Legacies: stereotypes, racism and the civil rights movement

Still from A Taste of Honey

Made by Woodfall Films Ltd, 1961

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Still from A Taste of Honey

This image from the 1961 film, A Taste of Honey, shows the central character, Jo (Rita Tushingham), with her lover, a black sailor called Jimmy (Paul Danquah), against the backdrop of Salford's industrial skyline. Adapted from Shelagh Delaney's 'kitchen sink' play, the film shows a British working class teenager struggling to cope with an alcoholic mother. The film broke new ground at the time, showing a mixed-race affair, an illegitimate baby and a gay man who set up home with mother and child.

Black and Asian people faced varying degrees of hostility and racial prejudice in postwar Britain. During the 1950s, non-white immigration increased considerably, mainly from the Caribbean, India and Pakistan. The British Nationality Act of 1948 gave all Commonwealth citizens free entry into Britain, and in the same year the ss Empire Windrush brought almost 500 West Indians from Jamaica, all intent on starting new lives in Britain. During the Second World War, thousands of Caribbean men and women served in the armed forces and had been brought up to regard Britain as 'the mother country'. However, their reception on arrival was mixed and many people suffered open racism.

Surveys conducted in the mid-1960s revealed that four out of five British people felt that 'too many immigrants had been let into the country'. In 1968, the politician Enoch Powell made his so-called 'Rivers of Blood' speech, to a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham.  Powell referred to a member of the public who wanted to emigrate, saying 'in this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man'. Powell advocated a reduction of immigration and encouragement for people to return to the countries from which they had come. He also pointed out the differences between Britain and America, where the African American population had its roots in slavery.

Although racism in postwar Britain took on a very different form, many of the relationships of power and status based on colour had their origins in slavery and colonisation under the British Empire. The legacies of that period are still evident in institutional racism that continues today.

This information was provided by curators from Manchester Art Gallery.

© 1961 Woodfall Films Ltd.
All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of MGM CLIP+STILL


You can view responses to this image from A Taste of Honey by going to the interactive artwork Chained Reactions.