Happy faces of every colour

“In fifteen or twenty years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to Parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General’s Office. There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of five to seven million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London…

“…We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some fifty thousand dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre…

“…As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’.”

The extract above from my book, Beyond the Last Hill, is fact within a fictional story.  In 1968, politician Enoch Powell’s speech gathered up all the racist hysteria in Britain and handed it a legitimacy. The shorthand for those last quoted words was that he was predicting “Rivers of Blood”. The impact on the public shock gauge was somewhere just short of scientific evidence that the world was going to end.

It was at a time of mass immigration from the West Indies and Africa. And that was no invasion. Union power was bringing British industry down. Overmanning in heavy industry meant there were too few indigenous workers in the bottom-end jobs like hospital porter and bus conductor. Britain went on a Commonwealth recruitment drive and many thousands from the West Indies and Africa accepted the invitation.

They arrived in the old country only to meet rampant prejudice, signs on boarding houses saying “no blacks” and race riots in the streets.

As an Englishman, I am delighted to say that is all in the past. It won’t take you long to spot a black person hand in hand with a white and an Asian joking with an eclectic mix of others. Not long ago, I saw about 20 people waiting at a bus stop. There were turbans and burqas among them. Nobody’s eyebrows twitched. Those people saw themselves as equals.

I don’t deny that there are pockets of racism in this country and sometimes it is really nasty, but it’s the exception, not the norm. On the whole, Britain is a content melting pot,

How did we make the transition from bigotry to acceptance? I think there are three reasons:

1 – During the 1950s and 60s,  there was a shock wave. A country with few blacks and Asians started seeing them on every street. it caused the confusion and alarm that always comes with mass immigration. As the years have rolled on, the Brits have re-discovered their usual tolerance and acceptance.

2 – The magnificent success of the immigrants.  Most of them came here for menial jobs, but many of them and their descendants have pushed themselves up the ladder, making it unsurprising to see an ethnic mix in high-profile roles.

3 – Our welfare state – designed to treat everybody equally in housing, healthcare and education. It automatically jumbles people up, so that there are few white or black ghettos.

My profound sympathies to all those immigrants who suffered so badly in the early days. I’m so glad it’s better for you now.

 

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