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History of British Race Relations Essay Sample

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History of British Race Relations Essay Sample

The Celts are the first to lay claim to being the indigenous people of the British Isles, in a period of Britain referred to as the Iron Age. For 500 years before any Roman invasion they managed to firmly establish Celtic culture throughout Britain.

The Celts themselves where hunter/gathers and very resourceful farmers. They adopted a clan mentality and were ferocious are proud warriors, which would eventually be there undoing as infighting among the various clans was rife. The lack of unity left them susceptible to attack, which the Romans seized upon.

Julius Caesar Claimed “it was necessary to stop British support for the Celts still resisting there” (Black, Jeremy, ‘A history of the British isles’, 1997)

The subsequent Roman Conquest and occupation of Britain (AD 43) saw the arrival the first blacks in England. The Romans brought with them the infrastructure; Britain gained urban systems linked by roads, Romanised farms and cities like London, York, Bath and Colchester became centres of roman culture and eventually Christianity was introduced to Britain.

Britain ultimately began to come under attacks from “Barbarians” (the angles, jutes and Saxons) the ability of the Roman Empire to resist these invasions began to falter, thus ended the occupation of Britain by the Romans (410AD).

It remains unclear why the “Barbarians” came to Britain. It may be down to their inability to crow crops, due to recurring flooding in their native homelands, nevertheless Britain was eventually conquered. Much of Roman Britain fell into ruin, the culture of the Romans was lost and England entered a state of disarray. Christianity which was the legacy of the roman occupation withered, as the Angles and Saxons where pagans. The Anglo-Saxons occupied most of the British isles, the proceeded to divide Britain into various Kingdoms (Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria) each governed by there own royal family.

The Vikings, hampered by there inability to colonize in there native Scandinavia were driven to find more thriving and plentiful lands in which the can settle. The British Isles where pinpointed due to there vulnerability of attack by means of amphibious operations which the Scandinavians could mount particularly well. They were barbaric in their methods, and by 800 most of England were under Viking rule.

1066 marked the beginning of the Norman conquest of Britain. William, duke of Normandy triumphed at Hastings, and this resulted in the Norman control of Britain. The subsequent conquest of Britain was followed by the social reconstruction of Britain, which in turn brought about a transformation of the English language and the culture of England.

The Norman conquest of Britain also saw the first arrivals of Jewish people. Despite being beneficial to the economy they were still subjected to institutionalized prejudice. In the end they were exiled altogether by Edward I (1290). During the commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, (largely down to their economic usefulness), the Jewish communities were allowed back into England but faced harsh measures such as extreme taxation.

The end of the 19th century saw the position of the Jewish population of the Russian empire becoming increasingly untenable. Crushing poverty ravaged and reigned supreme, not only affecting the natives but also the Jewish community, but it was the Jews that persecuted and subjected to ‘pogroms’. The assassination of Tsar Alexander II and the ensuing suspicion of Jewish involvement led to the mass exodus of the Jewish community from the Russian empire. The following years saw the amount of Jews living in England increase to almost 300,000 from 60,000.

These Jews did not have an iota of the resources or diligence of that of their predecessors during the era of Cromwell, and through fear of anti-Semitism the Anglo-Jewish establishment did not want to be seen to be encouraging an influx of unemployed and unskilled Jews. But they where concerned about the well being of fellows and went to lengths to protect the new arrivals from the dangers they faced as new immigrants, evils such as robbery, deception and violence. The Anglo Jewish establishment set up official Jews’ Temporary Shelter’ throughout the east end of London, for the new immigrants to find their feet so to speak. The Jewish immigrants had the tendency to keep a feeling of familiarity; they opted to live in close-knit communities. They settled in inner city areas like London’s east end, Strangeways in Manchester and Leyland in Leeds. By 1900 it wasn’t usual to see large parts of these inner-cities to be entirely Jewish. To the English locals the Jewish immigrants presented a peculiar spectacle. They saw the culture and lifestyle to be somewhat strange and they found the religion they practiced to be alien and different. Many became increasingly alarmed by the ongoing changes they where witnessing.

It is utley alien which strikes you first and foremost. For the ghetto is a fragment of Poland off from the central Europe and dropped haphazard into the heart of Britain.

(Sims, GR, Living in London, 1904)

During the early 1900’s, Thomas Dewar and William Evan-Gordon campaigned in the east end with an aim to bring limitations to immigration. It worked; in 1903 parliament called a royal commission and two years later the first aliens act limiting immigration into Britain was passed.

Dating back to the middle ages, Ireland has been under has been under the thumb of British colonization. Trade and emigration between the two nation dates back even further. For centuries the Irish settlement in England had been the largest minority group. The most notable of all the emigration waves was as a result of the worst sequence of crop failure in 1840s.

The notion of a bad harvest was not unheard of in Ireland, but the great famine of 1845 overshadowed any that preceded it. It is said that between one and two million are to have died, with another million emigrating to few the adverse condition.

The tendency to use emigration to England to escape poverty and starvation would continue well into the 20th century as England was seen as a prosperous land with opportunity to spare. Immigrants arrived in England via Liverpool and made there way to Wigan, London and Manchester as well as settling in Liverpool. The Irish immigrants where forced to fend for themselves unless they had relative or friends expecting them, there was no equivalent to the association suchlike the poor Jews Temporary shelter.

Other emigrants fled Ireland because of political unrest and religious reasons.

British ports have been rife with sailors from a wide range of racial origins, for centuries major ports such as Liverpool, London and Cardiff have had an affinity with the Caribbean and the Indian sub continent. By the early nineteenth century the first sprinklings’ of a multi-racial populace begun to lay there foundations.

It was not usual to see seamen of ‘colour’ in the ports of Britain, the expansion of the shipping industry meant companies like the East India Company readily employed black and Asian seamen. It is a fact that up until the main movement of people in world wars any settled ethnic communities where occupationally associated to the sea. The 1905 aliens act inspired by Britain’s new found propriety in the eyes of others, set a president in it was Britain’s first anti-immigration legislation. It labeled some groups of migrants as ‘undesirable’, thus making entry into Britain more selective rather than automatic.

The 1920 aliens act allowed the government to further tighten up the 1905 act, by firstly restricting the right to settle of immigrants who were incapable of providing for themselves, secondly imposing new restrictions to the civil and employment rights of immigrants already settled in Britain and thirdly by refusing permission to land by immigration officials except if they could show that they were British. The expected racial conflict, (as happened in Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Cardiff where the first examples of collective racial hostility in Britain where experienced in 1919.) should the immigrant population expand and that was most definitely in mind when passing the 1920 act.

The special Restriction (coloured aliens seamen) order of 1925 brought all coloured seamen under the stipulations of the order from 1920. Many African, Indian, and Caribbean seamen with British nationality were promptly certified as immigrants. The Home Office of the time was of the opinion that “their (the immigrants) presence in the U.K is socially very undesirable”. In a nutshell the government had effectively designed a means to control immigration with the full force of the law but apparently this wasn’t good enough and the powers that be continued to press for a more watertight policy.

In the years that followed the government continued in their quest to restrict immigration or undesirables. It started due to the Home Office’s negligence in keeping tabs on the vast influx of migrants from the Indian sub-continent. As a consequence the British Government instructed its overseas empires to restrict the issue of travel documents to persons wishing to travel to Britain. The empire agreed, and from the 1930s referred to London with regard to applications for travel documents to Britain. To be able to gain right to settle in Britain, an applicant had to be ‘skilled’ and have a sponsor in Britain who could provide certain guarantees. However the final decision lay at the feet of the government. The influence this would have on immigration would become apparent.

The discrimination and poor treatment endured by the coloured sea men and the implementation of what had effectively become an anti immigration policy provided an explanations for the slow growth of the black and Asian population that had flourished during the WWI, with the uncertain nature of the shipping industry, there economic position diminished, that is until the second world war begun and immigrants became useful again. Immigrants came were invited over in droves to provided cheap labour and work to rebuild Britain which had been ravaged by war after 1945. They not only played a vital role in establishing the economy and regenerating public services but they also invigorated British culture introducing their own unique brand of food, fashion, music and the arts.

The Second World War and the decade that followed, was a period of particular significance in the forming of a multicultural Britain. There came about a number of key changes in the relationship between Britain and its empire, which just so happened to make immigration control more problematic. There was a shift towards self determination of territories whose polices towards migration of their population had previously been under the firm control of the Home Office. The British government found it increasingly difficult to govern the movement of its subjects to Britain without the co-operation of the home state.

The Indian sub-continent gaining its independence in 1947 and the Caribbean islands that gained some degree of autonomy so rather than listen to London, they began creating there own migration policies. However not to be defeated, the British government persisted in seeking and successfully achieving ways in which to hinder the movement of British subjects from what was the empire. Commentators have claimed that riots of 1958 have indirectly contributed to British governments cause. Anti-immigration groups suggested that the riots were the evidence to the repercussions of the continued integration of ethnic minorities into society. Competition for housing and employment was supposedly to blame for the riots, therefore the government felt it necessary to restrict the number of black and Asian immigrants. The Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 was introduced to allow the government the legal platform in which they could restrict the settlement of coloured British subjects.

In power from the summer of 1964, the Labour government of Harold Wilson quickly set about moving the goal posts even further. Black and Asian immigrants had fallen considerably after the passing of the Act, but applications for entry was at an all time high. Wilson moved to further tighten the rules of entry. The Second Commonwealth Act of March 1968 took just three days to be agreed in parliament, was said to be partly down to the impending influx of Asians from east Africa. This subjected all British subjects to immigration controls and the ancestry test. Unless they, a parent or grand parent was born, adopted or naturalised in the U.K they where refused settlement. This legislation affects some 200,000 applicants. The act of 1968 was not by any means the first legislation to link right to settlement with ancestry. The nationality act of 1964 had done so already.

The issue of continuing ethnic immigration was taken up by Enoch Powell, who had risen to the public eye following his “rivers of blood” a speech which was a vicious attack on immigration policies and immigration as a whole. It seemed that Powell had captured and expressed a widely thought idea that was hostile to the idea of continued immigration. Powell and the Conservatives made promises to end all future large scale immigration almost certainly made a major contribution in the party’s success. And the 1971 immigration act of was a direct consequence of those same promises.

When questions arose surrounding the proposed idea of a ban on immigration Margaret Thatcher used said “the fears could only be ended by holding out a clear prospect of an end to immigration” the conservatives who had seemed to sway more to the right on issues of social and economic significance made public its aim to commence with a new nationality law.

In December of 1979, the new immigration laws where voted in restricted further the settlement of subjects from the British Empire (now known as the commonwealth) and soon after followed the promised Nationality Act which quite simply revoked British citizenship from members of the Empire even if they had been previously considered citizens. It was for immigrants wishing to settle in Britain under the Conservative government a particularly difficult period, and Margaret Thatcher seem to have public popularity, so much so that when the Labour party (now the opposition) rebuked its on position on immigration, it concured that its own Commonwealth Immigrant Act of 1968 had indeed been a mistake and pledged to abolish the new nationality act if elected again.

Thatcher’s first term in office saw a massive increase in raids carried out by immigration authorities. Primarily focused on black and Asian homes and businesses, with the majority of having committed no criminal offence but where still detained and questioned under the new immigration measures. This created a situation where most black and Asian citizens where forced to have there passports on their person at all times, just incase they were subjected to these ‘random’ searches.

Under Thatcherism the only substantial group of immigrants able to gain access to Britain were asylum seekers, but under Thatcherism mistreatment of asylum seekers was second to none. Although they had committed no crime to speak of, (unless one regards fleeing persecution a crime) they were detained like criminals from the moment there plane touched British soil. As Churchill had once proposed in 1955 ” keep Britain white”, Thatcher had another masterstroke to keep this pledge and end this wave of asylum seekers, she introduced in 1987 sanctions against any airline and or shipping companies that were seen to be transporting the “undesirables” without the proper documentation. Asylum seekers can hardly queue at British embassies, and apply for the required documentation so, the act was an instant success and the drop in the number of people claiming asylum was there for all to see. The provision of the 1993 act made it possible to deport would be asylum seekers on the technicality that there plane and or ship just so happened to touch down in an third country on the way to Britain and that was to have supposedly have given any genuine asylum seeker a chance to claim asylum there instead of continuing on the Britain.

The British government became the market leader in coming up with ingenious but yet atrocious new methods of prohibiting immigration into the British Isles.

the 1993 visa restrictions made it impossible from refugees from Yugoslavia and other Eastern European nations and later from Sierra Leone to seek safety in Britain. Britain seemed to been shedding what can only be described as crocodile tears for those countries blighted by civil war, while secretly erecting an iron curtain of their own to keep the very same people out. The New Right’s legacy on immigration was an accumulation of some 52,000 asylum cases with new labour inherited.

During the run up to the 1997 election the subject of immigration was an issue that New Labour was not enthusiastic to discuss. After the measures of past governments immigration was seen as an issue that could only lose votes. Though “Labour did moreover agree with the conservatives that tough immigration controls were essential for race relations” (Seldon’Anthony, Blair’s Britain 1997-2007)

The introduction of yet another immigration/asylum act in 1999 if we needed further evidence that New Labour was basically the New Right, with it origins in the law passed by Margaret Thatcher in 1987 which bought against sanctions of those airlines or shipping companies that had been seen to be transporting illegal immigrants, the 1999 act ” extended penalties on transport providers which delivered passengers with no right of entry to the UK, and visas were introduced for countries from which numbers of applicants were rising” (Seldon, Anthony, Blair’s Britain 1997-2007). Also they were convinced that asylum seekers were attracted to the UK in part by the easy access to welfare which the 1999 act stopped and replaced with a voucher system. But Tony Blair who faced a shortage of skilled labour, he went against public opinion and opened up Britain’s labour market to foreign labour. Thus leaving putting Britain on the map as a country which is pro immigration, in way that under the conservatives seemed impossible.

It is funny that Britain a country, with a long and proud history of flexing its imperial muscle, sailing the seven seas and imposing their will on countries when the saw fit, will now begin to object to the movement of the very same people to the British isles.

Immigration legislation tends to masquerade as a means that would benefit the so called indigenous of Britain, but the truth is that it is also a powerful tool which the Bourgeoisie can attempted to divide its workers. I hope that I have shown it my essay that nearly every piece of immigration legislation had been accompanied with the rationale that immigrant’s workers are to blame for all the wrongs in society and that without them; it would make for a better Britain. The truth as been and will always be is under capitalism, the working class will ways been made to compete for the economic resources allowed to us by the Bourgeoisie. Racist ideology continues as immigrants are seen as easy targets, despite the fact that immigrants are said to be four times more likely to be living in poverty.

The fact of the matter is, like it or not, more and more of us would fail Norman Tebbits Cricket test. In other words there are many immigrants who have established themselves in Britain, but because of the hostility they received, they do not feel apart of the British nation.


Black, Jeremy, A history of the British Isles

Grada O Cormac, The Great Irish famine

Seldon, Anthony, Blair’s Britain 1997-2007

Sims, GR, Living in London, 1904

Spencer, Ian R. G. British immigration policy since 1939: the making of multi-racial Britain.


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