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The VOICE: Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall dies

Published:Monday | February 10, 2014 | 10:30 AM

Rykesha Hudson and Elizabeth Pears, The Voice Writers

Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died aged 82, according to reports.

Hall, who grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, studied at Oxford and emerged as one of the Britain's leading sociologists.

Last autumn, Hall was brought to the big screen, in The Stuart Hall Project, a documentary and labour of love from acclaimed director John Akomfrah, for whom the academic is a personal hero.

Akomfrah said: “Stuart Hall was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing, or running … he was a kind of rock star for us [black teenage bookworms], a pop icon with brains whose very iconic presence on this most public of platforms – television – suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’.”

Hall retired from public life in recent years due to health problems including kidney failure.

One of the first to pay tribute to the "intellectual giant" was Professor Gus John. He told The Voice: "I have been hugely influenced by his work.

"In the last half a century or so, he was an intellectual giant. His work on the state and its relationship with people has been very influential in our struggles.

"His work on culture and imperialism was powerful and influential. He is a huge loss to Britain and the world."

Dubbed the godfather of multiculturalism, Hall was born on February 3, 1932, in Kingston, Jamaica, to a light-skinned, middle class family.

From an early age, Hall identified himself as an outsider. In his own home, he was quite literally the black sheep being “at least three shades darker” than the rest of his family – “the first social fact I knew about myself”, he admitted.

Educated at the all-male Jamaica College, one of the island’s elite establishments alongside future Jamaican Prime Minister Norman Manley, he was different from the majority of young men of his age.

And unlike his fellow West Indians who formed the Windrush Generation, Hall arrived in Britain in 1951 not looking for menial work but as a Rhodes scholar – a recipient of funding from the Jamaican Government – to read English Literature at Merton College, University of Oxford.

To white Britons, he was just another black boy.

In the documentary, he recalls his mother saying: “’I hope they [the British] don’t think of you as one of those immigrants’, and I thought to myself that is exactly what I am. She said: ‘England, beautiful England, full of those black people. The best thing they can do is push them off the short end of a long pier’. I thought to myself, she is talking about me.”

Hall went on to become an integral part of British sociology textbooks.

His astute observations about culture, identity and race are as relevant today as they were in the 60s, 70s and 80s is further evidence why Hall is deservedly considered one of Britain’s great intellectuals.

Jamaican High Commissioner Aloun Ndombet-Assamba said: "What can I really say about this man?

I am very sad to hear of his death.

"His work and observations in the areas of cultural identity and society in the UK speaks for itself.

"At the time Hall came to Britain, most Jamaicans came to take up menial work. He came as a scholar.

He offered Britain a different view of Jamaica, the learned side of Jamaica.

He is a great loss to the Jamaican academic community."


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