The Afterlives of Enslavement: Histories of Racial Injustice in Contemporary Black British Theatre

Finburgh Delijani, Clare. 2022. The Afterlives of Enslavement: Histories of Racial Injustice in Contemporary Black British Theatre. Modern Drama, 65(4), pp. 471-498. ISSN 0026-7694 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Over the past five years, a number of Black British women authors have written “postcolonial ghost plays”. This article focuses, to varying degrees, on four: ear for eye (2018), debbie tucker green’s dissection of enslavement and its afterlives; Rockets and Blue Lights (2020), Winsome Pinnock’s historical film-within-a-play about the Middle Passage; The Gift (2020), Janice Okoh’s semi-biography of an African girl who became Queen Victoria’s ward; and Selina Thompson’s salt. (2018), an autobiographical performance piece recounting her ancestors’ enslavement and her own post-trauma. Ghosts and haunting, which I examine from multiple perspectives, appear across this range of theatrical genres. With their multiple, doubled, spectral, interpenetrating stories, tucker green, Pinnock, Okoh and Thompson’s postcolonial ghost plays reactivate the past of enslavement that has not passed, that is still active in the form of racial and social injustices today. Ghosts, prevalent across the plays, represent the dead who, plumbing the depths of the Middle Passage, are denied a resting place. The ghost, the figure of the living dead par excellence, reflects the dehumanization of trafficked Africans, from whom their masters sought to subtract all subjectivity. Ghosts, too, reveal the work of mourning performed by the living, for those who were never properly buried. This mourning, or remembrance, exposes and disrupts enduring structures of injustice, in its search for reparation. Ghosts, or revenants, represent the resilient resistance to injustice which returns, refusing to rest. Finally, ghosts, neither fully past nor present, absent or present, symbolize indeterminacy and instability, illustrated in the plays by the characters who are determined to take control of their own identities and destinies. Together, these plays demonstrate how we must look back to the roots of historical racism, in order to look forward to its eradication.

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postcolonial studies, memory studies, commemoration, ghosts, “race” and antiracism, modern and contemporary British theatre, the Middle Passage, debbie tucker green, Winsome Pinnock, Janice Okoh, Selina Thompson

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Theatre and Performance (TAP)


2 February 2023Published Online
December 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

17 Jan 2022 14:29

Last Modified:

01 Dec 2023 02:42

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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