmentocracy were re-articulated within a British context, this paper interrogates the assumption within the historiography that the racism experienced by the ‘Windrush generation’ was ‘shade-blind’. It will serve as an example of how settled migrants maintained or negotiated societal norms in the absence of the institutions that sustained them in the Caribbean. Using oral histories alongside materials such as reports, memoirs, newspapers/magazines and political pamphlets, this paper uses the overlooked lens of pigment to examine the social experiences of Caribbean migrants from the 1950s to the 1970s. The paper will argue that the meanings attached to ‘light skin’ and ‘dark skin’ shaped how Caribbean migrants perceived themselves and their right to belong in Britain; therefore, I seek to develop recent arguments about the politics of claim-making proposed by historians such as Kennetta Hammond Perry, Jade Bentil and Rob Waters. By recognising that a hierarchy of pigment existed to some degree in Britain, we learn that the notion of the ‘essentialized Black subject’ is an inaccurate reflection of the discrimination encountered by the ‘Windrush generation’; that the burdens of Blackness in Britain were not always experienced equally because the darkness of one’s complexion could affect how they were racialised.

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