The construction of racial difference in twentieth-century Britain: The special restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925

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Abstract

In the course of the past several decades, scholars have exposed Black people's long history of life and work in Britain, but their approaches to racial conflict have slighted the historical contingency of racial difference itself. Black workers have been presented as logical, visible scapegoats in an otherwise homogeneous working class, and interracial hostility as an ineluctable product of economic or sexual competition between two mutually exclusive and naturally antagonistic groups of working men. Scholars examining Black people's experience in Britain under the rubric immigrants and minorities have placed particular emphasis on racial conflicts, xenophobia, and prejudice, which they see as evidence of traditions of intolerance widespread in British society. Such interpretations leave unchallenged the assumption that racial or ethnic hostility is latent in social relations, resurfacing in any crisis. Whatever the intentions of their authors, such assumptions can all too easily be used to justify rather than to combat conflict and exclusion. Intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, moreover, are not explanations for racial or ethnic conflict: in themselves they require explanation. In focusing on attitudes, and behaviors, these works neglect to examine the structural underpinnings of popular racism and xenophobia - in particular the ways that Black and white working people were positioned in relation to each other within a system also riven by class, gender, skill, and other power dynamics. What many scholars have taken for granted, indeed, is the objective or fixed quality of racial difference itself and its inexorably divisive effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-98
Number of pages45
JournalJournal of British Studies
Volume33
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 7 1994

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xenophobia
twentieth century
prejudice
tolerance
scapegoat
ethnic conflict
working class
contingency
Social Relations
racism
neglect
exclusion
immigrant
minority
worker
interpretation
gender
history
evidence
economics

Cite this

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