The British Empire/Commonwealth. Investigating ideologies and processes of racial segregation and Othering in Britain (1950-1990)

Academic Paper, 2022

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

Introduction: Investigating the History of the British Empire

1 Britain: Racism and Racial Segregation on the basis of Othering (1950-1990)
1.1 Racism and Housing
1.2 Ethnic minorities
1.3 Racism and the Press: Fiction or Reality?
1.4 Anti-Racist Advances: The Race Relations Act British Nationality Act

2 A digression on LGBTQI+ Rights in the United Kingdom

3 Conceptualization of Othering-Terminology

4 Conclusion: Racism and Othering – an Interdependence?


Introduction: Investigating the History of the British Empire

In 1914, the British Empire was still the most powerful and extensive empire despite a novel notion of secession amongst its member states (Britannica n.d.); still, Britain had to face bigger challenges on a global scale that arose after Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia and the ensuing outbreak of World War I (Kruse 2014, 5–8). After the German invasion of Belgium¸ Britain was forced into the war, as Britain and Belgium signed a treaty in 1838 which ensured the defense of Belgium’s neutrality by the British Empire1 (Royde-Smith n.d.). The British Empire joined the war on the side of the Allied Powers2 which ultimately remained victorious in the four-year-war. The End of the First World War did not only conclude an armed conflict, but also established a new order amongst the European continent. Austria-Hungary was dissolved, the Russian Empire collapsed after the 1917 Revolution and the Ottoman Empire was partitioned according to the Treaty of Sèvres (Kruse 2014, 121–31). Especially Britain’s imperial policy was questioned in the aftermath of WW1, paralleled by a notion of secession in Ireland which later manifested in the Irish War of Independence and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (Delanoy 2021). During the so-called interwar-period – lasting from 1918 to 1939 – the British Empire was exposed to myriads of foreign problems, mostly based on dominions aspiring to (re)gain their sovereignty; in 1923, the British King George V., issued an Imperial Conference that granted dominions the custody of determining their own foreign policy (Dawson 1937, 30–34). When the Second World War broke out in 1939 – after Hitler had conquered exorbitant parts of Europe and Chamberlain’s policy of Appeasement didn’t control his aspirations – Britain’s dominions were no longer by default part of the war; however, Britain’s crown colonies3 were automatically committed to the war, based on the outcome of the 1923 Imperial Conference (Llloyd 2009, 313–16). Despite the Allied Power’s victory over Nazi-Germany, the war’s consequences on the British Empire were profound: Tremendous anti-colonialist movements spread amongst Europe, leading to myriads of independence attempts: In 1947, India and Pakistan were granted their sovereignty; By the 1960’s, the majority of the African continent was already decolonized, leaving Britain with only a small proportion of their empire’s territory. The gradual decay of the British Empire took until the 1980’s and 1990’s when Britain still “discharged” former dominions and crown colonies into independence (BBC History n.d.). Still, it has to be mentioned that the transformation from the Empire to the Commonwealth was not a process that ended on a fixed date but has to be regarded as a gradual process (BBC History n.d.).

The proseminar paper intends to research racism and racial segregation in Britain from 1950 to 1990. The research question “Racism and Othering – an interdependence?” and the hypothesis of an “intolerant Britain” ought to be elucidated based on scientific literature. The publications of van Dijk (1991), Rich (1990), Reeves (1983), McGhee (2005), Miles and Phizacklea (1979) , Gillborn (1995) as well as Edwards and Rèvauger constitute the backbone of the paper and should lay the foundation for the scientific elaboration of the aforementioned hypothesis and research question.

1 Britain: Racism and Racial Segregation on the basis of Othering (1950-1990)

1.1 Racism and Housing

When analyzing racism as related to housing, three distinct processes have to be evaluated, according to Norman Ginsburg: Racial prejudice and discrimination, policy, and administrative processes as well as national and international processes. Vendors, landlords and estate agents are directly influenced by visual appearance and background information of the apartment seeker (Ginsburg 1992, 109). This form of racism and othering manifests via racial prejudice and discrimination is solely based on racial characteristics as race, color, nationality, and ethnic origin (Ginsburg 1992, 109–10). Another dimension of racism appears through the disadvantage of black people on the housing market, titled “institutional racism”: This form of discrimination turns out to be more subtle and less overt, but still has tremendous negative effects. Institutions, such as banks or real estate agencies, would not confide in black people, because stereotypes provided that their tendencies to committing crimes were native4 (Ginsburg 1992, 110–18). The third aspect manifests as “structural racism, a phenomenon that comprises political and social disadvantages for a group of people, which then function correlative with the housing issue (Ginsburg 1992, 120–23).

1.2 Ethnic minorities

The conclusion of the Second World War in 1945 and the subsequent gradual decay of the British Empire led to a significant alternation of the social and ethnic structure. In the 1950’s, myriads of citizens migrated to Britain, originating from the African, Asian and Caribbean crown colonies and dominions. As a direct consequence of these migration movements, racism and othering have become profound problems of the Empire and its governance: The absent governmental intervention has led to the rise of a novel notion that justified racial remarks and attacks throughout the 60’s. This phenomenon of, mostly, black migration has coined Britain long term, as both, the Conservative and labor Party, only reacted to prevent the formation of an ultra-right-wing party; the containment of racial hostility amongst citizens functioned only as a favorable subsidiary effect (Reeves 1983, 93–97). Racism connected to housing functions as a paradigm for the ethnic disadvantages which migrants had to experience in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Britain: Employers refused to employ migrants or justified underpayment by racial inferiority and provided inhuman housing conditions. The liberalization of immigration laws in the 70’s and 80’s was accompanied with family reunification, leading to an even bigger social and ethnic discrepancy. Migrants were disadvantaged on the job and housing sector despite having better profiles (Modood 1998, 105–8). As late as in the 1990’s, expedient measures were taken to improve the circumstances for migrants, as the discrepancy amongst migrants had escalated: Pakistani and Bangladesh people were living in inhuman and hazardous conditions, induced by extreme poverty due to exorbitant unemployment rates. On the contrary, Indians and Caribbeans were well-integrated and were paid adequate salaries to sustain their families. Even Africans, Asians and Chinese migrants established themselves, exhibiting above-average self-employment-rates.

1.3 Racism and the Press: Fiction or Reality?

News reports and articles are strongly linked to the bias of their respective authors, therefore, carrying a certain ideological and political value or implication: van Dijk has proven in his publication (1991) that reports from 1970 to 1990 about minorities or ethnic discrepancies followed a specific schemata that was negatively connoted (van Dijk 1991, 118–20). An article from 1985 thematized the dismissal of a headmaster, who has spoken out against the principle of a multi-ethnic school. After he was reinstalled as school principal, demonstrators protested and proclaimed anti-racist measures to be taken. However, the news article rather emphasized the counterdemonstration, who spoke out for the headmaster and his beliefs (van Dijk 1991, 122–24). In the further course, the protestors were characterized as “noisy”, whilst the headmaster’s supporters were defined as “unperturbed” (van Dijk 1991, 124). Van Dijk argues that this article is heavily biased towards the headmaster’s argument, without constituting the specific situation owing to his dismissal. Instead of procuring the different opinions of the protestors, the article emphasizes the counterdemonstration – ergo the headmaster’s supporters – and their arguments, with no intent to criticize Mr. Honeyford’s5 racist notion and beliefs (van Dijk 1991, 172–73). It can be summarized that press articles depict the author’s bias or beliefs, although they ought not to: Declarations and interviews in articles covering racism are predominantly provided by white officials, whilst anti-racism protestors are neglected and seldom “interviewed and quoted” (van Dijk 1991, 174–75). Moreover, those ideological structures in texts appear in a systematic schemata, paired with rhetorical devices, a specific lexical style and selected information, to evoke a common mood amongst the reader; van Dijk adds that ethnic prejudices and stereotypes are not innate, but rather are acquired by text and talk (van Dijk 1991, 149–50)

1.4 Anti-Racist Advances: The Race Relations Act British Nationality Act

Throughout the 1980’s, Britain’s governance debated a perennial issue: racism and the corresponding anti-racist measures. The first legislative steps were taken in 1976 when the Race Relations Act was issued stating that local authorities were permitted and obligated to contain racism and unreasonable disadvantage of migrants; in parallel, the government installed the Commission for Racial Equality to supervise local administrations (Young 1992, 255–56). Across Britain, the measures were variably efficacious, as local authorities either pursued the issued anti-racist legislation or refused to do so, owing to their political conception of the world (Young 1992, 256). The aforementioned debate also comprised the nationality-citizenship issue that had last been dealt with in the British Nationality Act in 1948. The newly-issued British Nationality Act of 1981 provided that a person born in the United Kingdom was automatically granted British citizenship “if at the time of the birth his father or mother is a British citizen or settled in the United Kingdom (The National Archive 1981)”. The act facilitated – as discussed in Chapter 1.2 – family reunifications and effectuated a gradual recession of racism and othering across Britain.

2 A digression on LGBTQI+ Rights in the United Kingdom

When King Henry VIII. issued the Buggery Act of 1533, male homosexuality – formerly categorized as immoral – was criminalized and convicts were sentenced to death; a jurisdiction that remained intact until 1861 and is still enshrined in society (Dryden n.d.). In present day Britain, the situation for members of the LGBTQ+6 has improved significantly, yet many challenges for LGBTQ-people remain. When the British government issued the Civil Partnership Act in 2004, same-sex couples were – for the first time in British history – officially permitted to enter same-sex unions, granting them equal rights as married couples; nevertheless, gay – ergo homosexual – marriages are still prohibited by law in Northern Ireland (The Week 2017). Further advances were made in the adoption and family planning dimension: Until 2005, only married couples were legally allowed to adopt a child in Britain; this premise was nullified, legally enabling same-sex marriages to adopt children. In the same year, the British government issued novel jurisdictions, allowing transgender people to legally change their gender and receive a new birth certificate, which grants them full recognition as a consequence (The National Archive 2004); Yet bureaucratic, and legal challenges had to be faced, as formerly married transgender people had to get a divorce, before being able to change their gender or get remarried (The National Archive 2013).

Although the number of prosecutions of homophobic- or anti-LGBTQ crimes have fallen, the number of reported crimes has drastically increased: In 2014-15 5,807 reports of homophobic abuse were reported in the UK, a number that has increased to 13,530 reports in 2018-19. This phenomenon is paralleled by a major decline in prosecutions, a tendency based on numbers provided by the BBC in collaboration with the National Police Chiefs’ Council (Tucker, Box, and Hunte 2019). Although the legal situation for LGBTQ people has improved significantly, the real circumstances have gotten worse, as a notion of othering is still present: LGBTQ people are othered based on their different conception of gender and identity, followed by the creation of in-groups and out-groups (cf. Posratschnig, 2021).


1 In 1838, Britain, Austria, France, Germany, and Russian signed a treaty with the Netherlands and Belgium to ensure their territorial integrity. The treaty also comprised the military defense of the neutral states, should they be attacked by armed forces.

2 The Allied Powers, also referred to as “The Triple Entente”, were a military alliance led by Russia, Britain, France, and Italy (from 1915); initially, Italy remained neutral, but joined the war after being promised substantial amounts of territory of Austria-Hungary.

3 Whilst Crown Colonies were administered by the British crown, dominions were granted self-administration.

4 Ginsburg mentions other stereotypes regarding black people, such as rent arrears or degenerating apartments.

5 Mr. Honeyford is the headmaster of the aforementioned school.

6 For reasons of readability, this paper will use the initialism LGBTQ to refer to all sexualities and gender identities.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The British Empire/Commonwealth. Investigating ideologies and processes of racial segregation and Othering in Britain (1950-1990)
Klagenfurt University
Catalog Number
british, empire/commonwealth, investigating, othering, britain
Quote paper
Lucca Ventre (Author), 2022, The British Empire/Commonwealth. Investigating ideologies and processes of racial segregation and Othering in Britain (1950-1990), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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