WHY BRITAIN HAS NO COLOR PROBLEMYET
Despite reports of race riots, three hundred thousand newcomers from Asia, Africa, and the West Indies are largely untouched by discrimination. Here is hoiv brown men and women live in the U. K. today
LESLIE F. HANNON Maclean's overseas editor
“IF A FASCIST is a person who wants to keep Britain white then I am a fascist and proud of it.” The speaker is Colin Jordan, a Coventry schoolteacher who styles himself national organizer of the White Defense League. With the country’s traditional chief bigot. Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, apparently running out of vitriol at sixty-four, Jordan is taking over the campaign to create a color problem and foment race hatreds. Meanwhile, he is permitted to carry on teaching social studies to Coventry children.
Seldom can any controversy in Great Britain be described in black-and-white terms. It's true, for instance, that some thousands of Britons who wouldn’t touch Jordan with a Thames barge-pole also believe there is a color problem here and that the government should do something about it. A hard core of Conservative backbenchers are. in fact, currently trying to force Prime Minister Harold Macmillan into putting some kind of obstacle in the way of colored British subjects who may wish to come and work in the United Kingdom. Macmillan is standing firm.
Millions of other Britons carry on as before, drinking their bitter, playing the pools, and being elaborately helpful to the colored chap they find bewildered in the Tube or getting started on the production line. The black conductor on the rush-hour bus in London’s Oxford Street — or in a dozen other cities — drawls “Full up” and the surging white commuters left on the curb take their foot off the step and mutter, “Oh, sorry.” In hospitals all over the country, patients take their medicine from colored nurses with only the routine fuss — in one Bristol hospital, twenty-five percent of the nurses are colored. In Birmingham alone, nine West Indian doctors are treating all comers under the NHS. There isn’t an apartheid restaurant or hotel in London, that I know of.
If a color problem that Americans, and many Canadians, would recognize doesn't exist here, then what is the current fuss about? And, since the ingredients are at hand, why isn't there a sizeable problem of familiar pattern? What is the British secret?
Answers to these questions are hard to come by, and once gathered must be tested for hypocrisy on one hand and oversensitivity on the other. In the first place, the reporter is told at the Commonwealth Relations Office, the Colonial Office and the Home Office that "no statistics or documents are available on the basis of race or color” — officially in Britain these conditions don’t exist. To a Canadian this jingle recalls the “recorded announcement” one gets when dialing a recently altered telephone exchange.
The facts are in those repositories, of course; you just have to ask for them the right w'ay. For instance: “How many colored people have
come to the United Kingdom since the war?” Answer: “There are no statistics on the basis of race or color. ...” Question: “How many citizens of the West Indies, Pakistan. India and the African territories?” Answer: about 300.000. Of this total. 175,000 are West Indians, 75.000 are Indians or Pakistanis, and the remaining 50.000 are from Africa. Malaya, Ceylon.
The root of this gentle flummox lies in the idealistic and admirable British Nationality Act. 1948. under which entry to the United Kingdom is the incontestable right of any person who holds citizenship in any British colony or commonwealth country. Well aware that it alone among the "British family” holds to this ideal, the United Kingdom government (with clear parliamentary Labor support) believes it should continue to set the perfect example. It gets a helping hand from India and Pakistan — both countries have made passports harder to get for would-be emigrants. The African countries don’t pose any kind of problem in this field — nearly all their migrants are students, and are warmly welcome. The focus, is on the West Indies.
Last year, an estimated 49.500 West Indians entered the United Kingdom, a sharp jump from the 1959 intake. Also. I960 was the third year in a row in which the U. K. recorded an excess of immigrants over emigrants.
So many reports sent back to North America by correspondents have used the Notting Hill race and color riots as a jumping-off point that many Canadians might well believe such outbreaks are common, and that they truly reflect w'hite public sentiment, however much it is normally suppressed. The crime files at the Home Office put the thing in perspective.
In August 1958 the police made 180 arrests in Notting Hill, an overcrowded section of the royal borough of Kensington popular with West Indian immigrants. The most serious charge laid was that of carrying an offensive weapon (often, a bicycle chain). There were no deaths. Damage to property consisted mainly of broken house windows. Eventually, nine English youths
— most of them with previous records — were given four-year prison sentences, and a further five given shorter terms. In nearly three years since then, years in which the West Indian population has increased by fifty percent, there has been no similar outbreak.
THE ECONOMICS OF A RIOT
I asked a Jamaican who was involved in the Notting Hill fracas, and who has since brought his girl friend from home and married her. what touched off the scrapping. “It was the teddy boys hanging around the caffs,” he said. “They wouldn’t work and so they had no money. Our boys had enough money to take girls to the pictures. The white girls preferred us to the teds
— and they couldn’t take it.” I put this homely analysis to several of the Whitehall authorities involved. “Why not?” one of them answered.
“It’s as sensible as anything else I’ve heard.”
The years since Notting Hill have, in fact, been more marked by swinging bands than swinging fists. Saturday night dances where black and white mix freely are being held up and down the country wherever job opportunities have draw n sizeable colored groups. '1 he socials are mostly sponsored by West Indian. Pakistani or Indian societies in cities like Birmingham, Leeds. Bristol. Bath, Nottingham. Sheffield and Liverpool or by English welfare or good-works organizations. Natural West Indian exuberance, and the delight in a merciless drumbeat, must put heavy pressure on the tolerance of neighboring English families whose idea of a good time is to sit in dignified gloom watching the telly.
THEY’LL ACCEPT ANY JOB
But the people who sincerely believe Britain has a color problem — men like Tory MP Cyril Osborne — have more solid grounds for their fears. They could be summarized under three headings: I, housing; 2. employment; 3, miscegenation. One and two are openly discussed. but No. 3 is seldom mentioned directly.
In the great cities, the colored migrants live mostly where you’d expect to find them — in the slums. On the lowest step of the wage ladder — few' earn more than thirty dollars a week — and fiercely determined to save, they pay an average of $4.20 a week to share a room, or between $5.60 and $6 for a private room. They go where they’re welcome, and they'll accept anything — a world-wide pattern among those who earn low' wages.
I went to High Wycombe, a pleasant booming town in the Chilterns, halfway between London and Oxford, to get a fresh and different view. In the Red Lion Hotel, where Disraeli made his first political speech. I talked to D. K. Griffith, a busy young lawyer who is president of the High Wycombe Overseas Peoples' Consultative Council. (This jawbreaking tag itself illustrates one way the British get around the color issue.)
The town — and the whole of Buckinghamshire — has increased in population by twenty percent in the last ten years as a result of the mushrooming of light industry from London. With its adjacent rural area. Wycombe now supports nearly 100.000 people. Twelve hundred of these are West Indians, mostly from St. Vincent. They work mainly at unskilled jobs in the furniture factories for which the town is famous, in electrical and pneumatic tool plants, in paper mills on the Wye. Trying to get the West Indians decently housed and integrated in what remains, in essence, a market town in the English countryside is the prickly job undertaken by Griffith’s council, backed strongly by the mayor. Bernard Brine.
High Wycombe has also attracted about 400 Pakistanis, and—as is the general rule in Britain —the eastern migrants are more sophisticated, better educated and
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Continued from page 19
Why Britain has no color problem — yet
Many housewives still “don i feel quite right” about having a colored lodger in the spare room
more thrifty than the western islanders. Pakistanis now own dozens of the town’s older houses and they let rooms to the West Indians, often packing them in greedily. Earlier this year the public health officer, after several warnings, pulled a Pakistani. Umrao Singh Srao, into court for permitting overcrowding in his six-roomed house. Inspectors had found twenty people sleeping in the place. Srao was fined $14. a moderate sum considering his rental income must have been running around $225 a month for a house that cost him less than $6,000. Even so, the prosecutor went to pains to make it clear the town was “not discriminating at all between the different nationalities.”
Far from it. Griffith told me the borough can afford to build council houses (Britain’s label for subsidized rental housing) at the rate of only a hundred a year, and there are hundreds on the waiting list. But married colored migrants are offered a place on the waiting list as soon as they fulfill the threeyear residential qualification. One West Indian couple, with eight children, already have a council house.
A white laborer moving into High Wycombe would not be treated differently. and would earn about the same money, but he would certainly have a better chance of Finding board with a white family. Having a lodger in the spare room has been a British institution virtually since the industrial revolution but millions of untraveled, unsophisticated British housewives still “don’t feel quite right” about having a black man in the house, even though they’d dearly like to have his thirty boh a week. When time and familiarity wear that “feeling” away — only a fanatic would see it as a concrete prejudice — the housing problem of colored single persons, at least, will be solved.
It’s easier to study the critics’ fear that allowing the unlimited entry of migrants is akin to deliberately giving the country an unemployment problem. They can, and often do, maintain that the question of color doesn’t come into the argument; they’d be seeking restrictions even if Canadian or Australian laborers were streaming in. West Indian leaders in London say this is sheer hypocrisy, and ask that the restrictionists he honest enough to admit that it’s not the issue of more immigrants that’s bothering them, but more colored immigrants.
At the end of February, after the midwinter “slump.” the unemployment figure in the U. K. was 1.7 percent of the total working force of a little over 23 millions. By Canadian standards, that’s full employment. (It includes, for instance, apart from chronic unemployables, married women workers who are taking three months out to have a baby.) It’s obvious, then, that the workers among the 300,000 colored immigrants who have arrived in Britain since the war have been absorbed without displacing white labor and have, indeed, made a notable contribution to Britain’s exhilarating postwar recovery. A very specific contribution, on analysis: the West Indians, and the Pakistanis and Indians to some degree, have been de-
lighted to take dirty jobs, noisy jobs, repetitive dead-end jobs, graveyard shifts, that many white workers in the changing class structure here now feel to be beneath them.
Dev Muraraka. a freelance journalist from Calcutta who has been in England for six years, gave me a graphic picture of the Indian migrants’ determination to succeed. He took as an example the rubber-factory workers around Slough, Bucks. They come mostly from the small towns in the Punjab, or Gujarat. They may have sold the few square yards of family land, or all their few possessions, to make up the steerage fare. A whole village may have chipped in to send a young man voted “most likely to succeed.” At home, says Muraraka, caste harriers are still practically (insurmountable, and a low-caste youth wouldn’t
have a chance in a million of accumulating enough capital to lift himself and family into the banai, the small-merchant
Even before he left he may have fallen victim to Indian con men from the cities who tour the small towns offering to fix passports for a fee. Last year, the Home Office reluctantly but firmly sent seven hundred heartbroken Indians home from the Bradford area when it was discovered their passports (their only proof of Indian birth ) were phony.
Once in Slough, the young man from the sleepy reed-hut village finds himself working in clangor and stink, freezing even in the mild F'nglish winter, choking down canteen food that is tasteless to his curried palate, adrift in religion and often in language, bewildered by the endless paperwork of a welfare state, most likely without women after years of assuming sex to be a natural delight, but — and above all — seeing the balance mount, however slowly, in his post-office savings book.
He has set his sights on an amount somewhere between $1,500 and $2.500— “that’s an awful lot of money in an Indian village,” says Muraraka — and he’s prepared to work ten grinding years to make it. Then he’ll sail home and, maybe, open a two-man bicycle repair business.
This is the kind of drive that has been injected into the British economic structure at the lowest level by the colored migrants. The Mauritian sweeping Down-
ing Street is dreaming of opening a tailor’s shop in Curepipe.
Do the big trade unions give the black man a fair shake? I enquired at the Trades Union Congress and heard again that, in Britain, there was no distinction drawn in race or color. The basic union rule was "last in. first out” in layoffs. "Of course.” 1 was told, "some employers still feel that if there is a labor redundancy, they have to look after our chaps (whites) first.” I heard of one case that had all the earmarks of an artful dodge. At a certain auto plant, colored workers suddenly found themselves switched to different departments for no apparent reason. A week or two later, there came wholesale layoffs and. under the last-in-first-out rule, the colored workers were fired.
West Indians maintain that in some industries—transport for one—the unions have entered into clandestine agreements with the employers that only certain quotas of colored labor will be hired.
Trying to check these stories at the TUC. I bounced around from secretary to secretary* with hot-potato questions in England, the reporter often gets involved in this telephone game of who-gives-upfirst) before being told, in imitationOxford, that the TUC had no knowledge of such practices.
in the total West Indian working force in the U. K. last February, between three and four percent were unemployed — twice the national percentage. This added lip to 7,000 West Indian unemployed. 4.000 of them in the London area. At the end of that month, the number of job vacancies on the books of the Ministry of Labor was no fewer than 290.237 — at least fifty percent of those for unskilled labor. London Transport alone, bus and tube, needed more than 5.000 men and women. Every newspaper here has pages
of classified job offers every day; even the High Wycombe weekly Free Press had two full pages when I was there.
Why don’t the employers take the small surplus of West Indians? This question opens the door to a torrent of controversy. too much of it emotional. The West Indians shout about discrimination; others cite the irresponsibility of the islanders, their lack of even the most rudimentary technical skills. Some employers, never named but perhaps more honest than others, simply let it be understood at the labor exchanges that they don’t want "darkies.” Yet. in High Wycombe, a placement clerk at the Ministry of Labor told me that he had colored men coming in who refused to take out national assistance (dole) papers, stating they hadn't come four thousand miles to live off English taxpayers.
Even admitting to near-total ignorance in economics, it’s hard to see a black peril to Britain’s full-employment society for many years ahead. Last year’s record total of 49.500 West Indian immigrants—forty percent of them, by the way. women and children—is bound to taper off. The total population of the West Indies is less than three and a half millions. The cost of the fare to Britain is out of the reach of the great majority of workers. The West Indies Commission in London has already reported back to the federal government in Port of Spain that employment prospects in Britain "are not likely to be as rosy as they have been.” The ending of compulsory military training in Britain and the increasing number of schoolleavers were quoted as factors.
There can be no question that Britain, in a reversal of her historic role, is now a net importer of human beings. In I960, 108.000 Britons emigrated to commonwealth countries; from all sources, 230,-
000 came in. Colored spokesmen here are quick to point out that white skins are the great majority in this influx. Seventy thousand Irish, for instance, entered the U. K. last year, most of them single jobseekers: another 40.000 came in from European countries without benefit of commonwealth privilege.
With a whimsy not entirely devoid of bite, the West Indies Commission offers statistics on white emigration to the West Indies as evidence of their lack of color bias. The most recent yearly figures from Jamaica show that of 2.600 accepted immigrants. 2.371 were British. A spokesman proceeded to calculate that Jamaica, with its population of 1.650.000. was accepting British whites at the rate of 14 per 10.000 inhabitants while the reverse flowamounted to only 4 per 10.000 U. K. population.
What part does the bogy of miscege-
nation play in the current fears? I haven’t heard the subject discussed directly in the last six months, hut one feels it lurking just underneath the surface. Some of the big-circulation papers—the Daily Mirror and the weekend People, for instance— give pointed news-headline treatment to mixed marriages when celebrities are involved. Last year’s marriage of Sammy Davis Jr. and Mai Britt was a good illustration—Davis is very popular here, particularly with the café-society group that used to be called the Princess Margaret Set. But there were no fulminations from the pulpit: nor did the event prompt any ethnological or sociological papers on the future awaiting halfcaste children.
A London shopgirl who married Prince Henry, brother of the Kabaka of Buganda. told her story of woe in the columns of The People when Henry cut her adrift a few months ago. Nobody
seemed to care one way or the other. Seretse Khama’s earlier marriage to a white girl, and Sir Stafford Cripps’s daughter’s marriage to a black man, certainly caused eyebrows to lift but, generally speaking, the couples have been left decently alone to work out their destinies.
Again, there are no race or color definitions in British marriage statistics, but a report published for the Family Welfare Association says that intermarriage has not proved to be nearly as common as many feared when the influx of West Indians got under way in 1954. The association thinks its studies indicate that the racial origin of the individuals is immaterial to success or failure of marriage. When a mixed marriage does fail, of course, there’s a tendency to assume it failed for color reasons. It is noticeable, says the report, that Englishwomen who have married colored men are prepared to stand by their husbands to a much greater extent than are West Indian women. When Norman Woodley, a West Indian jazzman, was fined in London in February for carrying a weapon, his wife —sister to the heir of a barony—spoke up in his defense.
The association quotes the case of a West Indian and an Englishwoman who have been happily married for twenty-five years, in spite of some long periods of unemployment. They have raised three children, one of whom is a registered nurse, another a forestry expert — the third is still at school.
A smiling young African from Sierra Leone worked off on me an adaptation of that hoary gag: “Oh. the English are all right—but I wouldn’t want my sister to marry one.” The Family Welfare Association knows of instances where the parents or sponsors of students from India. Pakistan and Africa have cut off their financial support on learning that the student had married a European woman.
Compared with other races, the West Indian has, traditionally, taken marriage lightly. Some of the welfare tangles concerning the support of common-law wives and illegitimate children have turned some British civil servants grey before their time. A few West Indian wives have accused Englishwomen of stealing their husbands. One irate wife told the Family Welfare: “These white women are breaking up a lot of decent West Indian homes because they won’t leave our men alone.” Another deserted wife wanted the govern-
ment to deport a German girl who had captured her husband’s fancy.
In the middle of February, Conservative MP Cyril Osborne (with support mainly from Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth) tried once more to force the government into restricting the flow of immigrants “irrespective of race, color or creed.” In moving a private bill, he maintained that public opinion was strongly in favor of some control. Colored immigrants were causing grave social problems, and he feared more unemployment might develop in the motor cities. His Conservative colleague, Nigel Fisher, promptly accused him of “firing the latest shot in his six-year campaign against commonwealth immigration.” The motion, said Fisher, constituted a deliberate, unimaginative and defeatist evasion of the whole problem of race relations—one of the greatest problems of the second half of the century. The official reply came from the undersecretary of the Home Office, D. L. M. Renton. He said immigration had not created new social problems — it had increased existing ones. It had not created a danger to public health. On the whole, the immigrants were law-abiding. “It is inconceivable,” Renton said, “that Britain will ever legislate to discriminate on grounds of race, color or creed.” He promised that the government would consider what had been said. To a background of cheers, he asked that Osborne’s motion be gracefully withdrawn.
Whatever the final outcome of the agitation at Westminster, it’s quite unlikely that the great mass of the steady, stolid British will be stampeded into believing they have a color problem. They quietly rejoice, and marvel, at the Queen’s triumphant tour of the colored commonwealth. They haven't forgotten that her hosts were often men they were once taught to regard as dangerous revolutionaries.
A correspondent of the BBC magazine. The Listener—one T. C. Walster, of Dartford, Kent—took off into poesy recently to express his feelings on the subject. He quoted Andrew Marvell:
The world in all doth but two nations bear—
The good, the bad; and these mixed everywhere.
Few Britons, pint of bitter raised and one foot on the brass rail, would put it quite that way. But that’s what they think, nevertheless. ★