Restricting immigration, a good idea? An historical perspective from 1905 to the present

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At the beginning of this week the incumbent Home Secretary announced that from January 2021 new legislation would restrict immigration into the UK, as the government had promised in the run up to the 2019 General Election.

In brief the aim of the Conservative administration is to limit the amount of poorer, less well educated, and ‘low skilled’ migrants to Britain whilst at the same time allowing (encouraging perhaps) those with much-needed skills to come to the UK to work, regardless of where they come from.

Immigrants will only qualify for a visa if they have 70 points under the new system and meet the three essential characteristics, which are:

An ‘approved’  job offer, at an ‘appropriate skill level, and a good command of English.

Those three would give you 50 points so in addition migrants need to coming to work in a job where we have a shortage (20 points); to a job which pays a salary in excess of £25,600; or a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job they are taking.

Journalists were quick to point out that this would have excluded the Home Secretary’s own family from entering Britain in the 1960s (something she denied was relevant) and opponents have loudly condemned the move, saying that it will undermine Social Care provision and the hospitality industry.

However, the move is likely to be popular amongst those that supported Brexit, particularly in the constituencies that ‘lent’ the Conservatives their (previously Labour) vote in the last election. PM Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’ chimed with very many people who believe (like one member of the audience on the BBC’s Question Time last night) that Britain is being ‘flooded’ with immigrants.

Immigrants, it has long been suggested, who take jobs away from locals, depress wages (via their willingness to work for low pay), and who are a drain on the benefit system, housing, and the NHS.

A very similar situation existed in the closing decades of the nineteenth century when after several years of large scale immigration of mainly Jewish migrants from Eastern and Central Europe precipitated racial tension and calls for law to restrict such migration. In 1905 this culminated in the very first restrictive immigration legislation – the Aliens Act.

This act was aimed squarely at poor foreign Jews, just as the modern act is aimed at those who are deemed to contribute little to our society.  In the late 1800s some contemporaries argued that the huge numbers of Jews fleeing persecution and poverty in the Russian Empire were overcrowding areas like East London and ‘swamping’ communities. Cheap Jewish labour – especially in clothing manufacture – was ‘working the Englishman out’. Since immigrants were prepared to work for a lot less in cramped (‘sweated’) conditions the local ‘English’ workforce were either left unemployed or forced to accept reduced wages to compete.Unknown

Following the 1905 act ships arriving in Britain were inspected and ‘steerage’ passengers (those arriving with little or no money) were assessed to see if they were ‘undesirable’. Anyone unable to support himself or his dependents (unless they were political refugees) was undesirable.

In practice this meant they had to have at least £5 plus £2 for every defendant that accompanied them. In 1905 this was quite a considerable amount of cash to bring with you, especially after paying for travel and (probably) having to bribe a series of officials on the way our of Russia. In addition anyone deemed to be ‘a lunatic’, those previous expelled, and criminals were all rejected and turned away.

This was a calculated effort on behalf of the then Conservative government (a weak administration which fell shortly afterwards) to respond to the ‘dog whistles’ of right wing populist politicians like Arnold White and newly elected MPs in the East End who advocated restrictions on immigration.

It fed on the entrenched prejudice towards Jews and ‘foreigners’  that had surfaced during the late 1880s in the wake of the ‘sweating scandal’ and the unprecedented influx of poor Ashkenazi Jews fleeing the Pale of Settlement.

In 1888 when an unknown serial killer murdered at least five defenseless women in Whitechapel many were quick to point the finger of blame at the Jewish community. Indeed, many are still keen to pin the murders on a local Jew even though there is scant evidence that a member of the Jewish community was responsible.

The 1905 Aliens Act fed on popular fears and prejudices just as the legislation announced this week does. That is not say that immigration should not be restricted at all but people should be presented with the facts and not be misled or manipulated for political ends.

UnknownPriti Patel (pictured right with Nick Ferage from LBC) claimed that her parents would have been allowed into Britain as they were fleeing persecution in Uganda under the dictatorship of Idi Amin. But her knowledge of history is sadly lacking.

The Patels came to England in the 1960s, working hard and establishing themselves as the vast majority of immigrants have done and continue to do, and Mrs Patel has benefitted from their hard work and the education she received since her birth here in 1972.

Idi Amin rose to power in the 1970s, well after the Patels left Uganda. When Amin started expelling Asians from Uganda in 1972 Priti Patel’s family had been over here for several years.

Perhaps she might reflect that her parents – like so many migrants to the UK – came for a variety of reasons and with a variety of skills (‘high’ and ‘low’ by her own definitions). Not all – very far from ‘all’ in fact – came with a job or with sufficient money to support themselves (for very long at least) but they came and they worked and they enriched the communities they joined.

Immigration has been a success for Britain and attempts to restrict it have largely been shown to fail. Better perhaps to educate those who believe they are being ‘flooded’ than to pander to their fears and prejudices.

Drew Gray, History at Northampton

Diamonds are Forever

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Last night the University of Northampton hosted the 2020 Diamond Research Awards. These awards celebrate the research that is undertaken at the University of Northampton, the staff that make it happen, and the staff who supervise, develop and encourage our new up and coming researchers.

We were absolutely delighted that our Senior Lecturer in History, Dr Paul Jackson, won the prestigious Research Impact award. Paul gives us this insight into his research and why it matters:

My research into the history of the far right has been underpinned by the Searchlight Archive, which is based at the University of Northampton. The archive itself is a trove of material related to the far right, past and present, and a number of students have used it for dissertations and PhD projects. My research over the past few years has been to use this unique collection to create peer reviewed articles, chapters and books, and also to develop ‘impact’. Research outputs have included a biography of a leading British neo-Nazi, Colin Jordan, and an article examining the World Union of National Socialists, a 1960s era transnational network active in Britain and Europe, the USA and Australia. Some of my impact activities have included running CPD workshops for people who tackle the far right in professional contexts, such as police officers, hate crime workers and teachers. It has also included working with government agencies and think tanks to help develop a better understanding of the nature of the far right today. I also talk to the media on a regular basis. As a historian working in this area, I often can bring a sense of historical context that analysts from other areas find helpful.

Paul contributes regularly to the mainstream media, for instance in this piece on Donald Trump for The Guardian, and his most recent academic publication is this article on the World Union of National Socialists. He is the author of Colin Jordan and Britain’s Neo-Nazi Movement (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).

Congratulations, Paul!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Right Well-beloved Valentine

Lecturer in History Dr Rachel Moss gives us a peek at the first known Valentine’s letter written in English. This post first appeared in a slightly adapted format on her blog.

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Love Letter by John Jennings for Unsplash

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The Paston Valentine: Margery Brews’ letter to John Paston, 1477

Every few years an enterprising reporter does a bit of googling and stumbles across the letter from Margery Brews to her suitor John Paston, which is regularly described as the oldest English-language Valentine greeting. Of course, well before the fifteenth century people were celebrating St Valentine’s Day, and the feast is referred to in English by fourteenth century authors (‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make’ in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules providing the most obvious example), but it does seem that it was not until the mid-fifteenth century that people were referring in written English to their sweethearts as Valentine. The English poetry of Charles d’Orleans gives us a sweet example:

Als wele is him this day that hath him kaught
A valentyne that louyth him.

With this in mind, we can imagine the young Margery Brews, probably in her late teens, sitting down to write a letter to John Paston, addressing him in a newly-fashionable term. But who were the couple, and how did their relationship come about?

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Deporting people is not the answer to the problem of crime, nor has it ever been.

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Clearly we need to have the full details of those individuals who have today been deported from the UK to Jamaica. However, the Home Office was forced to remove well over half of those they wished to deport after last minute appeals that they had not had their cases properly represented by lawyers. Which begs the questions of what have these people done and is it ever right to deport someone from the place they call ‘home’?

Earlier this week a Home office spokesperson said:

‘We make no apology for trying to protect the public from serious, violent and persistent foreign national offenders.’

Sajid Javid has argued that all of those being deported were ‘Jamaican nationals who have been convicted of criminal offences and served prison sentences of 12 months or more’.

Opponents of the deportation have suggested that at the very least these people have not all been given the opportunity to contest their deportation in the courts. Detention Action– a charity which works with those held in immigration detention centres  – claimed that poor communication at the centres in which the detainees had been held meant they couldn’t access legal support.

The High Court upheld this injunction in at least 30 of the 50 cases of those scheduled to be flown out of Britain this morning.

Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said:

‘Yesterday we gathered shocking and damning evidence that those scheduled on tomorrow’s deportation flight to Jamaica have been denied access to justice. Home Office efforts to issue new SIM cards have been flawed and patchy and people facing a life-changing removal from the UK are effectively being held incommunicado. These removals must be halted until access to lawyers has been restored’.

Speaking on BBC News this morning Sankey remarked that those being deported were being punished a second time for crimes they had already served prison sentences for. Mnay were brought to the UK as children or young adults, many had suffered abuse and grooming whilst here, and in many cases their crimes were minor and drug related. Even in the case of those committing the serious violent offences that Home Secretary Patel and Chancellor Javid were intent on highlighting, did so after living here for several decades.

Her point was that these people – whatever they have done – are, effectively if not legally, British citizens. Their offending is our problem, not Jamaica’s.

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We have a history of deporting people our own citizens in this country. From at least the 17thcentury we shipped unwanted criminals to the colonies on America’s eastern seaboard – to Maryland and Virginia for example. Revolutionary war in 1776 brought the system of indentured forced migration to a close and it was far from effective Unknownanyway, as convicts found it fairly straightforward to escape and return to England.

It was much harder for them to escape from the next penal colony however. In 1787 the First Fleet sailed for New South Wales, landing in Botany Bay and establishing a penal settlement was to last until the 1860s. Australia was an unforgiving continent from which escape was almost impossible.

Whilst modern historians have reconsidered the convict experience in the last few decades, and argued that some of those sent ‘down under’ had a better set of life chances than those left behind in the slums of London, Birmingham and Manchester, it was still a double sentence.

Most of those transported (deported in effect) to Australia were guilty of fairly minor property crimes and yet they had been imprisoned in Britain, often in unsanitary and bleak conditions, before being packed onto a ship and transported thousands of miles to endure harsh conditions in a new colony. Set to work in chain gangs, on farms as bonded labourers and servants, whilst they might work their way out of bondage it was very difficult for any of them to return ‘home’.

Britain abandoned transportation in the 1860s, preferring instead to lock up most of our criminals in model prisons like Pentonville. Notions of reform and rehabilitations often ran a poor second to those of protecting the public and punishment but at least on release those convicted could return to the communities they knew and understood.

Britain is a nation of immigrants; first and second and third (and so on) migrants from all over the world. Those from the Caribbean (whether Windrush or not) come as part of what was our empire and dominions. To uproot those that have made their home here (however badly they have lived their lives since they arrived) seems to be piling further punishment on top of that imposed by a judge at trial.

To me it smacks of cruelty and an abrogation of responsibility for people whose crimes were committed here, not in Jamaica or anywhere else, and as a result of the environment they grew up in, not the one they were removed from as children or teenagers.

UnknownI rather suspect that Mr Javid and Ms Patel (left) are more interested in appearing ‘tough on crime’ than they are in dealing with the problem of ‘crime’.

There is nothing new in this: it is very easy to talk tough and impress the readers of the Daily Mail and the Conservative Party conference but it will do nothing to keep the people of Britain ‘safe’ in the long run.

Drew Gray, Historian of crime and punishment

 

 

Love is Love: Welcome to UK LBGTQ+ History Month!

Senior lecturer Caroline Nielsen writes:

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Photo of rainbow hearts by Jiroe on Unsplash

Love is Love: Welcome to UK LBGTQ+ History Month!

February is UK LGBT+ History Month, an inclusive celebration of history.

Across the country, public events will be taking place to celebrate the long history and global diversity of LGBTQ+ experience. It aims to promote equality and diversity in communities, with a special emphasis on providing resources and support for LGBTQ+ people, young and old. It raises awareness of the diversity and complexity of human identity and relationships over time, highlighting the damaging effects of prejudice and discrimination. The theme for this year is poetry, prose and plays.

2019 marks the 14th anniversary of this public history event. It has certainly come a long way since 2005. The first LGBT+ History Month was faced with a number of tabloid news stories with barely disguised homophobia running through them (see the work of Robert Mills on this).  LGBTQ+ history sometimes still suffers from a vague public misconception that it is an inappropriate form of biographic history which likes to ‘out’ historic individual’s intimate relationships and/or sexual preferences for either salacious entertainment or for political reasons. Discussing a historic person’s sexuality can still be controversial, especially if they were believed to have possibly been in a same-sex or ‘queer’ sexual or romantic relationship at some point in their lives. There has been debate about how appropriate it is to, in the words of one author, ‘open history’s closets’.[1] This view helped fuel another early misconception about the history of sexualities and LGBTQ+ experience; that it was just about what people historically liked to do with other people in bed.

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Study Tips for Successful Researchers

University of Northampton PhD student Kerry Love shares her top tips for successful studying. 

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Calendar icon by Videoplasty.com, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

It might not feel like it, but I’ve been studying for 6 years now and in the process have developed some fairly useful habits. As a former serial procrastinator who would turn her nose up at the idea of planning a piece before writing, I have faith that with some practice and encouragement even the most disorganized person can become a little more efficient. We live in a world obsessed hyper-productivity and competing over who works the most on the least sleep. Talking about efficiency and productivity stirs up the same kind of discussion, therefore I think it’s really important to schedule in time for all aspects of your life. I’ve worked and studied at the same time for most of my academic career so have certainly fell victim to working too much, but when I learnt to manage my time properly I found that I was more than capable of doing both and staying sane. Whether you’re an undergraduate, postgraduate, or anyone else balancing life- I hope you find these useful!

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Radical Conservatism, Edwardian Tariff Reform and Brexit

Senior lecturer Mark Rothery reflects on patterns in history.

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Pattern repeating Union Jack by Dawn Hudson

There are moments as a historian when you notice patterns repeating – they never repeat in exactly the same way but the repetition is always noticeable. Recent changes in British Conservatism and the wider Brexit process have reminded me of a moment in the history of the Conservative Party during the Edwardian period.

In the wake of Benjamin Disraeli’s death, in 1881, the Conservative Party faced a series of challenges. The Party seemed unsuited to the new, more democratic world that Disraeli had helped to create. Trades Unions (newly legalised by Gladstone’s Liberals), the decline of Britain’s pre-eminent global economic supremacy, of landed society and the decline of the empire all seemed problematic for a party that rested on these pillars of ‘traditional England’. How to attract the votes of the middle and working classes, this was the challenge.

Conservatism was lent a helping hand in the final two decades of the nineteenth century thanks to problems for the Liberal Party. This included a major split over Home Rule for Ireland that saw the Liberal Unionists under Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain leave the Liberals and join the Conservatives, eventually permanently fusing the two parties as the Conservative and Unionist Party in 1912 (the Conservative Party bears this name to this day). For the moment the Conservatives were saved but trouble was stored up for the future.

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Joseph Chamberlain at his desk in the Colonial Office: Image from Wikicommons

As a way of appealing to a wider electorate the Conservatives settled on Tariff Reform. Perhaps the most unpopular and dull political policy ever devised Tariff Reform went like this. Free trade would come to an end, tariffs would be imposed on all products coming from outside the empire. This would bind the empire more closely as a trading bloc and incrementally improve Britain’s declining position in the world. It would also provide income for social reform thereby attracting working close voters but not alienating ‘traditional support’ by taxing the rich.

All these prerogatives are reminiscent of Brexit and the thinking around this issue. These debates are about Britain’s position in the world, about trade and empire and about attracting a wider electorate.

Tariff Reform was an absolute disaster in the period it was official policy from 1903-14 under the guidance of Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour, the Conservative leader. The Tories were annihilated in the 1906 election (their biggest defeat until the 1997 election) and showed no signs of recovering in the two elections of 1910 (January and December). New Liberalism, meanwhile, cut swathes through traditional fiscal policy introducing pensions, national insurance, unemployment benefit, the emasculation of the House of Lords and a host of other radical policies, which furnished with Lloyd George’s radical oratory was all the more shocking to ‘the establishment’.

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Only war proved to be the saviour of the Conservatives. They eventually went into wartime coalition with the Liberals in 1916, repeated this in 1918 under Lloyd George and, when their confidence had eventually returned removed themselves from the coalition in 1922 (hence the ‘1922 Committee’). Labour won their first election in 1923 but this, and the 1929-31 Labour Government, were to prove brief eclipses of Tory dominance in the interwar period as the Liberal Party went into terminal decline.

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The Algerian Hirak

HirakSince 22 February 2019 Algerians have been protesting in the streets. As usual there has been very little coverage of events in the British, indeed Western, media. This is, however, one of the most impressive pro-democracy movements the world has seen. It was triggered by President Bouteflika’s decision to stand for a fifth term of office. This flew in the face of the Algerian Constitution, and would have meant that he would have added an extra five year term to the twenty he had already served as Algeria’s longest-serving present. To further breach constitutional matters, Bouteflika had rarely been seen in public since 2013 when he suffered a stroke, and article 102 of the Constitution states that an incapacitated president must stand down. Since his stroke in 2013, perception grew across Algeria that Bouteflika had been a puppet president, with figures from within Bouteflika’s entourage calling the shots.

On 10 February 2019, a press release signed by the long-ailing Bouteflika announcing he would seek a fifth consecutive term provoked widespread discontent. After Friday prayers on 22 February  Algerians took to the streets. This effectively shattered a longstanding fear of protest in Algeria after the Black Decade of the Civil War of the 1990s. Millions of men, women and children took part in peaceful rallies across Algeria, and have been protesting ever since.

The protests, which have been dubbed Algeria’s Hirak, which is Arabic for ‘movement’, took on a broader focus when Bouteflika finally ceded to pressure and resigned in April 2019. Protestors then called for action against the failures of the privileged elite who had supported him, and in doing so had failed public services in Algeria. The protestors  called for widespread reform, and for corruption charges to be brought against the regime’s generals and oligarchs.

Bouteflika’s  long regime had  effectively crushed political dissent and oversaw a proliferation of corruption throughout the state, with oligarchs and the party elite owing their position to the monopoly on oil and other key energy industries. Algeria is one of Africa’s major oil and gas producers, the endemic corruption has led to an overreliance on oil revenues at the expense of the agricultural potential of the country, further adding to discontent on the domestic front. Additional factors including high unemployment, lack of job opportunities, economic stagnation following the decline of oil and gas export revenues in 2014, social inequalities, have led the Algerian population to protest against ‘le pouvoir’ (the people in power. Although forcing Bouteflika’s resignation in April 2019 as a result of the mass protests was a major achievement, the momentum was with the protestors, and the Hirak forced further concessions.

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The strength of this Hirak, also known as the ‘Revolution of Smiles’, is that the protestors seem to have learned the lessons of the Arab Spring. Millions of people, both men and women, who mostly young, are participating in the weekly marches, occupying public spaces and peacefully demanding the regime to change. The fact that this is a movement with no official leader, but which is seeking dramatic change through entirely peaceful means, appears to have prevented the emergence of extremist groups, as occurred in Libya and Syria. The movement also has a significant cultural component, and has witnessed the proliferation of creative endeavours: songs, slogans, cartoons, the occupation and collective clean-up of public places, spontaneous dialogues and debates, and very active social media. The abiding cry has been: ‘Yetnahaw Gaa’ / ‘Get them out!’

When finally a new election was called for December 2019, this was largely rejected by the movement, who instead called for a complete overhaul of the political system. As the protests grew louder, the response of the government was to clamp down severely on detractors, and the number of arrests increased significantly.  Protestors are recording increasing internet censorship, and political cartoonists have been arrested and imprisoned. Amnesty International’s ‘Algeria Watch’ reports of around 500 arrested, some arbitrarily, as a result of a sweeping government action against the Hirak. (see https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/12/algeria-hirak-protests/)

The election went ahead on 12 December 2019, and the result was controversial.  Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a Bouteflika loyalist was elected as President. Protestors chanted ‘The vote is rigged. Your elections are of no concern to us and your president will not govern us.’ One protestor stated: ‘Tebboune is worse than Bouteflika, We did not vote and we will not back down.’ Little news has emerged in the West since the election and the protests which followed. Has the Revolution of Smiles turned sour?

 

 

From Facebook to Fatherhood: Emotional Economies Then and Now

Senior Lecturer in History Mark Rothery writes on emotional economies: 

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Emojis – tiny pictures representing emotions. Picture via British Library

As we leave Christmas and a very divisive general election behind ‘Emotional Economies’ seems an appropriate choice for this blog – it’s the subject of a paper I’ll be giving on the subject at the bi-annual European Social Science History Conference this year in Leiden, Netherlands.

‘Emotional economies’ is a term used by both economists and historians. Let’s start with the economists.

Classical economics assumes that consumers and, indeed, all agents in the market, behave rationally. Under certain conditions, in terms of price and levels of supply, their behaviour (particularly in relation to demand) should be predictable. Repeated historic collapses of financial markets (most recently in 2007-8) have illustrated the folly of this idea as investors and consumers continually fail to behave ‘rationally’ when faced with choice.

Emotional economics is a new frontier in marketing and economics. It attempts to engage with some of these problems and achieve better access to and persuasion of consumers. Rather than assuming that consumers behave ‘rationally’ emotional economics recognises that people often make choices based on how they ‘feel’ about a product, the company that produces the product, the state of the world, Brexit and a host of other contexts for feeling. So consumers need to ‘feel’ positive about a product, need to feel emotionally uplifted by it in some way or feel that it is aligned to their emotional as well as cognitive well being, rather than be persuaded that it is in their best interests as rational agents to purchase it.

This all sounds quite acceptable – people sell things in a market economy so why not find out how we feel about their products? But what if our feelings about things were being measured and recorded on a grand scale? What is our feelings were being manipulated?

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Racism, diversity and contested histories: some reflections on Christmas (just) Past

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The Cratchits sit down to Christmas dinner 

If, like me, you tuned in to watch the BBC’s latest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol, I’m sure it will have left a lasting impression.  Over three nights a star-studded cast presented a much darker version of the tale of Scrooge than we are used to. It was uncomfortable at times, rude, crude even, but funny and also very poignant and political.

I’m not an expert on Dickens and have only recently read the novella that bears limited similarity to the scripted version I watched over Christmas. This seemed to annoy some people, who took to social media to complain that students studying it at school today would have been confused by Steven Knight’s retelling of an old classic. Personally, I loved it. I found Guy Pearce’s Scrooge a more complex character than Dickens had presented him and Vinette Robinson’s Mary Cratchit was a study in controlled anger.

Most of all I think Dickens would have approved as it had a powerful message about the concerns of the day, combining as it did themes of poverty and inequality, abuse, exploitation, and the callous nature of unrestrained and immoral capitalism.

But what really seemed to upset some keyboard warriors was that the Cratchits were presented as a mixed race family. This was compounded when the BBC released a modern version of Worzel Gummidge complete with two black children as the central characters (below right). For some this was diversity gone mad, a deliberate attempt by ‘auntie’ to meddle with our cultural past and present. Unknown

I’ve been musing on this for a few days now. At the time I responded to a tweet I saw by @WhoresofYore (aka Dr Kate Lister) which had shared several images of interracial marriage to challenge the claim (by some) that the BBC’s drama presentation of the  Cratchits was ‘PC nonsense and historically inaccurate’.

I wrote:

‘Some people would like to believe Britain was entirely white before 1950. It wasn’t. It’s just that we’ve written black people out of history’.

That tweet had had over 2000 ‘likes’ and nearly 200 retweets but it also drew a few people to comment that they had never seen black people when they were growing up. ‘If a black of Asian man ever came down the street [in 1950s Birmingham]’, one wrote, ‘people ran out of their houses to look at him. They’d never seen one, except in pictures’. Another commented that ‘it largely was white’ adding, ‘now my home town has 300 languages and there are very few white school kids’.

It didn’t take much searching on twitter to find some pretty disgusting racist comments about the dramas and the BBC’s use of black faces in them. Which begs the question for me at least, why are people so unhappy about the depiction of diversity on our television screens?

After all history can tell us (should tell us) that Britain has had a very diverse population for hundreds of years. There have been people from all parts of the world in England from Roman times to the present; in medieval England, in Tudor England, in the 1700s and nineteenth century, and right through the twentieth. Moreover all of these immigrants to Britain have contributed to the success of these islands, economically, culturally and politically.

Black troops fought in the last world war, and the one before that, directly contributing to the defeat of Nazi Germany and the survival of our ‘British’ way of life. Estimates suggest also that around a third of Nelson’s crew on HMS Victory were not white. The records of the Old Bailey (London’s central criminal court) reveal the presence of Black Londoners in significant numbers throughout the 1700s and 1800s. In many cases of course contemporary prejudice and notions of racial superiority mean that Black voices have been silenced or muted, or erased completely but this does not mean they didn’t exist at all.

We know this. History has been telling us this for decades at least so why do some people have such a problem accepting it?

Sadly I think it is because Britain is a country where racism remains endemic. When the grime artist Stormzy was asked if there was racism in Britain he replied: ‘definitely. 100 percent’. Reactions to that comment and its misreporting pretty much sum up the problem we have.

UnknownStormzy was condemned for labeling Britain as ‘100 percent racist’, which he never did. All sorts of people who should have known better leapt to the country’s defense accusing him of all sorts of outrages without stopping to read or listen to what he had actually said. There is racism in Britain, I agree with that statement completely (100%). Not everyone in Britain is a racist, and Stormzy never suggested that they were.

A day later racist abuse was directed at a black footballer, as he played for Chelsea in a local London derby at Tottenham. When I ‘liked’ a tweet from Jolyon Rubinstein, comedian and TV producer, that condemned the racism at his club and then added a comment that it needed to be challenged everywhere, a handful of comments took issue with me. There was no racism at ‘our club’ some said; please don’t condemn us all with the same brush.

It seems like this and the Stormzy incident are part of the same problem. Some people are more outraged at being called racist than they are at racism existing in our society. Some are so scared of seeing black faces on the TV screens that they feel the need to complain that the BBC is misrepresenting the nation and its history.

The reality is that actors are actors and it doesn’t matter what colour their skins is anyway. We’ve been used to white actors playing black characters, to Americans playing Germans, to able bodies actors portraying disabled people, and to all sorts of dramatic interpretations and adaptations of texts from the past.

The reason some people got their collective knickers in a twist about Stormzy, and the BBC’s A Christmas  Carol  and Worzel Gummidge is because they are either ignorant or prejudiced, or both. I’m sorry but that is self-evident.

What worries me is what we are doing to combat this. How do we educate people so that that this racism dies a death now, in the 2020s, along with all the other intolerances that continue to blight our society?

Diversity is a good thing, not something to be afraid of and we have to get that message out there from nursery, to primary and secondary school to university, though the shop floor, in all forms of the media, in sport, culture, and, most of all, in politics.

Racism has no place in our society, none whatsoever, and it is the responsibility of all of us to call it out wherever we see it.

Drew Gray, Subject Lead Humanities