In The Lonely Londoners, romantic relationships are rarely simplistic or straightforward, as the characters often engage in sexual or romantic acts in order to gain access to other cultures and classes. On the one hand, black immigrants like Galahad covet the chance to sleep with white women because it seemingly enables them to further integrate themselves into English society. Conversely, many white women covet the chance to sleep with black men because they’ve fetishized the experience, seeking thrills by crossing into the socially-forbidden realm of interracial love—or at least sex. And although white and black people are often drawn to one another in The Lonely Londoners by self-interest and ulterior motives, romantic and sexual attraction is ultimately one of the only things shared between West Indian immigrants and native Britons alike. As such, Selvon showcases the unexpected ways in which even socially fraught sexual relationships can unite two seemingly disparate populations, even if only in a limited way.
Selvon makes it clear that, despite British society’s discrimination against black immigrants (or perhaps because of it), there are certain white people who are attracted to the idea of sleeping with a black man. For example, one day Moses is in the park when a white man approaches him, leads him to a blonde woman standing under a tree, and pays Moses to “go with the woman” while he watches (the implication being that Moses and the white women have sex while the man observes). Although Moses doesn’t know these people, the English man tells him that he’s “just the man” he’s looking for, and since Moses is a stranger to him, it’s clear that the only thing the man is interested in is the color of his skin. As such, Moses is used as a prop in this white duo’s racialized sexual fantasy. This kind of tokenization and fetishization of black men also comes to the fore when an unnamed Jamaican character has sex with a white woman; “in the heat of emotion,” the narrator writes, “she call[ed] the Jamaican a black bastard though she didn’t mean it as an insult but as a compliment under the circumstances.” It’s clear in this moment that this woman derives sexual pleasure from the idea that she’s transgressing social norms by sleeping with a disreputable man—a notion she tries to emphasize for herself by calling him a “black bastard.” To make things worse, she seems to think of this as a compliment, as if reminding the Jamaican that he’s a black man sleeping with a white women should lift his spirits and make him feel proud or lucky. In turn, Selvon illustrates the ways in which a black man’s personality and emotions are often ignored by the white Londoners who objectify them in the process of conscripting them to play a role in their sexual fantasies.
Many immigrants of color in The Lonely Londoners derive excitement from their sexual encounters with white women. While white women in the book frequently have sex with black men in order to indulge a fantasy, black men often sleep with white women because they’re interested in getting a glimpse of these women’s wealth and power. New immigrants like Galahad are especially thrilled by the idea of having sex with white women, a fact Moses addresses by saying, “But [it] is no use talking to fellars like you. You hit two-three white women and [it’s] like you gone mad.” By saying this, he frames sexual conquest with white women as intoxicating, as if almost all immigrants are obsessed with pursuing such sexual encounters upon first arriving in London. Black men stand to gain more than a mere rush of excitement when they engage sexually or romantically with white women. Indeed, characters like Cap view sex and romance as a way of reaping tangible rewards. Unfortunately, this usually means taking advantage of an unsuspecting woman’s goodwill, as is the case when Cap gets kicked out of his hostel and immediately gets together with a good-looking Austrian woman who—although she discovers he’s been lying to her about trying to find a job—makes financial sacrifices to sustain him. Despite this woman’s kindness, though, it’s clear that Cap isn’t truly committed to their relationship. After all, he’s “one of them fellars who would do anything to get a woman”—or, in other words, he’s a player. Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that Cap’s relationships with white women are about more than the thrill of dating outside his own race. Rather, his involvement with women literally helps him sustain himself, as he leverages sex and romance, manipulating his relationships so that he can achieve something like financial stability.
Sexual relationships that are based upon the tokenization or fetishization of another culture, while very common and far from unnatural, are nevertheless treated in this book as disingenuous, since sleeping with somebody because of what he or she represents fails to take into account his or her individuality. Although the relationships that arise from the sexual intrigue that exists between white women and black men are still fraught with racial tensions, this sexual tension is portrayed as one of the only things these two communities do share. In a city so stratified by racism and socioeconomic disparity, the fact that a black man can go to the park and find some form of relation with a white woman from an entirely different walk of life is quite significant. The communal aspect of Hyde Park is at odds with the otherwise quite segregated living conditions of the rest of the city—so much so that the narrator even refers to the park as a “happy hunting ground,” a place where men and women can come together looking for sexual pleasure regardless of race and class.
Romance and Sex ThemeTracker
Romance and Sex Quotes in The Lonely Londoners
The cruder you are the more the girls like you you can’t put on any English accent for them or play ladeda or tell them you studying medicine in Oxford or try to be polite and civilize they don’t want that sort of thing at all they want you to live up to the films and stories they hear about black people living primitive in the jungles of the world that is why you will see so many of them African fellars in the city with their hair high up on the head like they ain’t had a trim for years and with scar on their face and a ferocious expression going about with some real sharp chicks the cruder you are the more they like you[…].