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Gavin Schaffer, ‘Till Death Us Do Part and the BBC: Racial Politics and the British Working Classes 1965–75’.

‘Till Death Us Do Part and the BBC: Racial Politics and the British Working Classes 1965–75’ was written by Gavin Schaffer. This article begins by arguing how Labour adopted the ideas of restrictive immigration policies through the 1960s to match the public opinion of the time. The defeat of Labour in the constituency of Smethwick to Conservative MP and anti-immigration advocate, Griffiths was described as a turning point. This was because Labour realised that arguing for pro-immigration could cost them dearly.

This article uses Johnny Speight’s BBC TV sitcom to show how the working-class influenced Labours immigration policy between 1965-75 and how this affected race relations during this period. Speight was interviewed by The Sun in 1975: ‘There is still deep-seated racial prejudice in this country, based on ignorance and fear. But my show brings it out in the open and tries to make people realise how silly it is’.

Throughout 1965, the BBC were tasked with helping immigrants to settle within the community. New initiatives were set up such as new Sunday radio programmes specifically for immigrants from the Commonwealth. It was noted that this BBC policy resulted from pressure from the Labour government. They also conducted an anti-racism campaign and creating programmes to help educate the British public. This was why Speight’s sitcom is regarded an important piece for understanding the racism as it held a mirror up to the British public. This was done by having characters who represented each part of the political spectrum and highlighting the race issue by using humour and racial stereotypes. Speight’s goal was to highlight the absurdities of British racism, but many historians argue that this had the opposite affect and normalised and fuelled racism. This was due to misunderstanding from the viewers perspective who missed the point of Speight’s goal.

The BBC gained new cooperate bosses which began censoring Speight’s scripts. This could have resulted from the poor reception it had received by some immigrants who did not like the language used in the show. It returned in 1972 with 16 million Brits tuning into the first episode. A report was conducted showing that the show may have made middle-aged to elderly working-class people more prejudiced, with the viewers being slightly more anti-foreigner. The report also showed that 84% of people believed that the ironic racism was true suggesting that the series had the opposite effect of what Speight was trying to achieve. This leads to the conclusion that the show continued due to its popularity.

Speight understood that racism was manifestation of class prejudice to which he though that the working-class would have had a heightened understanding of this subject. However, not many got the ideas he was trying to illustrate with many wanting to see the series for the wrong reasons. This resulted in an intellectual blind spot shared with Marxist Historians who saw racism as an extension of class-conflict in Britain.

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D.Kay and R. Miles, ‘Refugees or Migrant Workers? The Case of European Volunteer Workers in Britain (1946-1951)’.

Kay and R. Miles article, ‘Refugees or Migrant Workers? The Case of European Volunteer Workers in Britain aims to explore the tensions in government policy towards the initial recruitment, selection, and placing of volunteers in employment in Britain. The article begins by mentioning how the displaced people were specifically recruited under a Labour Government to help resolve a situation of acute labour shortage, conservatively estimated at around one million jobs. Britain was looking for unskilled workers to carry out essential jobs. They were viewed as making a positive contribution towards British economic recovery, especially compared to the immigrants arriving during the 1930s, who were viewed as being burdens on the economy due to the recession they were arriving in.

Both labour and the conservatives agreed that displaced persons were needed not just economically but to add to the growth of future British generations. This was because of their willingness to be free and adopt British values. The displaced persons scheme began in October 1946 by firstly accepting roughly 1,000 women from Eastern Europe for residential domestic work. This then led to other schemes being utilised like the Westward Ho which did not specify job roles until after the refugees arrived, creating a more flexible response to labour shortages as they arose. This scheme was carried out between 1947 and 1949. The term ‘displaced person’ had negative connotations so was then changed to ‘European volunteer worker’. By the end of recruitment, roughly 91,000 EVW’s were brought into the country.

The government preferred short term workers because they could be repatriated. This was not as easy to do with refugees that were stateless. They also preferred those from western countries as their way of living was like Brits, so groups like the Polish were difficult to assimilate therefore not wanted. When it came to eligibility, men had to be no older than 50 and women 40. They were not only judged on how well they may carry out a job but were extremely vetted on hygiene, demeanour, and habits. This was because they most likely were going to settle in Britain so had to assimilate well. Baltic women working in hospitals were positively portrayed throughout Britain for their beaty and good work ethic.

EVW’s could not leave their jobs with official consent. This led to large concentrations of women (95% in textiles and domestic service) and men (70% in coal mining and agriculture) working in specific jobs. They were paid the same as British workers but could only be hired if a Brit was not available for employment. They were also not allowed to create or join a trade union and were first to go if redundancies were announced. EVW’s were deported if they were not in good shape, so if they had venereal diseases or TB as they shouldn’t be a burden on an already overstretched health service. However, this was later reversed on humanitarian grounds and TB was treated by the British.

It is noted that the EVW were usually not allowed to change jobs. However, the Ministry of Labour quickly found out that they lacked authority to impose these rules as the threat of deportation was usually a bluff. This was because the Home Office had to sign off on individual cases so were not worth the time. So, it was common for EVW’s to jump between careers in search for better pay. Women ad men were also allowed to leave their jobs to reunite with their partners. This meant that men were willing to take jobs in less traditional sectors like textiles – 560 men joined their wives in textiles. Due to the difficulties of practically deporting EVW’s, they were eventually allowed to stay in Britain longer than they were contracted by 1953 and they were now referred to as Foreign Workers recruited under the Westward Ho scheme.

This article is effective at showing how desperate Britain were to continue their economic growth. It was also interesting to see how the British had to contend with the issue that arose from taking in significant European workers.

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Neil Wynn, ‘Race War’: Black American GIs and West Indians in Britain During The Second World War’

The article, Race War’: Black American GIs and West Indians in Britain During The Second World War by Neil Wynn, shows how the racial prejudices portrayed by the British and American troops were more closely aligned than the British cared to admit. This article draws an interesting comparison between how African Americans soldiers were highly perceived by the broader British public, compared to the hostility which was usually shown towards the black ethno-groups from the British colonies.

The irony of the situation was not lost on Wynn either. He makes the point that America was often considered the epitome of freedom, which was their main motivation for joining the war – to squash the ideals of Nazism and their beliefs of racial purity – despite the openly racial prejudices and laws imposed by the United States on their own citizens such as the Jim Crow Laws, heavily enforced throughout the southern states. The segregationist attitudes were also prevalent within the army which the British vocally opposed. This led to the British government to allow for the Americans to police their own troops, whether in the barracks or out in the cities and impose segregationist laws where they saw fit.

Interestingly, the Jim Crow Laws began to be low key instilled throughout wider British society, particularly areas with high US military presence. This was noted in Bristol for example, where pubs would begin to only serve whites and poorer areas only serving blacks. Even when white American soldiers entered a pub, they demanded any blacks to vacate. This illustrates how rife racism was throughout Britain that they were able to conform with American laws within a matter of months, pushing black British citizens further down the social hierarchy, allowing for the white Americans to be treated equal to the white Brits purely because of skin colour.

The author notes that the racism was not all one-sided, however. He uses anecdotes from West Indians who recount frequently being called derogatory terms with someone saying, ‘Show me a black serviceman who claimed not to have encountered any prejudice in the UK during the War and I’ll show you a liar!’. A common hatred both American and British army shared was their disdain for blacks mixing with white women, which was often met with confrontation of sorts.

Wynn mentions that the experience of travelling to other countries benefited African Americans during the post-war. For example, the beginning of desegregation of the US armed forces and civil services from 1948 onwards. He even goes to mention that with the rising expectations of black Americans, helped lay the foundations of the civil rights revolts which happened soon after.

This article was interesting as it highlights how easily assimilated the white Americans became when integrating within British society and culture. It also highlights how easily influenced some parts of the UK were to establish local policies, like that of the Jim Crow Laws. However, it discusses already known facts such as how racist both the US and Britain were and how similar they were regarding culture. The article makes good use of anecdotes from ordinary British citizens as well as from those in the military to show how casually accepted racism had become.


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Aviva Ben-Ur, ‘Identity Imperative: Ottoman Jews in Wartime and Interwar Britain’

‘Identity Imperative: Ottoman Jews in Wartime and Interwar Britain’ by Aviva Ben-Ur analyses Sephardic Jewish groups of immigrants that came from places from the Ottoman Empire such as Baghdad, Damascus, Istanbul, and Jerusalem. He does this by analysing their personal experiences throughout the 20th century. This is because the author believes that these groups are widely ignored due to the mass Jewish immigration from Europe. It also focuses on how local British governments moulded and assessed their complicated national status. The articles focus is on how these Jewish groups attempted to gain naturalisation in Britain despite being considered as enemy aliens when WW1 had broken out.

Some of these groups regarded as enemy aliens included Syrian, Jews and Greeks and were typically deported, interned, stripped of their freedom of movement, and barred from becoming naturalised British citizens. This was laid out further in the British Nationality and Status of Alien Act at the end of WW1 which prevented naturalisation for a 10-year period unless they met specific requirements like serving in the armed forces. This article focuses on the group of immigrants that came from the Ottoman Empire, who began arriving in Britain in the early 1900s. The author notes that these immigrants had helped repopulate dwindling Jewish communities which were already established in Britain decades before.

The immigrants were predominately male with 36% being born in Istanbul. Their occupations were mainly merchants or shippers of ‘oriental’ carpets, antiques, and fancy goods. Many of these Ottoman natives were reluctant to claim that is where they came from, however. This resulted in many to claim to be ‘Spanish Jews’. This was so the legislation after the war would not apply to them and make naturalisation easier as they were unlikely to get it if they were of Ottoman descent. However, this was not always the case as a Chief Rabbi would be expected to attest for the person claiming to be a member of the Sephardic Jews. Max Solomon Haim was the first to set the precedent to these applications during WW1 and helped dozens more Ottomans become British citizens. This was because Ottomans could legally be classified as ‘Spanish Jews’.

The article then mentions the xenophobia many of the Ottomans faced and how despite this they were still eager to remain in Britain. The author gives several examples of why attaining a British citizenship was important for reasons such as it made getting a job easier, renting easier, and traveling around Europe easier. It is stated however, that German-Jews had the highest number of enemy aliens by a 5 to 1 ratio. 10% of Ottomans were put in internment camps. The author notes that the governments anti-Jewish and anti-foreigner rhetoric may have been the main motivation in either postponing or rejecting the Ottomans naturalisation cases. Many of these Ottomans who were discriminated against claimed adoration of Britain with many showing British patriotism and as well as appreciation for its education system and laws.

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Ann Summers, ‘Gender, Religion and an Immigrant Minority: Jewish women and the suffrage movement in Britain c.1900–1920’

“Gender, Religion and an Immigrant Minority: Jewish women and the suffrage movement in Britain c.1900–1920,” is an article written by Ann Summers. It is a case study which focuses on the relationship between Jewish and Christian campaigners in their want for the female suffrage. It is a complex article which focuses primarily on prominent Jewish women who were involved in not only trying to attain the suffrage but also wanting religious equality. This was because they felt both issues went hand in hand.

Summers begins the article by showing how Jewish women were not as well represented in communal work compared to their Christian counterparts. The Jewish women only began to gain social rights nearer the end of the century. For example, how the Jewish male Visiting committee membership was slowing down resulting in the formation of an official female committee in 1881. These groups usually conducted social work but became more productive when women had gotten involved more. Summer also makes the point that despite the women’s work being so influential during this time, they were not accredited until the 21st century.

The article then describes how Jewish women may have been denied equal rights due to the traditional views of men and women which were heavily prominent throughout the Jewish culture. It could also be attributed to the classical perception of masculinity. This was particularly the case regarding minority male immigrants who were already emasculated by British natives. They would be reluctant to give women equal rights purely because they had to feel like they had t have power of some sort. A group which promoted gender equality was created. The National Association of the promotion of social sciences provided a forum for men and women to meet on equal terms and was responsible for many social reforms aimed at women. In 1902, Lily Montagu persuaded scholar Claude Montefiore to head a group of men and women – which became the Jewish Religious Union – and allowed for men and women to sit together during worship.

Later in the article, Summer’s notes that the Jewish groups campaigning for women’s suffrage were late to the scene with the Jewish league becoming involved in 1912. This was because they wanted to bring co-religionists on board. There was also noticeable anti-Semitism in the major British suffrage movements which was a likely reason to why many Jewish women were not given the credit they deserved. This was arguably the reason why they were unable to make as much of an impact on universal suffrage as the Christians did. However, both religions united and created a standing joint committee of representatives of religious suffrage societies.

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Bernard Harris, ‘Anti-Alienism, health and social reform in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’

‘Anti-Alienism, health and social reform in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’ is an article written by Bernard Harris. In this article, Harris writes about how British health and social reforms were motivated primarily by racial prejudices regarding the Jewish immigrants. He does this by illustrating the arguments from several anti-alienists who associate any negative issue arising in Britain as coming from the Jewish immigrants. Harris also incorporates the pro-alienist arguments to strike balance in this argument and to show how the anti-alienist’s arguments were most likely ignorant and based primarily on racial stereotypes.

This article begins by showing how anti-alienists created the widely accepted notion that Jews were allegedly ‘physically enfeebled, without marketable trades, and willing to work for pittance’. This view was based mainly on racial prejudices but was reinforced by the likes of Major Williams Evans Gordon, who used the 1903 Royal Commission to study how Jews lived back home. This study was used to justify the British prejudice, as he had chosen the cities were Jewish poverty was rife and how this way of living would be a threat to the British way of living – particularly those who failed to get into America due to health reasons, so would settle in Britain.

These views also stemmed into racism with many Britons forming the opinion that Jews were an inferior race, hence why they were ‘inherently unhealthy’. Again, this view was exemplified by Evans Gordon who accused the Jews of bringing over diseases such as smallpox and scarlet fever. This was an issue of sanitary conditions during travel rather than inherent ailments, however. Although, Jews were likely to live in overcrowded accommodations with little sanitation – keeping the issue of Jewish health and the British population alive.

Harris later uses several medical professionals’ opinions to refute the claims made by the anti-alienists regarding Jewish immigrant’s health. For example, he quotes Dr James Niven to show that the Jewish population was ‘entirely free of both typhus and smallpox’. Many health professionals of the time also agree that the immigrants were used to a lesser standard of living but would get better after a couple of years of living in Britain. These professionals also note that they were more law abiding than the British natives who showed more care towards their children – with infant mortality rates lessening wherever a large Jewish community was present. Harris notes that 45% of non- Jewish children had rickets compared with only 17% from Jewish children. Also, 51% of Non-Jewish children had poor oral health compared to 27% from Jewish children. This evidence showed that the Jewish immigrants were superior to the Brits regarding health and nutrition – a stark contrast from the pseudoscience displayed by the anti-alienist advocates. This resulted in H.W Ward telling the Royal Commission in 1903 that ‘the foreign settlers in the East End… are a great deal preferable to a large number of our own people living in the same district’.

To achieve better analysis between Jewish immigrants and the British native’s health, Harris uses the large Jewish population (1850-1914) in Leeds as a case study. From this, it is not clear to tell if Jewish infant mortality was lesser than a gentile. It was clear however, that Jewish schoolchildren tended to be less dirty with lesser verminous conditions. Harris notes however, that the criteria’s used to measure children’s health tended to be vague and was open to bias, depending on the medical professionals’ personal prejudices.

From this article, there was little to no difference between the health of the Jewish immigrants when compared to the British. The main motivation for anti-immigration from an anti-alien perspective was either racism or irrationality. This became more evident when Harris quoted a decade worth of medical data from Leeds and incorporated medical observations from professionals.

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P. J. Waller, ‘The Chinese’.

‘The Chinese’ by P.J Waller was an article published in History Today in 1985. It describes in detail the role of Chinese immigrants who came to Britain post 1851. This article covers a range of topics from attitudes towards Chinese immigrants, the influence the Chinese had on horticulture, and the presumptive stereotypes the British had on the people still living in Asia. One of the main points of this article is to show that despite Chinese immigration being one of the lowest in Britain – 91,000 in 1983 (0.2% of population.) – they still had a profound impact on British culture.

This article focuses on how the Chinese were described as ‘ambivalent’. This was because those who began to dislike them were the poorer classes, whereas those who embraced their culture were typically the British elite. The poorer classes were more likely to dislike the Chinese because they created greater competition for jobs. However, the Chinese were willing to take lesser wages and did not mind harsher working conditions making them more desirable to employers. For example, they opened laundries taking business away from women and the poor who relied on doing washings to help get extra income. This caused 30 Chinese laundries to get wrecked in 1911 by rioters during the transport workers strikes. This was different from the elite who admired their metal, cloisonné, stoneware, porcelain, and ivory designs. However, even amongst the British elite they were still sceptical of what type of people are coming over from China. For example, it was primarily male who immigrated over from China – by 1911, 87 Chinese born were female – causing concern about British racial purity.

Interestingly, the Chinese rarely ever created homogenous communities in Britain and out of all the different immigrant groups, the Chinese were the least assimilated. They were typically dispersed across Britain with there communities covering one or two streets. These were adequately nicknamed, ‘Little Chinatowns’. These communities were quickly given a negative reputation based on the already negative Chinese stereotypes. For example, they were associated with crime, gambling, and opium abuse. The Chinese immigrants were usually refugees escaping persecution from Hong Kong and Malaysia, particularly during the late 19th century. This resulted in them getting homed by the government which was perceived as ‘special’ treatment by the poorer Brits. This meant that Chinese homes were frequently broken into and looted. Chinese restaurants were also a significant economic driver and acted as a communal meeting place for the Chinese. By 1960, there was over a thousand restaurants in Britain, employing anywhere between 5 and 15 people.

Waller spends a good portion of his article describing how the British perceived the people on mainland China. They viewed it as a country with centuries of despotism ruled by the same family for 1300 years. The Brits felt that the Chinese were more primitive as a result due to what they believed was citizens being oppressed for centuries whilst the rich just stayed rich. This also went against the British increasing liberal views, hence why they feared the prospect of millions of Chinese immigrating to Britain at once in the future.