When one is poor and black, it is hard »to come into representation« (Hall, New Ethnicities 164). Those on the margins of society are usually talked and written about rather than given a voice of their own. Young black men in particular are stereotyped as criminal and violent, as dangerous threats to society. In this context the term ›underclass‹ comes up time and again in public discourse. It is a very controversial label which masquerades as a scientific descriptor but actually fulfils the ideological function of stigmatising the poor and justifying their criminalisation and marginalisation.
Black British novels dealing with the ›underclass‹, such as Alex Wheatle’s East of Acre Lane (2001) and The Dirty South (2008) as well as Courttia Newland’s The Scholar (1997), put those living on the periphery of British society at the centre of their narratives – as focalisers or first-person narrators. Their stories provide a place where stereotypes about ›black youth‹ are scrutinised and challenged.
Within the field of black British fiction, black ›underclass‹ subjectivities seem to be somewhat overlooked in literary representations; and they only appear on the margins of academic research. This study aims at improving this situation by providing a comprehensive analysis of the representational strategies employed by the selected black British novels as well as discussing the conditions under which black British authors and their work are perceived and marketed by the publishing industry. The analysis draws attention to the way in which structural racism, classism and sexism impact protagonists and authors alike.