Legacies: stereotypes, racism and the civil rights movement

The continuation of racism today

by Marika Sherwood

It was not only Africans who were deemed to be inferior. For example, a school text published as late as 1925 claimed that the natives of India were a 'half-civilised, thieving…primitive race', who were given a measure of 'civilisation' by the 'tall well-built race of Aryans… akin to the best European types' (CB Thurston, An Economic Geography of the British Empire, London 1925, p.153). Such racist descriptions of Africans and Indians appeared in text books until about 40 years ago.

'A black person could never be sure about how he would be treated in England', wrote Guyanese Eric Walrond in a 1936 article.

'Though the feeling of Empire is strongly present in the average Englishman, he frequently displays an abysmal ignorance of the coloured races within the Empire… Some landladies manifest a touching sympathy toward Negro lodgers, but others prefer not to have them… No opportunity is given to [discharged seamen] to enter in other trades or industry… Negroes who come to London to study… are subtly discouraged from settling in England upon the completion of their courses.' 'The Negro in London', in The Black Man, March 1936, pp.9-10.

The acceptance of racist ideology was so widespread, that 'coloured' men and women in the UK during the Second World War, both residents and those in the armed services, experienced a variety of racial discrimination, such as being excluded from pubs and hotels; the navy did not accept 'coloured' men and they were not promoted in the army. One black RAF pilot recalled a white child circling around him on the street. When the man asked the child what he was doing, the child replied 'I am looking for your tail'.

Racism in sport

Though finally black footballers have become accepted on the pitch, they are rarely successful coaches or managers, and there are still hardly any players of Asian origins playing for the major clubs. And, despite their dependence on these black players, racist chanting at football matches has been so disgraceful that an organisation, Let's Kick Racism Out of Football - was established in 1993, and works today with clubs and schools.

Further relevant writings by Marika Sherwood include:

'After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade since 1807'I.B. Tauris, 2007
‘Manchester, Liverpool and Slavery’, North West Labour History, 32,16-22 2007-08
'Perfidious Albion: Britain, the USA and slavery in the 1840s and 1860s', Contributions to Black Studies, 13-14 1995-6