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This dissertation will examine in detail the extent to which Britishpost-war immigration policy was used to pacify or appease racism in British society. As point of reference the following definition of racism is used: the overt and covert determination of actions, attitudes or policies by beliefs about racial characteristic saccompanied by racist theories (Abercrombie, Hall & Turner, 2000,p. 286). Racism in Britain was partly due to wishing to keep foreignersout especially non-whites and also ignorance of the cultures of theBlack and Asian people that had been part of the British Empire andoften held British passports. In 1948 the Atlee government surveyed public opinion about views on race and found that many whites believed that coloured people were promiscuous head hunters gifted at witchcraft and black magic with several wives each, surely an indictment of the British education system. It is no wonder with preconceptions like that there was always a sizable minority of whites who favouredrestricting immigration and others that all non white immigrants andtheir British born children or grandchildren should be repatriated(Eatwell, 2003, p. 331).
As shall be discussed in detail the British immigration policy during the post-war period has been changed from the open door policy towards all Commonwealth citizens to a tightening of immigration controls arguably if not always explicitly to restrict the number of non whiteimmigrants into the country. Governments are the key decision-makerson immigration policy and providing they have complete control overlegislation can encourage or restrict immigration whenever they want to. British governments are no exception to this, although they can beinfluenced by social, political and economic considerations. For much of the post-war era British governments were free to change immigration policy in any way they saw fit. However governments are susceptible to public opinion and prevailing social attitudes be they progressive orregressive in nature (Evans & Newnham, 1998, p. 242).
The immigration of Blacks and Asians into Britain was not a new phenomena experienced for the first time after 1945. In fact immigration had happened on a small scale for hundreds of years yetremained hardly noticed by the majority of the British society. Blacksand Asians had come to Britain for various reasons including the slavetrade, being members of the merchant navy and the Royal Navy or thesearch for better lives and jobs. Britain had dominated the slavetrade by transporting African slaves to the West Indies and theAmericas before abolishing the trade itself in the early 1800s. Theslave traders did not seem to have a racist motive in catchingAfricans; they just went for the people they could catch most easily.The legacy of the slave trade and the empire was that the white Britishtended to regard themselves as being better than the Black and Asianpeople they ruled. The slave trade had certainly helped to fundBritain’s economic and imperial expansion and meant Britain's imperialsubjects would the have right to British citizenship. With Britishcitizenship came the right to immigrate to Britain whether on apermanent basis or just for a temporary stay. Before 1945 the people ofthe new Commonwealth did not lack the rights to immigrate to Britainjust the desire or the incentive. Racism was not seen as a problemthat British society suffered from (Ramdin, 1999, pp.10-11).
After the First World War the British government had not needed Blackand Asian immigrants to help with reconstruction. As well as therebeing no official encouragement for immigration the poor shape of theBritish economy meant there was little chance of employment forimmigrants or for all the white men demobilized from the armed forces.In fact unemployment was high for much of the 1920s and got even higherwith the onset of the depression after 1929. During this periodBritain did not tighten up its open door policy to immigration from theEmpire. Yet when there was 2 million unemployed and immigrants wouldnot have qualified for unemployment benefits Britain was not anattractive county to immigrate to (Pearce, 1992, p. 20). Thoseimmigrants that did arrive in Britain found that the harsher economicconditions meant that more were opposed to their entry because ofracism as well as the selfish desire to keep all jobs for themselves.Not all immigrants had bad experiences of living in Britain. Around400 Asians had settled in Glasgow and forged strong relationships withthe local Scots especially with their contribution to the war effortduring the Second World War (Ramdin, 1999, p. 139). Black and Asianpeople made vital contributions to the British war effort not onlythrough their military and naval service but also by producing greaterquantities of food plus other important supplies. In military termsthe war had stretched Britain to its limit yet without African, WestIndian and Indian forces the situation would have been worse. Thoseformer Black soldiers, sailors and aircrew believed their wartimeservice alone entitled them to immigrate to Britain if they wanted to(Hines, 1998, p.20).
London was a beacon to those that immigrated to Britain or passingthrough during naval and military service, as it was the imperial andeconomic centre of the British empire (Okokon, 1998, p. 8). Theemergence of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s showed thatthere was support for racist ideas in Britain although at that timeBritish Jews were the main targets of the BUF’s rhetoric and hatred.None of its members would have been averse to attacking ordiscriminating against Black and Asian immigrants. In the post-warera racists have happily supported the National Front and the BritishNational Party (Pearce, 1992, p. 114). Those Black communities inBritain were familiar with racism and violent attacks. For instancethere had been race riots against the Black people that lived in theTiger Bay area of Cardiff in 1919 as the dock owners tried to barBlacks from working (Ramdin, 1999, p. 141).
However after the Second World War the incoming Atlee governmentrealized that Britain faced a serious shortage of labour. That shortagewas solved by encouraging Black and Asian people in the newCommonwealth to immigrate to Britain to fill the vacant jobs and bringtheir families with them. The Atlee government had not seen racism, asa problem that should dictate changes in its immigration policy and foralmost a decade neither did its Conservative successors. After allBlack and Asian immigrants legally had the same rights as white fellowcitizens (although in practice discrimination restricted their rights)and there was by and large work for them. The government even got theformer Prime Minister Winston Churchill to encourage West Indians toimmigrate to Britain. Winston Churchill was well respected in the WestIndies, a respect that seemed to mutual as he regarded many WestIndians as been model citizens that could help the reconstruction ofBritain and build themselves better careers and lives at the same time(Hines, 1998, p.14). Black and Asian immigrants were wanted to fillthe vacancies that the white British either did not wish to fill or ifthere were not enough whites to fill the vacancies. Black immigrantswere recruited in large numbers as bus drivers and industrial workers.They went all over Britain where ever there were jobs available. Thecreation of the National Health Service (NHS) meant that more Blackworkers were needed often men to be porters and women to beauxiliaries, cleaners or nurses. At the start of the post war periodBritish immigration policy was open door towards Commonwealth citizenswho were free to live and work in Britain as long as they could affordthe air or more often the sea passage over. Many of the firstgeneration of immigrants hoped to make enough in Britain to return homewith their families (Gardiner and Wenborn, 1995, p. 188).
Asian immigrants were mainly recruited to work within the textileindustry in places such as Bradford, Blackburn and Oldham. WhereasBlack immigrants were usually Christians and were not too culturallydifferent from the white population, Asian immigrants usually haddifferent religions and were culturally distinct. However none of theseimmigrants could hide their skin colour and found they were not alwayswelcome frequently facing racism and discrimination. Britain hadgranted independence to India in 1947, that was partitioned into India,East and West Pakistan. The citizens of these new countries alongsideall other Commonwealth citizens were at that point free to immigrate toBritain and entitled to claim British citizenship. These rights werelegally enshrined in the Nationalities Act of 1948 when economic selfinterest was more apparent than racism or any perceived need to appeaseor reduce it (Schama, 2002, p. 550). Large numbers of Asian immigrantsbrought multiculturalism to Britain. They also brought the Islamic,Hindu and Sikh religions too (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner, 2000, p.232). Better-educated Asians would also join the NHS as doctors anddentists or become solicitors. Yet the majority of Black and Asianimmigrants were only allowed to take semi or unskilled jobs (even ifthey were capable of more skilled work) that began to become scarcertowards the end of the 1950s. Thus reducing the economic urgency ofcontinuing open door immigration policy (Schama, 2002, p. 550).
Once larger numbers of immigrants arrived in Britain they found thatalthough employment was readily available their opportunities wererestricted and they faced both overt and covert racism. Some areas weremore receptive to the new arrivals whereas other areas were down righthostile. British governments had hoped that the Black and Asianimmigrants would eventually assimilate and integrate into Britishsociety as previous white immigrants had done. However this becameincreasingly unlikely as a result both of racism and the desire ofimmigrants to retain their cultural and religious identities. Unlikeearlier Irish and Eastern European immigrants whose children mightescape prejudice as they were white, Black and Asian immigrants knewthat they and future generations would face ongoing racism. Racismappeared to be strongest in the areas where immigration had been mostconcentrated. These areas were the inner cities of London, Birmingham,Manchester and Glasgow amongst others. These areas were also the onesthat tended to have the worst housing, health and education provision.Some whites were more than happy to mix with Black and Asian aswitnessed by the success of the Notting Hill carnival. However therewere also racists that caused tension and wanted immigration halted andperhaps even reversed. The presence of racism would mean thatgovernments had to decide whether to counter, pacify or appease it bychanging immigration policy, introducing race relations legislation orchanging law and order considerations. Racists were and are voters andas both the Conservative and Labour parties believed that inner cityand marginal seats could be vital to winning elections they wereprepared to change immigration policy if they felt that was necessary.Changes to immigration policy since the 1960s amply demonstrate thatthe Conservative and Labour leadership were prepared to pacify andappease racism to win or retain power at general elections. TheConservatives were probably more prepared to do so as they believedthat many Blacks and Asians either voted Labour or did not vote at all(Watson, 1997, p. 423). Winston Churchill mentioned in cabinet meetingsduring 1954 that continued high levels of immigration “would sooner orlater come to be resented by large sections of the British people”.Clearly the need for new immigrants to do the lowest status jobs waslessening (Hines, 1998, p.18).
However events during the 1950s would lead the Conservativegovernment to rethink immigration policy to pacify and appease racismwithin British society. There had been minor disturbances in Nottinghamin August 1958 where Black people lived in some of the most deprivedareas of the city. The Nottingham police commented on the high levelof racist provocation abuse that the well behaved West Indianpopulation had had to endure and were surprised that they had notreacted more violently (Ramdin, 1999, pp. 176-77). As most of the earlyimmigrants intended to return home they were not as vocal as they couldhave been in speaking out against the discrimination and intimidationthat they suffered far to frequently (Hines, 1998, p. 19).
Racists supported the Union Movement, the successor of the pre-warBUF that would shift its emphasis from anti-Semitism to racialdiscrimination and hatred of non white immigrants. In 1945 the UnionMovement leader Sir Oswald Mosley seemed to be an eccentric irrelevanceat best and a racist anti-Semitic pro-Nazi traitor at worst, or moreaccurately he was both. The Union Movement would have an influence outof proportion to its size in the changing of immigration policy topacify or appease racism in society. In the 1950s Mosley decided thatraising the race issue was the best way of increasing support for theFar Right in Britain or at the very least raising its profile. Whereasthe Conservative government were at that time unwilling to change itsimmigration policy to pacify and appease racism within Britishsociety. Some of the government’s members and their advisors hadconsidered including promises to restrict immigration as part of theConservative party election manifesto for 1959 but instead concentratedon telling the electorate that they had never been so well of. Thatshows that the immigration issue was seen as being too important to beignored. Mosley believed that the immigration would be the key toreviving his political fortunes. The Notting Hill riots of 1958 madeMosley think that the racist vote would be high enough for him to beelected for Notting Hill following the 1959 general election. Mosley’shopes were dashed. The Union Movement remained small with only 5,000members. The revival of the Far Right in Britain was prevented by therightward drift of the Conservative party over immigration policy thatpacified and appeased racism (Eatwell, 2003, pp. 331-32).
Although the Black communities in Nottingham and Notting Hill had beenthe victims of discrimination and violence they were effectivelypunished instead of helped by the government with the subsequentchanges to British immigration policy. Aside from the nine white Teddyboys jailed for their part in the rioting the resulting changes inimmigration policy were a reward for racism, intimidation anddiscrimination. The Conservative government were unwilling to introduceanti racist discrimination laws on the grounds that the law alreadyprovided adequate punishment for anybody convicted for raciallymotivated violence, even if the racist could only get convicted forassault but not incitement (Ramdin, 1999, pp. 177-78).
By 1962 the Conservative government had changed its mind aboutrestricting immigration for Blacks and Asians bowing to fears amongstparts of middle class suburbia of allowing too many non whites into thecountry and rising levels of tension in the inner cities. Restrictionswere supposed to reduce racial tensions in the areas were immigrantshad already settled. The lack of protection for Black and Asianimmigrants from racism and discrimination should have been obvious butonly the Liberal party saw the need to introduce legislation to counterthe problem. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 reversed the opendoor immigration policy and allowed only those with guaranteed jobswith the work voucher to prove it, their families and students withconfirmed university places to enter Britain (Gardiner & Wenborn,1995, p. 188). If the aim of the act of was to keep the Conservativesin power it failed. In the short term aware of the forthcomingrestrictions as many immigrants as possible came to Britain, 100,000 in1962 alone. There were exceptions for relatives or perspective spousesto enter the country but they had to prove their ties to people alreadyhere (Schama, 2002, p. 551). Immigration would decline markedly afterthe 1962 Act but as a political issue it has not gone away and hasfrequently been used by the Conservative party and those partiesfurther to the right to gain electoral support. The Labour partydespite anything it may have promised during periods of opposition didnot remove the restrictions on immigration imposed by the Conservativesto pacify and appease racism in British society (Goldbourne, 1998, pp.51-2).
In opposition the Labour party had been critical of the restrictionsimposed through the 1962 act claiming that it was giving in to racistdemands. However Labour had to balance keeping the votes of Laboursupporters who were against immigration and gaining the vote of the nonwhite voters already in Britain. However once in power the Wilsongovernment would further restrict Black and Asian immigration from theCommonwealth rather than restoring the open door immigration policyabandoned in 1962. The number of work vouchers for potential workersfrom the new Commonwealth that would allow them to work and live inBritain was further reduced to 8,500 per year in 1965. The Wilsongovernment was reelected after a landslide victory in 1966 without raceor immigration featuring heavily in the campaign and the Conservativesseemingly destined for a long stint in opposition. The nextcontroversy over race that led to the Labour government changingimmigration policy to pacify or appease racism in British society wasas a result of events in Kenya. Kenya was a newly independent memberof the Commonwealth that had a sizable minority of Asians that weredescended from 19th century immigrants that Britain had recruited tostaff the civil service and the railways. The Kenyan Asians were vitalto the Kenyan economy yet the Kenyan government wished to deport itsentire Asian population to keep the country for Africans only. Thisovert and outrageous piece of racism was thinly veiled under the termAfricanization. The British government had a responsibility to protectand give refuge to the Kenyan Asians as they held British passports.The Labour government’s Home Secretary Jim Callaghan was anxious tokeep the entry of Kenyan Asians to the barest minimum by trying to getother Commonwealth countries to grant them asylum. The Immigration Actof 1968 was amended before its passing to allow only 1500 Kenyan Asianholding British passports and their families to gain entry to Britainevery year. It just happened that 1968 was the year that racism andimmigration policy were put firmly in the public spotlight by the soonto be infamous speech of a single Conservative MP from the WestMidlands (Watson, 1997,p. 424).
On 20 April 1968 in his home city of Birmingham the maverick yetintellectually capable Conservative front bench MP for Wolverhampton,Enoch Powell made a speech that caused race and immigration policy togo to the top of the political agenda. In his speech Powell called forthe further restriction of immigration and to close the loopholes thatallowed the relatives of those already settled in Britain to join theirfamilies. Powell believed that families should not be reunited andthat those not already in Britain should not be allowed entry at all.The following section is the part of the speech that caused so muchcontroversy:
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first made mad. We must bemad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow ofsome 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of thefuture growth of the immigrant-descended population… As I look ahead, Iam filled with forboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the riverTiber foaming with much blood” (Comfort, 1993, p.524).
The liberal minded Leader of the Opposition, Edward Heath was caught ina quandary as to whether to sack Powell from the shadow front bench oruse the race issue in order to win the next general election. In theend he actually did both. Powell defended his speech saying he waswarning about the harmful social consequences of too much immigrationin producing racial tensions not to make those tensions worse. Heathsacked Powell from the shadow cabinet but did not expel him from theConservative party, although Powell would have probably responded bystanding as an independent candidate. Powell received over 100,000letters supporting his views and there were protests and strikes in hisfavour to (Comfort, 1993, p. 524). Enoch Powell found that his speechhad been supported by around 75% of the British population according toopinion polls afterwards. Powell had hoped to make the Conservativeparty harder on immigration policy than the Labour party and thatperception certainly helped Heath become Prime Minister, withanti-immigration and racist Labour voters to switch their support(Eatwell, 2003, p.337).
The left wing cabinet minister Tony Benn was certainly not the onlyone dismayed at the Rivers of Blood speech as it gave fascists,neo-nazis and racists to protest against immigrants and it helpedspread their racist propaganda. Powell had given them a great boast asimmigration and race received more media coverage than usual. Theuproar meant that if there were going to be further changes in Britishimmigration policy those changes would be further restrictions topacify and appease racism rather than liberalize policy. Benn hadrespected Powell’s abilities and would even work with him to stopBritish entry into the Common Market, however he resented Powell makingthe race and immigration issues “very dangerous and difficult.” Bennfeared that the speech would be used to incite racial hatred andviolence (Benn, 1988, p.60). For the Black and Asian communities thewhole episode showed how ingrained racism and xenophobia was in Britishsociety. With public opinion on immigration so much in favour ofrestrictive or non existent immigration for non whites it was hardlysurprising if British governments changed policy to pamper those viewseven if it does show their lack of courage. It demonstrates that formost politicians it is more important to gain and hold power than it isto counter racism and discrimination (Evans, 2000, p.43).
The uproar over Enoch Powell gave the Wilson government an excuse torestrict the number of Kenyan Asians allowed entry into Britain (notthat it needed any). Wilson had been confident of a third electionvictory in June 1970. During that campaign Powell continued to raisethe race issue and Heath promised to tighten up immigration policy ifhe was elected. Heath condemned Powell’s racism at the same time he waspromising to pacify and appease racism through immigration policy. Therace issue was widely seen as contributing to Heath's surprise electionvictory. Some commentators such as Jonathan Dimbleby even blamed TonyBenn for his denouncements of Powell (Benn, 1988, p. 294). The harshreality of racism and the growing possibilities of restrictedimmigration led to the setting up of groups and organisations amongstimmigrant communities to protect themselves as the government andpolitical establishment did not. Such groups included the West IndianStanding Conference (WISC), the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination(CARD) and the Indian Workers Association of Great Britain (IWA). Thesegroups made their views known through demonstrations, rallies andjournals or their own publications like the Race Collective (Hines,1998, pp. 69-72). These groups would also receive support from whitesympathizers in the Anti-Nazi League plus left wing members of theLabour party like Tony Benn or the Liberals (Ramdin, 1999, p. 246).
According to the 1971 census 6 % of the British population had beenborn outside of the United Kingdom. Around 1.1 million were Black andAsian immigrants from the new Commonwealth representing 2.3% of theBritish population. A further 900,000 Black and Asian people were bornin Britain and had no memories of their parents homelands. Thepercentage of the Black and Asian population born in Britain wouldincrease, even as the level of immigration was restricted. Thesefigures do not justify the hysteria and the suggestions of been swampedby immigrants that Powell and others talked about (Watson, 1997,p.423). The immigration policy of the Heath government might as wellhave been decided by Enoch Powell himself. The Immigration Act of 1971redefined British citizen in a much more restricted and marrow waycompared to the Nationalities Act of 1948. Instead of either havingBritish and passports or not, several sub categories of citizenshipwere defined in the Act. Each category allowed a different degree ofcitizenship that in turn granted different rights of entry intoBritain. The new system was designed in such a way that right of entryinto Britain was determined almost entirely on the basis of anypotential immigrants skin colour, unless of course Black and Asianimmigrants had a grandfather born in Britain. This act meant thatcountless numbers of whites in the old Commonwealth could immigrate toBritain if they wanted to. However those Black and Asian that hadobtained British passports before their countries gained independencefound those British passports to be completely worthless. Enoch Powellheartily endorsed the 1971 Immigration Act, as it seemed the ultimateexample of changing immigration policy to pacify and appease racism(Goldbourne, 1998, p.53). Powell did not stay happy with theConservative leadership after Heath took Britain into the EuropeanUnion. In both elections of 1974 he urged Conservative voters to voteLabour as he believed a Labour government would take Britain out of it.Perhaps much to the relief of Heath, Powell became an Ulster UnionistMP in 1974. Powell would have more in common with Heath’s successor,Margaret Thatcher in terms of immigration policy (Gardiner &Wenborn, 1995, p. 613).
This section of the dissertation will be shorter than the previous one.That is because there are fewer plausible arguments against the casethat British immigration policy was changed to pacify or appease racismin British society. There were however justifications or compensationsfor the changes in immigration policy mainly relating to the allegedbenefits and advantages of pacifying but not appeasing racism inBritish society. British governments could claim that its mainresponsibilities are for and to the people that live in Britain alreadywhatever their race and ethnicity. Governments could argue that therewere pragmatic, social and economic reasons for restricting non whiteimmigration that was not adopted to pacify or appease racism in Britishsociety even if that was its unintended consequences. For instanceBritish governments could argue that the deteriorating economicposition of Britain meant that there were fewer jobs for Black andAsian to come to Britain to fill. Therefore it would not be fair toallow them entry to stay on social security benefits for most of theirworking lives. The Heath government was committed to making theBritish economy more effective yet its plans came unstuck due towidespread industrial unrest and the oil crisis of 1973. The Wilsonand Callaghan governments faced ever worsening economic conditions thatforced Labour to abandon the post-war policy of working towards fullemployment. The harsher economic and social policies later known asThatcherism made things even harder for Blacks and Asians that werealready deprived and discriminated against (Black, 2000, pp. 212-15).
Despite the tight restrictions on non-white immigration introducedby the Immigration Act of 1971 Heath would prove capable of revisingthe policy because of the crisis in Uganda. Idi Amin the Ugandandictator following the example of the Kenyans had expelled all of theUgandan Asians. Heath let some of the Ugandan Asians in to Britain(Eatwell, 2003,p.337). Heath tried to persuade as many countries aspossible to give the Ugandan Asians refuge so his government did nothave to (Watson 1997, p. 424).
Pacifying racism in British society might not have been such a badthing if it meant that the majority of Black and Asian people couldlead their lives free from violence if not from discrimination.Arguably restricting non white immigration meant that Britain did notexperience any race riots from Notting Hill in 1958 to the riots of1981. The Labour governments of 1964-70 and 1974-79 could justifycontinued immigration policy restrictions by claiming that Labourgovernments were the most beneficial governments for Black and Asianpeople and communities in Britain in terms of social and economicpolicies. Their case would be based on the fact that Labour was theparty most determined to counter discrimination and tackle racism forthose non whites already here for the cost of restricting further nonwhite immigration. Labour was committed to improving public servicesand reducing poverty that would certainly help the majority of Blackand Asian people that lived in more deprived areas. It was the Labourparty that passed the three Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and1976. These acts showed that the Labour governments would not appeaseor condone racism in domestic policy and showed their intent to lessendiscrimination within British society (Black, 2000, p. 123). SometimesBritish public opinion has encouraged governments to allow immigrantswhen there has been a crisis or disaster. In the mid 1970s for instanceBritain took some of the Vietnamese refugees often referred to as boatpeople (Evans, 2000, p.43).
The immigration of Black and Asian people into Britain had anoticeable impact on British society leading to the phenomena ofmulticulturalism. These people brought in their own cultures,religions and perhaps to a lesser extent literature. Asians inparticular could point out past academic and literal achievements(Ramdin, 1999, p.70). The issues of racism and immigration would leadto the production of large volumes of literature and writings both injustification, explanation or refutation of racism and immigrationrestrictions. Nobody could argue that Enoch Powell was academicallybackward and on the verge of illiteracy. In fact that is why he hadsuch an impact on the immigration and race issues. He was not anill-educated skinhead or violent Teddy boy but a former professor ofclassics and cabinet minister capable of rational arguments. In justone speech he had a much greater impact on immigration policy than anynumber of race riots or odious racial assaults (Comfort, 1993, 524).Even the fascist and neo-fascist organisations have produced literatureto promote their views, it might not be up to Noble prize winningstandards but it certainly has convinced enough people to supportthem. Oswald Mosley himself had been a prolific if not alwayscoherent writer. The eventual leader of the National Front, JohnTyndall although more accustomed to inciting skinheads put forward hisviews in Six Principles of Nationalism published in 1966 (Eatwell,2003, p. 335). The effect that the tabloid newspapers and the morerespectable right wing broad sheets can have on the issues of race andimmigration cannot be ignored. When the newspapers are spreading fearand rumours of further immigration it is hardly conducive for Britishgovernments to reverse immigration controls on non-whites. For instancethe reluctance of the Wilson and Heath governments to allow the Kenyanand Ugandan Asians into Britain (Watson, 1997, pp. 424-25).
For the West Indians, Africans and the better educated Asians theireducation had largely been based on the English education system, hencethe respect that many of them held Britain prior to immigration. In theWest Indies, English was the spoken language, whilst in the formercolonies of Asia and Africa, English was the common language of theadministrators and the social, economic and political elites.Therefore many Black people were literate if not better educated thantheir white counterparts. Discrimination and the desire to restrictimmigration resulted from the abilities of immigrants rather than theirinability. It is a paradox that parts of the West Indies have a higherliteracy rate than Britain, particularly the inner cities were theinadequacies of education are most noticeable (Okokon, 1998, p. 103).Amongst the most commercially and educationally successful immigrantsand communities have been the Kenyan and Ugandan Asians. Most of themcame to Britain with virtually nothing yet through hard work and talentmade them prosperous. Their children and grandchildren have become thebest-educated in Britain (Evans, 2000, p.42).
Blacks and Asians had been students in Britain long before the 1940sand the common experiences of learning, racism and restrictedopportunities contributed to colonial independence movements and selfhelp organisations in Britain. Those students that graduated oftenfound it harder to get law, educational or medical positions than theirwhite contemporaries did. Black and Asian authors often found it moredifficult to get their books published. The choice for these studentswas to face years of discrimination before doing the jobs they werecapable of or to go home and do them immediately. By the 1960s Blackwriters such as Sam Devlon and CL R James were starting to receive theattention their works deserved. This advance in the promotion in Blackliterature had not resulted from the efforts of mainstream publishersbut form the work of New Beacon Books established by John La Rose. Thebooks of these writers were placed in many public libraries through theefforts of people like Gloria Locke that believed they should be readby as much of the British population as possible. The 1960s also sawthe appointment of one of Britain’s first Black head teachers, BerylGilroy whose talents had been wasted for too long washing dishes ratherthan educating children (Okokon, 1998, pp. 101-02).
Therefore to conclude British immigration policy has been altered onseveral occasions in the post war era. After 1945 Britain had a liberalopen door immigration policy towards immigrants from the newCommonwealth as well as from the old Commonwealth and Europe. TheBlack and Asian immigrants from the new Commonwealth obviously stoodout from the white British population due to their skin colour whereaswhite immigrants such as the Irish or those from Eastern Europe didnot. Perhaps if they had known the racism they would face on theirarrival they would not have immigrated in the first place. The opendoor to new Commonwealth immigration was not new in 1945 but economicconditions and the post war reconstruction of Britain meant that theBritish government actively promoted immigration to Britain in the newCommonwealth. Winston Churchill even played his part in recruitingimmigrants from the West Indies. Immigrants came to Britain to filljob vacancies and build better futures for themselves and theirfamilies. Black and Asian immigrants often believed that the mothercountry would welcome them with open arms. Although Britishgovernments were pleased that these immigrants had come to Britain theywere faced with racism once they arrived, racism that would certainlyinfluence British immigration policy and subsequent changes to it.
The British governments throughout the period 1944-74 were moreconcerned about using immigration policy to their advantage than forthe benefits of the Black and Asian immigrants they proved willingenough to restrict immigration on racial grounds as soon as it suitedthem to do so. The British governments were prepared to changeimmigration policy to pacify and appease racism in society as they sawgreater electoral advantage in keeping or gaining the votes of racistsand those opposed to non white immigration than gaining the votes ofthe immigrant communities. Various events encouraged governments tochange immigration policy such as the Notting Hill riots or the forcedemigration of the Kenyan and Ugandan Asians.
It was probably theinfamous Rivers of blood speech of Enoch Powell that did more thananything else to raise the race and immigration issue and couldarguably be seen as the cause of the Immigration Act of 1968 and theNationalities Act of 1971. The widespread support for restrictedimmigration policy and Powell’s views meant that a return to the opendoor policy that existed until 1962 is very remote although thecomplete repatriation of all the non white population of Britainadvocated by parties such as the National Front is equally remote. Therace and immigration issue certainly contributed to the Conservativeelection victories of 1970 and 1979 yet played a part in the defeats of1974. The presence of racism in British society forced the Black andAsian communities to campaign for their rights and help themselves inthe fight against discrimination.
The Race Relations Acts really were too late to help the immigrantcommunities when they had needed it most and were not completelyadequate compensation for the restriction of immigration and thefeeling that the government would prefer to meet the interests ofracists first.
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