Britain - race relations, and national identity crisis
On 22 June 1948, the Empire Windrush docked, bringing with her 417 immigrants from the West Indies, the first of many in the great influx of Commonwealth migrants
At the end of the WW2, labour demand skyrocketed as the United Kingdom was in dire need of reconstruction.
The unskilled labour shortage that resulted in the years following the Second World War can be attributed both to Britain’s need to reconstruct and the reallocation of British labour to skilled work.
Coloured immigrants from the Commonwealth states of the former British Empire supplied this demand for low and unskilled labour in post-war UK.
From 1948 through the 1970s immigrants continued to flow into Britain
The 1948 British Nationality Act gave citizens of Commonwealth countries special immigration status, allowing them to freely “enter, work, and settle with their families”
“ An influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength and cohesion of our public and social life and to cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned.”
Letter to Clement Attlee signed by eleven Labour MPs, 22 June 1948, two days after the Empire Windrush had brought 417 Afro-Caribbean migrants to the UK
In the eyes of many whites, the new arrivals were causing shortages in resources and eventually began to take their jobs after the demand for unskilled labour began to subside in the 1950s
Britons saw themselves as being at the head of the hierarchy of the British nations and the idea which underpinned this role and held the whole structure together was a belief in the racial supremacy of whites born in Britain… [and] the British had a destiny to rule over ‘lesser races’.
These increasing strains on societies resources eventually led to overwhelming white hostility toward these coloured immigrants
1958 Notting Hill riots
Conservatives and right-wing nationalists thought that only through strict immigration policies could race relations be improved. In other words, Britain would no longer have a problem with race relations if no more coloured immigrants were allowed to further strain the system
Today, the ultra right-wing BNP is on the rise as the threat of global terrorism has sparked new public fears about the effectiveness of immigration policies and the consequences of a multi-ethnic Britain.
Growing disillusion of poor whites in de-industrialised areas of Britain, which has resulted in campaigns against racial equality
Post-war immigration to Britain has contributed to a national identity crisis.
Having lost its imperial, military, economic and sporting prowess, Britain is no longer confident of its role and cultural identity.
Some British people, doubting whether their culture is resilient enough to survive perceived dilution by other cultures, feel threatened by immigrants who may have different customs and values and do not, in Lord Tebbit’s terms, adopt England’s cricket team as their own
This national identity crisis has called into question the very meaning of the word “Britishness.” What is Britishness?
The Irish, Scots and Welsh have strong national identities linked with their respective nations
The English, on the other hand, are caught in the middle. Are they English? Are they British? And now, how do they cope with coloured people taking over their land and jobs and resources? Certainly then, the post-war wave of coloured immigration has led white Britons, mainly Englanders, to question their national identity.
Equally so, however, the national identity of the coloured immigrants has been called into question.
Is someone living in India in the early post-war years already British, being a member of the Commonwealth? Or does he become British only after immigrating to the British Isles?
Terms such as black Briton or Asian Briton have come into use in our language. But, is there really a secure feeling of national identity for these first- and second-generation Britons from the former Empire nations?
Finally we must consider how integrated these former colonists are in the UK now?
How much does our economy still rely on immigrants and immigration?
How intertwined are family and social units?
How has immigrant culture impacted modern British Culture and vice versa?
How would you personally summarise British identity in light of a colonial legacy?