As a young person, the time I have spent volunteering in Archives+ has opened my eyes to a world in which I think, given my race and ethnicity, would have been an entirely more challenging experience if I was born in or before the 1980s. In this blog I will explore a time in the past when the views on race and integration were far from what they have become today.

I first came across a few articles hidden away in some almost forgotten archives, which revealed some articles from the 1970s and exposed the controversial nature of the language present in the media towards minorities in Britain. The articles got me thinking about the way language has changed in relation to ethnic minorities (often referred to as BAME), how race relations are approached in the media and how far it reflects the public consciousness. With this in mind, I thought I might look at the context in which the articles were written, doing so allowed me to understand the bigger picture.  Therefore, rather than the articles being shocking to me as a young black women in 21st century Britain, they contributed to my greater understanding of the issue of race in the early 1970s to late 90s. 

A prominent contextual issue, surrounding race, was the introduction of the Race Relation Act 1965 which was the second of three pieces of  legislation in the UK of its kind to address racial disparities and conflicts prevalent in the UK at this time. The legislation was a reaction from the government to increased migration from commonwealth countries to the UK. At the time the act was being passed, the amount of immigrants was thought to be nearly one million. The articles which the media produced, discussing the issue of race around the time the act was introduced, reflected the growing tension in UK society. The reception of the Act showed that there was still a long way to go in terms of addressing discrimination in the UK.

“Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent.” 

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No longer Talking To White People About Race

Along with the articles there was also a sizable amount of controversial material produced in the form of books. ‘Living in Britain’ was one of the controversial texts I read. The attitudes expressed with regards to immigrants, with particular emphasis on Afro-Caribbean migration to the United Kingdom in the book, were incredibly shocking to a contemporary reader. The language which was used in the book to describe the race of individuals is controversial and problematic. The term ”colored person” was quite light in comparison to the language I came across in other controversial books. A large amount of the collection contained greatly disparaging language. One thing these texts seem to have in common is that they are self aware of the context and therefore present as an unrest and authentic representation of the racial climate in Britain at the time.

At this time society seemed to be constructed and perpetuated by the white sympathetic, dominated narrative which resulted in books such as ‘Living in Britain’ and ‘Race, intelligence and Education’. This type of literature perpetuated the idea that rather than it being a thing of learning from one another, it is expressed that black people must take on British culture.

Growing up in the inner cities was always diverse and a melting pot of cultures and people of all races. I was for the most part as a little black girl blissfully unaware of the prejudices that people might have had towards me because of my race, as I was surrounded by people like me and a great deal of people who were different from me. Therefore a reluctance for such a diverse society is beyond me.

“Demands for equality need to be as complicated as the inequalities they seek to address.” 

 Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race

Many people continue to working towards racial equality – eliminating racial discrimination from our society. To say that issues surrounding racial discrimination have not moved forward would be unjust – disregarding all of the great efforts and strides that have been taken in the advance to an equal society.

Black history is a chance to celebrate heritage and immerse yourself in black culture, which is far reaching, across the country.

Living in Britain, The Race relations Act 1968 and Race, Intelligence and Education are available to read from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, which is based in the lower ground floor of Manchester Central Library. Search their collections here.