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‘H. and I are going to rebel’

Angelique Richardson

Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents, published on behalf of the Home Office, ‘approved by ministers’ and retailing at £12.99, is ‘the only official handbook on which the Life in the UK test is based’. Last week the Historical Association published an open letter – signed so far by more than 350 historians – pointing out that the handbook is ‘fundamentally misleading and in places demonstrably false’. Five immigration lawyers have detailed further disturbing omissions. Some of the most misleading passages date only from the third edition, of 2013. No people of colour in the colonies or the UK are mentioned apart from Sake Dean Mahomed, who co-founded England’s first curry house in 1810. The handbook provides clear detail on the constitution, but the past it presents is both whitewashed and devoid of the work of decades of revisionist history. Anyone applying for British citizenship (in the year to March 2020, 165,693 people) will have had to commit this to memory to pass the test.

I took a practice test. I was asked to locate the Cenotaph, identify some flags of the Union, and name the country of which roast beef is a traditional food. In the Victorian age, the handbook says, ‘Britain increased in power and influence abroad,’ calling to mind a phrase I encountered in a history text book at school in the 1980s: Britain was the ‘policeman of the world’. It had seemed arrestingly strange to me, even in primary school.

My father had arrived at Tilbury Dock in the summer of 1953 to find the Britain he had left Sri Lanka to help rebuild festooned with ‘No coloureds, no Irish, no dogs’. As the children of an English mother and a Sri Lankan father, my brother and I routinely experienced racial violence and abuse. Holidays, weekends and rainy days offered respite; it was easier to be invisible among books and comics during indoor playtime; playgrounds were the real spaces of tyranny and ‘free speech’, under the supervision of teachers who actively failed to intervene.

The white South African woman who taught reception had sat me on her lap on my first day and asked the other, white children to guess where I was from. I couldn’t imagine what they would say: with the exception of a few trips to the seaside and to the Perivale paint factory where my parents worked, and my father was a shop steward, I’d never been much beyond High Wycombe. But I recall the fusillade of place names that followed, before the silence set in. Later, my reports of racist attacks were dismissed as tale-telling, so I learned to do nothing (schools now call this ‘resilience’).Oxford in the 1990s was better, though the woman in the room next to mine informed me, politely, shortly after I arrived, that I was not an English rose.

The Life in the UK handbook boasts that Britain ‘became the largest empire the world has ever seen’ with railways ‘built throughout’, producing ‘more than half of the world’s iron, coal and cotton cloth’ (nothing on who provided the labour and who died doing so, or where the cotton came from) while reformers ‘led movements to improve conditions of life for the poor’. It goes on to say that ‘some people began to question whether the Empire could continue’ but gives no information on colonial resistance or movements for independence, or the work of Black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano, Joseph Knight and Samuel Sharpe (or if anyone questioned whether it should continue).

The mother country is presented as an idyllic haven in which colonised people were welcome to ‘live, work and study’. In the South African War, ‘the Boers fought fiercely’; no reference is made to the British scorched earth policy or use of concentration camps. There is no mention of the Aliens Act of 1905, aimed largely at Jews and the Chinese, or of the eugenics movement (one of Britain’s exports). Early 20th-century Britain had ‘an expansive Empire’ and ‘well-admired navy’. There is no reference to the EmpireWindrush, or the Windrush compensation scheme, or to migration from Africa after the Victorian period.

The ‘complex laws’ of cricket ‘are said to reflect the best of the British character and sense of fair play’. We are told that ‘the great majority of British people believed in the Empire as a force for good in the world’ and that its end was, for the most part, ‘orderly’. As the immigration lawyers note, hundreds of thousands if not millions of people died in the Partition of India, millions more were brutally displaced, and tens of thousands of Kenyans were tortured, maimed or killed in the British counter-insurgency campaign in the 1950s; millions have been rendered effectively stateless, including Tamils in Sri Lanka, Palestinians, and South Asians who had settled in East Africa as British subjects; and borders imposed without consent continue to cause conflict in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Women of all ethnicities are erased. Nine ‘notable’ white writers across two centuries are listed. Only two women, Austen and Rowling, are included. There’s no mention of the Brontës, Gaskell, Eliot, the bestselling New Women of the 1890s, Monica Ali, Andrea Levy, Malorie Blackman, Patrice Lawrence or Zadie Smith. Benjamin Zephaniah and Hanif Kureishi are also omitted. There is alignment here with the shrinking English and history syllabuses in British schools, with To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible removed from GCSE English under Michael Gove. In a more general section on literature, nine writers, all white, are named; the only women are Agatha Christie and Hilary Mantel. In a reference to British poets, fifteen are mentioned. Only one is a woman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who appears not as she styled herself, but with Barrett, her given surname, erased (she is also omitted from the index, unlike her husband). There are quotations from six, including Kipling. All are white men.

Kazuo Ishiguro, who left Japan for England when he was five, and V.S. Naipaul, who left Trinidad and Tobago for England when he was 18, are not included among the British writers who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is the story of white men, but even here the handbook is far from inclusive. Thomas Hardy, who spoke out, always, for the oppressed and voiceless, is referred to as a rural writer, appealing to nostalgia for a timeless pastoral; nothing is said of his opposition to, and poems against, the South African War, his anti-imperialism, and his insistence that if there must be patriotism, then it should apply to the whole world.

On Radio 4’s Any Questions last month, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps (who in 2015 had resigned as international development minister amid claims he failed to act on allegations of bullying), sought repeatedly to shift the focus from Black Lives Matter to a triumphalist narrative of British abolitionism, in an attempt to absolve Britain from past and present racism and state abuse. He spoke insistently over Paulette Simpson, the deputy chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, as she pointed out that Britain had been late to the campaign against slavery, as it had been late in condemning apartheid and was late in responding to Covid-19 and its disproportionate effects on people of colour. Shapps went on to namecheck Asian members of the cabinet, as if that could dispel any notion of structural racism, and spoke hazily of Britain’s ‘diversity’, ‘equality’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘civilisation’.

Earlier this month, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff and Amy R. Wong called for academics to challenge the structural racism of Victorian Studies, a field that is, they point out, ‘almost entirely white’. In the UK as well as the US, we need more scholars of colour, and we need experts of all ethnicities to speak out, publicly, against the whitewashing and erasing of history, and the historical fictions of the state.

I began studying the 19th century in a bid to understand the origins of the violent racism that had characterised life (for me) on a housing estate, not for the apolitical aesthetic (as if there were there such a thing) which I’m told from time to time by non-Black scholars should underpin the study of literature. I was drawn, too, to Emily Brontë’s ‘H. and I are going to rebel’ – a rebellion across class, race and gender allegiances. Until we appeal to the intellect and imagination of children of colour, with histories that speak to their lived realities, we are unlikely to find them as our students or colleagues. With mobility in schools and universities going backwards, and child poverty increasing, the struggle that lies ahead is likely to be long.


Comments


  • 31 July 2020 at 12:55pm
    Sebastien Neilson says:
    This test and accompanying handbook are the worst kind of infantile drivel.

    My mother (French but with a degree in English) has lived in England for over 25 years and worked for the UK police force for over a decade as a translator (the English not being the most linguistically gifted).

    One of the more subtle and insidious results of the brexit vote and it’s impact on the institutions of state is that her employer (ultimately the home office) insisted she obtain British citizenship. My mother therefore had to take this test - and was charged for the privilege.

    I am not sure about the definition of ‘fair play’ and ‘fairness’ that seems to be in vogue as a determining feature of a unique British character but the exhorbitant charges levied by the home office make an absolute mockery of the claim.

    Insisting a resident of quarter of a century and employee for a decade sit such an insulting test really gives a small flavour of the mean spirited pettiness that characterises the dominant aspect of contemporary Englishness.

    I wish I had the bottle to emigrate and congralute any who make the move so that England may feel what it is like to being on the recieving end of a brain drain for once

    • 31 July 2020 at 6:47pm
      Squeeth says: @ Sebastien Neilson
      "Fair play" and "tolerance" were constant themes of British war propaganda, except for the giant turd dropped on it, when neutral opinion was being courted with productions like Henry V, by Eric Williams. I'm still laughing.

  • 31 July 2020 at 1:21pm
    Sebastien Neilson says:
    Having read the damn handbook I should also add that the criticism of the writer and the critics cited are spot on.

  • 31 July 2020 at 7:58pm
    Pottery Barn says:
    Britain ‘festooned with ‘No coloureds, no Irish, no dogs’’. Really? Where are the photographs? Isn’t this an urban cliché that came in with Johnny Rotten’s unreliable autobiography (1993)?

    The attitudes were real enough — but why would landlords risk a brick through the window from coloureds or the reputedly even-more-feral Irish?

    I believe the repellent description of Life in the U- K- however. The Home Office could comprehensively revise their handbook to include (say) Charles II and the Royal African Company, and Constantine v Imperial Hotels Ltd [1944] KB 693, including David Low’s Evening Standard cartoon of 7 September 1943. (It’s a guess they’re not already there.)

    • 2 August 2020 at 4:06pm
      ChrisT says: @ Pottery Barn
      I’m amazed that some readers of the LRB are disturbed, perhaps even angered by the use of the word ”festooned “to describe the level of anti-Irish and anti-Caribbean window messaging of British landlords in the 1950s. Over the years I’ve listened to hundreds, better be careful here, a great many, television, radio and newspapers interviews where Irish and Caribbean new arrivals have told their stories ofsearching for accommodation, all referring without exception to their difficulty and referencing these signs. This alongside experiencing; abuse, violence, prejudice at work, denial of promotion and a multitude of other prejudices ingrained in white British society.
      I will admit that I have not seen a photograph where an entire
      English street has this aggressive racist message in its windows , but my experience leads me to believe as a white Brit, that there are many, many streets today with those views, though prohibited by law now, are prevalent and effectively practiced.
      Chris Thomas

    • 2 August 2020 at 10:30pm
      James Brennan says: @ Pottery Barn
      You are lucky not to be my age. Three or four times in the early sixties, meeting none of those descriptions, I slept for a night or two on Hampstead Heath after traipsing around the streets off Haverstock Hill reading such signs in shop windows by the noticeboard load. Though I have to say my sister was once greeted with open arms by an Irish landlady as soon as she gave her name.

      Retired immigrant.


  • 1 August 2020 at 2:52am
    neddy says:
    I accept everything that's written by Ms Richardson. But my experience of British culture and civilization here in Australia is vastly different. I am German born of Russian and Polish Jews, who survived Dachau at the end of the second world war. We migrated to Australia in 1951. Australia was built primarily on the backs of British immigrants; Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh and all the other tribes. And it was built primarily with British capital. My father, a builder, helped construct the township of Elizabeth, outside of Adelaide South Australia, and multitudes of British immigrants moved there to work at the General Motors Holden factory, and the other industries that established at Elizabeth. All gone now, of course. Australia inherited the British legal and Parliamentary systems; it's education systems; it's culture and literature; it's humor and decency. I grew up with mostly British friends, in primary and high school, and at university. Australia has been exceptionally good to me and my family, my kids and grand kids, thanks to its British inheritance. My parents, who suffered at the hands of other European States and cultures, were exceptionally grateful, until their deaths, that Australia was settled and civilized by Britain. My British friends were intelligent, resourceful, exceptionally funny, energetic, loyal and accepting. My British girlfriends were terrific. I admire and enjoy British literature and comedy. I admire and enjoy its history and culture. I admire and enjoy its people. But if you hammer a person or a people hard enough and for long enough, continuously grinding them down for the sins of their fathers and mothers, overlooking their contributions and good points, then they will become demoralised and withdraw. That's what is happening now to Britain, in my view. And as a final point, as I wish to end on a positive note, no other nation produces the equivalent of the London Review of Books.

    • 1 August 2020 at 11:46am
      Joe Morison says: @ neddy
      Splendid words, neddy, thank you. Like all countries, Britain has a lot to be proud of and a lot to be ashamed of. Perhaps, because we have played such a prominent part in world history over the last few centuries, we have rather more of both than most. If a country, or person come to that, looks only at their admirable traits, they will become arrogantly unpleasant and doomed to repeat their old transgressions as well as finding new ones; but, as you say, to focus only on one’s mistakes and failings is to ultimately weaken oneself to the point of impotence and self-immolation.

      Typically, those on the right of politics tend to the error of self-aggrandizement while those on the left suffer from excessive self-reproach. And, because the two sides are so hostile to each other, any sympathy towards the others’ approach is seen as betrayal; this just pushes each side further into its own confusion. As so often, progress could best be achieved by us all listening to each other sympathetically and trying to understand the strengths of our opponents’ positions instead of just condemning them out of hand; but, in this increasingly polarized world, that is getting harder and harder.

    • 1 August 2020 at 12:24pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Joe Morison
      Having just typed that stuff about the importance of listening sympathetically to our opponents, I got a text from my elder daughter linking to this video of a truly amazing man illustrating that it is only through such dialogue that meaningful change can be achieved.

      https://youtu.be/sb9_qGOa9Go

    • 1 August 2020 at 12:43pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Joe Morison
      Whoops, wrong link (though that is also to an amazing bit of film which should be required watching for all white people).
      The link I mean to post is:

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=waVrJEIfahc

    • 1 August 2020 at 3:56pm
      Greencoat says: @ Joe Morison
      'required watching for all white people’
      At the local re-education camp, presumably. After 12 hours hard labour and some refreshing turnip soup before lights out.

    • 2 August 2020 at 10:30am
      Squeeth says: @ Joe Morison
      "We"? Where were you during Dunkirk? Justice isn't a matter semantics unless you're a politician. Failing to render a full account of the past is cowardly and dishonest. What value is there in the writer of A Clockwork Orange being English when compared to the mountains of dead built by the British empire?

    • 3 August 2020 at 11:30pm
      Peterson_the man with no name says: @ Joe Morison
      At the root of the problem, of course, is the absurd idea, accepted unquestioningly by left, right, and centre alike, that people should feel personally responsible for things that happened before they were born. The truly depressing thing about this is that otherwise intelligent people still think that it makes sense to feel proud or ashamed of being British (or English, or European, or whatever other arbitrary geographical identity people choose to burden themselves with).

    • 4 August 2020 at 11:05am
      Reader says: @ neddy
      "Australia was settled .. by Britain." Hmmm. Really? This comment is revealing. I had heard that Australia was first settled by another group of people, who are clearly invisible to 'Neddy'. Perhaps he thinks they are just part of the natural fauna.

    • 5 August 2020 at 3:35am
      RM says: @ neddy
      The same Australia that legally classified 'non-whites' as part of flora and fauna till mid-twentieth century? And, these days, sends refugees to the horrible island I forget its name?

    • 5 August 2020 at 10:07am
      Joe Morison says: @ Peterson_the man with no name
      My head agrees with you; but being human, all too human, my heart cannot entirely see things that way. I can’t help but feel some pride in the admirable parts of this country’s past and shame for its crimes, but I agree with you that it makes no sense. I suppose it’s similar to people who support a sports team (something I’ve never had any inclination towards): they feel elation at its successes and dejection at its defeats, even though they have had nothing to do with either.

      On a broader level, I don’t think the past crimes of an institution or country in any way impose a duty on them to compensate for those crimes today. For example, I don’t think Lloyds of London owes anything to the descendants of slaves because it made a fortune out of the slave trade; I think it has a duty to all those who are poor and powerless because it is rich and powerful, and I believe we all have a duty to make the world equal. But as that principle is far too radical for such institutions, I support the moves to make them compensate because of their past involvement - getting some of the right thing for the wrong reason is better than nothing at all.

    • 5 August 2020 at 10:18am
      Joe Morison says: @ Reader
      I'm sure we've all 'heard' that Australia was first settled by another group of people, and I'm sure that Neddy as an Australian is more aware of that you or I; and as you said 'first settled', that does not effect the fact that it was later settled by the British. Your insulting suggestion that that Australia's aboriginal peoples are invisible to him has no basis in anything he wrote. Richardson's piece was about British culture, and neddy was responding to that.

    • 7 August 2020 at 3:06pm
      Reader says: @ Joe Morison
      How interesting that my comment makes you so angry. And why 'heard' in scare quotes? Perhaps you doubt it?

      As for this being an insulting suggestion, I simply took Neddy's words at face value. His statement was factually incorrect. Australia was not 'settled' by the British, the British arrived there and in many cases proceeded to exterminate the local population (and in Tasmania, succeeded so efffectively that none of the original population survived).

      I don't think this is insulting, though it might have been, had I commented - as I might well have done - that I would have expected someone who had fled the biggest genocide in modern history to be a bit more sensitive towards a people who had suffered similarly.

      Those aboriginals who survived were until very recently subjected to forced separation from their parents and education in boarding schools, the horrors of which we are only just becoming aware.

      If you find that fact uncomfortable, that is your problem not mine.

    • 9 August 2020 at 6:25am
      neddy says: @ Reader
      In my defence against the charge of racism implicit in your sneer, I taught at Adelaide's Aboriginal College in the seventies. Aboriginal society did not provide me and my family with an escape route from anti-semitic Europe; nor did Aboriginal society provide us with the quality of life we have enjoyed in Australia. British society did.

    • 10 August 2020 at 12:02pm
      Reader says: @ neddy
      The mistake you are making, Neddy, is taking this as a personal slight. I always try to address the issue, never the person. If I inadvertently gave the impression that this was an attack on you, I was wrong, and you have my full and profound apology.

      Your record of service is admirable, and you have certainly done more for the Aboriginal population than my own extensive Australian white colonist family.

      My point was that in stating that Britain had 'settled and civilized' Australia, you were helping - unintentionally - to perpetuate a myth. It would have been better had the colonists first civilized themselves.

      They - we - colonized and, where necessary, brutalized Australia. We also established a modern state with, in some ways, enlightened and highly democratic characteristics (Australia being the first nation to introduce votes for women, for instance). All this happened hand in hand with wholesale crimes and violations of human rights, including by the way the systematic abuse of British orphans sent to Australia after the war.

      Throughout this thread there has been a vein of contradiction. If we want to take credit for the good things that we ('we' being 'the British') did, we also have to accept blame for the bad things. If as one contributor wrote we should not be held to account for the crimes of a previous generation, then by the same token, it is sheer hypocrisy to claim credit for the achievements. It comes as a package. Both, or neither.

      Personally, I think we should reset the moral score card with each generation and not wallow in self-hatred for the actions of our ancestors. But neither should we then wallow in sentimental nostalgia about how virtuous they were.

      But of course, we should always learn from history.

      I note your point that Aboriginal society did not provide you with a refuge from the chaos of the war and post-war world. But neither was Aboriginal society responsible for the Shoah. In the 1930s, Britain meanly kept Jewish refugees out of Britain and out of British mandated Palestine, and as a direct result, thousands of European Jews who could have found refuge there were stranded and left to the psychopathic brutality of the Nazis. Please remember that when you praise all things British.

      You might also remember that Australia today is governed by a crew of scientifically illiterate climate-change deniers who put the profits of fossil fuel companies above the national interest and pander to the lowest common denominator of the Murdoch press. With that lot in charge, God help Australia.

    • 11 August 2020 at 4:26pm
      neddy says: @ Reader
      I accept and appreciate your clarification @Reader. It demonstrates one of the traits of British persons that I and my family enjoy and admire: their decency.

    • 13 August 2020 at 1:31pm
      Reader says: @ neddy
      And if I may, I will return the compliment.

  • 1 August 2020 at 7:08pm
    Camus says:
    Germany has been giving refugees a test consisting of 300 questions on politics, history, economics and culture since 2015, when the frontiers were were opened for thousands of refugees who have been- with some exceptions- well integrated into national life. There are 300 multiple choice questions and each candidate has to answer 30 plus 3 on the state in which they have settled. The test includes questions on the dark chapters as well as on the basics of democratic rule and the roles of the police - topics on which many refugees have had life-changing experiences. I would recommend the UK authorities to use the German test as a model for a revised test.

    • 2 August 2020 at 10:31am
      Squeeth says: @ Camus
      The test has nothing to do with migration and everything to do with discrimination.

  • 2 August 2020 at 12:09pm
    James Loxley says:
    The Life in the UK Handbook is the most peculiar thing - and this blog, just like the historians and the immigration lawyers, is right to question its distorted vision of British histories and cultures. The potted narrative in the Handbook too often reads like the kind of apologetics you used to find in a child's patriotic history book, and the whole thing needs substantial revision.

    It's worth recalling where this all came from, i.e. its origins in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002. It explicitly reflects an anxiety on the part of the then Labour government about social cohesion, and the supposed threat of immigration to that ideal. It was meant as a rite of passage to integrate applicants into 'British society', and as a language test, so questions of inclusion and exclusion inflect its every word. Which makes its monocular vision of British history even more of a problem, I think.

  • 2 August 2020 at 1:56pm
    Howard Medwell says:
    Britain “festooned with ‘no coloureds, no Irish, no dogs’”. What exactly does this familiar trope of anti-racism actually mean. That there was unashamed discrimination in housing, in particular in social housing, well into the 1980’s, is a matter of historical record. The “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” phrase presumably refers to the cards that used to advertise rooms to let, in pre-internet days, in newsagents’ windows. Here, much of the discrimination was, and would still be, legal, since anyone has the right to decide who to allow into their family home, which was the nature of most of the lettings thus advertised.
    I don’t remember the 1950’s, but I remember a card saying “no Irish” in a newsagents und Oxford, about 1967 or 8: it struck me as unpleasant, and unusual.
    Maybe the rooms themselves, or the windows of workplaces, were “festooned” with such signs. All I can say is, if you try Google Images, you will find one, which has no background to it and could be a theatre prop.
    Obviously, the thought existed, and was communicated in the private paperwork of employers and landlords for too long - it quite probably still does, if one were able to check such people’s email accounts.
    But it cannot help, if unthinking use of this trope suggests to younger people that anyone who lived in England 50, or 40, or 30 years ago spent her or his time blithely walking past, and failing to challenge the open, written expression of this vile thought.

  • 2 August 2020 at 4:24pm
    Alicia Balsells says:
    Hard work, being true and fair and honest to other people....

  • 2 August 2020 at 4:24pm
    Alices Restaurant says:
    Post-Brussels, do Brits even have a history worth noting anymore? Nonetheless, seems there were no questions about Byron's letters from Italy. Can't imagine how these were left off the test.

  • 2 August 2020 at 4:40pm
    David Uzzaman says:
    Every person constructs the narrative of their own life which while entirely truthful doesn’t reflect anyone else’s experience. My father came to Britain from India in 1948 and like the writers father experienced some prejudice but he also experienced kindness, curiosity and generosity from the majority of British people. Times were hard and rationing was still in force but he was regularly invited to share family meals with work colleagues or even people he met in the pub. I was born in 1952 and was aware of racial prejudice which probably peaked in the 1970s but has almost evaporated in the years since. Ironically today’s social warriors see racism everywhere whereas I struggle to find any. I was attacked by a group of young yobs outside a pub on Salisbury Plain in 1970 but escaped with only a knife wound to the hand. I’m sure that would be categorised as a hate crime today because of my brown skin but but I personally believe it had more to do with my squaddie haircut however that’s my narrative.

  • 2 August 2020 at 4:59pm
    Gilbert O'brien says:
    I plead guilty to not having had the foresight to carry a camera with me when in the early 60s I frequently saw handwritten signs saying ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ in ground floor windows of houses in Nottinghill Gate when I was looking for a bed sit, but the picture in my mind is as clear and repellant as it was then. Accurate too.

  • 2 August 2020 at 6:25pm
    vulpiani says:
    Of course the booklet 'Life in the UK' is semi-fictional - but it is difficult to know what purpose is served by the article written by Angelique Richardson. It does not help if fiction is opposed by alternative fictions. Britain was not 'festooned' by 'No coloureds ...' in 1953. That is a falsehood. I know. I was alive at the time. Yes, Michael Gove is an intellectual charlatan but she gets wrong the removal of the texts from the GCSE English curriculum. I was on the consultative group at the DfE that recommended their removal. Why? Because they are American texts and our aim was to provide space for more writers in these islands, the very kind of writers that Ms Richardson herself would like to see included in the curriculum. Unfortunately, her article swerves all over the place and at no point does she engage with imperialism as a global system - or anything else on a systemic level. See, for example, the strange quote from 'Wuthering Heights' to which Ms Richardson is 'drawn'. No sense there of the remarkable nature of what Emily Bronte was doing in that novel or its complexity of organisation in terms of the intellect and imagination. What is worse is that Ms Richardson ends in a manner that insults thousands of hardworking teachers. Plenty of English teachers have taught texts and used materials to appeal to 'children of colour'. Has she ever looked at the old ILEA archive, for example? Is she aware of the materials being used today even with very young children in many primary schools across England? Has she visited the schools in a London Borough such as Newham? Judging by that 'Until' in her penultimate sentence, it would seem that Ms Richardson has more in common with the authors of 'Life in the UK' than she might like to think.

  • 3 August 2020 at 12:22pm
    Kate Williams says:
    Thank you, Professor Richardson, for this brilliant essay. This is an incisive analysis of the Life in the UK handbook. As she says - no reference to who it was whose labour produced the cotton, iron etc, nothing on those people of colour who fought against Empire and slavery - the absence of Equiano, Sharpe....no wonder JRM can pronounce on QT that the Boer War concentration camps were to keep women and children safe.
    And as she points out, the literature sections are also deeply problematic - Elizabeth Barrett? Ishiguro and Naipaul don’t count as winners?
    It’s a matter of historical record that people of colour were denied rental properties. And although this is illegal now, do we really think this doesn’t happen today? People of colour are discriminated against in our society - and that includes being denied properties, particularly in certain areas. I was particularly struck by Prof Richardson’s point about schools, playgrounds and seen as ‘telling tales’ when trying to report racist attacks. That racist abuse was dismissed as teasing, banter etc did happen and is still happening. This is what Windrush children suffered - and then they grew old after a lifetime of working here and were told they would be deported. A recent Parliamentary report found that Britain was losing influence and trade connections across Africa due to the Windrush scandal and perceptions of Empire. Prominent women of colour in our society are characterised as angry/difficult and Black MPs are sent constant hate speech. Bristolians spent years trying to note that Colston was a trader in enslaved peoples on his statue and were constantly blocked. Still, we are told, he was part of ‘history’ and his statue shouldn’t have been brought down. We need to think about whose ‘history’ that is.
    Thank you Prof Richardson for this superb article.

    • 3 August 2020 at 2:00pm
      vulpiani says: @ Kate Williams
      Many people on benefits are still refused rental. It's a social class issue. And yes, the great history of radical struggles in this country should be taught in schools, along with their intertwining with radical struggles in the rest of the world. Historians such as Marcus Rediker have written brilliantly about the resistances across the Atlantic by people from various races, classes and genders who united together against imperialism and exploitation. As stated by a previous poster, we all have our personal histories. I was the child of a single parent in the 1940s and my father was an enemy soldier. My mother was from a working class family that survived before the war with no money from Wednesday each week. She received no child benefit and had to work as soon after my birth as possible. She lost her youth to the Land Army, undertaking all kinds of farm work, including in freezing weather, and alert to stray German aircraft that thought nothing of machine-gunning young women working in the fields. I too hate the statues that tell the lies about imperialism, exploitation and militarism, built by a class that viewed my English and Scottish ancestors as not far above the animals - and then there is a whole other story about my Italian peasant stock background. 'Privilege' comes in many shapes and forms and dealing with it entails a critical analysis of one's own class and gender positions, including 'race allegiance' to use Ms Richardson's curious phrase. Are you ok to do that, Ms Williams?

  • 3 August 2020 at 3:35pm
    Terry Collmann says:
    I agree with almost everything you say, except for this:

    " Until we appeal to the intellect and imagination of children of colour, with histories that speak to their lived realities, we are unlikely to find them as our students or colleagues."

    That's extremely patronising of you. As the son of white working-class parents I certainly did not and do not require histories that speak to my lived reality to engage me in history generally, and I suggest that children of colour will be extremely insulted if you insist that the history that should most matter to them is restricted to that of other people of colour.

  • 3 August 2020 at 6:07pm
    Ian Tully says:
    Only people like Michael Gove, and probably David Starkey, would think that the Handbook version of British History is anything but a rose-tinted version of English history (and it is certainly not British history as the other three nations are missing). I do feel concern however at the demands that our history is to be re-written to reflect the ethnic demographics of today rather than of the past. Those attempts to tell the history of migration to the UK in school histories have to rather shoe-horn in the tiny number of non-Europeans the further back they go with the occasional musician, royal maid-servant etc as evidence of Black presence, while the far greater numbers of migrants going back millenia from Flanders, France, and Spain are down-played.
    I understand why Black people might want to boast of composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, but he is only one of many musicians of equal quality who have been forgotten. Joseph Knight campaigned for no one but himself. While the efforts of slaves to free themselves should be given a prominent place the argument had to be won within the tiny British political class, almost entirely White bar a couple of mixed-race MPs.
    A proper history of Empire is needed, but it needs to be acknowledged that Britain did not create the divsions in those societies, although it often exploited them. Britain took sides in conflicts that had lasted long before they arrived and continue 50 years or more after we left. Often they were part of the means of acquiring Empire, Sikhs versus Hindus, versus Muslims all happy to ally with the EIC for advantager. Indian and Pakistani troops stood aside at Partition, or on occasion took part in the massacres. The British never had the numbers, even if the will, to play piggy in the middle.
    Apparently migration is a "good thing" apart from when it was part of the Empire. Racism isn't such if its Ugandan Africans versus Indians, or Black Guyanese versus Indians. Africa has made no effort to adjust its colonial boundaries, worse it has entrenched colonial language divisions across local national lines to create new divisions. All the fault of the British and no responsibilty of those who rule themselves today.

  • 4 August 2020 at 1:13pm
    Donald Raeson says:
    @Reader, the points made by Neddy are unaffected by your correct but at the same time irrelevant pedantry. Aboriginal Australians would have been virtually invisible to most immigrants of Neddy's generation, a tribute to the successful policy of marginalisation pursued by the British and their white Australian successors.

  • 6 August 2020 at 10:35am
    Koushik Banerjea says:


    Superb article which also brought back some vivid memories of growing up as an outsider in 1970s London. My dad came here in 1952. Both my parents were Partition refugees, but they reimagined what life could be in London, and in another way perhaps that's where the story of citizenship, of 'becoming' something other than just a migrant really begins. Apposite moment perhaps to also mention a book, just out, which explores, as fiction (isn't it always)
    many of those themes alluded to here: phantom history, the growing pains of multicultural Britain, the long post imperial hangover.
    The book is called 'Another kind of concrete'.
    It featured on the Robert Elms BBC radio show last Friday. Link provided at the end of this comment. Again, the bit pertaining to this discussion starts at round about the 38.26 minutes mark.
    As regards some of the more sceptical posters on here, it's true of course that there's no one unifying experience of postwar migration which adequately conveys the full gamut of lived realities, from the sharp end of prejudice to conviviality. But FFS, those signs in landlords'windows are documented! Denialism is not a good look.


    All the best,

    Koushik Banerjea


    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08kcwlh
    Sent from my Huawei phone

  • 6 August 2020 at 10:51am
    Koushik Banerjea says:
    Superb article which brought back some vivid memories of growing up as an outsider in 1970s London. My dad also came here in 1952. Both my parents were Partition refugees, but they reimagined what life could be in London, and in another way perhaps that's where the story of citizenship, of 'becoming' something other than just a migrant really begins. Perhaps fictional narratives can also be useful in this regard. Sam Selvon, Andrea Levy, Colin MacInnes.
    Typically there's a book, just out, which explores, as fiction (isn't it always)
    many of those themes alluded to in the article: phantom history, the growing pains of multicultural Britain, the long post imperial hangover.
    The book is called 'Another kind of concrete'.
    It featured on the Robert Elms BBC radio show last Friday. Link provided at the bottom of this email. Again, if it's of interest, the discussion begins at 38.26 minutes in.
    As for the more sceptical posters on here, whilst it's true that no one unifying experience of postwar migration adequately reflects the full gamut of lived realities, from violent prejudice to everyday conviviality, those signs in landlords' windows are documented! Denialism is also not a good look.

    Koushik Banerjea


    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08kcwlh
    Sent from my Huawei phone

  • 6 August 2020 at 10:44pm
    Pottery Barn says:
    The problem with Koushik Banerjea’s statement that ‘those signs in landlords' windows are documented!’ is that they’re not. Decades later it’s somehow a standard memory, but the offensive notices were neither photographed nor complained about in their era. Even reports of bricks through windows, or community unrest, are uncited.

    Apparently Clair Wills’ serious work didn’t record this phenomenon either, or later complaints. The nasty attitudes were there: isn’t that enough?

    The obnoxious message is a successful rhetorical device, including its ‘No Dogs’ finale — yet many [potential] landlords were dog-lovers. Were there ‘No Indians’ or ‘No Pakis’ or ‘No Ugandans’ notices too? Paper never refused ink.

    There’s no disagreement that ‘Denialism is also not a good look’.

    • 6 August 2020 at 11:41pm
      Koushik Banerjea says: @ Pottery Barn
      Oh dear. I guess large numbers of folks must have randomly imagined the bricked windows, the NF and earlier Keep Britain White graffiti, the signs in landlords' windows, which, curiously enough, are most certainly visually documented, as well as recalled at a visceral level by many postwar immigrants. To say nothing of racist violence and social unrest, for instance in Notting Hill as far back as 1958, and subsequently in Lewisham, Southall and far beyond the capital. None of this is disputed, whatever your view on the causes, so it's hard to see just what your point is in denying the facts on the ground. Agreed that the attitudes were toxic, but if only the racism were limited, as we were constantly being told during our childhoods by embarrassed liberals, to a 'few bad apples'. And to reiterate, denialism, on top of being a bad look, is/was/always has been a part of the problem.

  • 10 August 2020 at 1:36am
    Graucho says:
    If you haven't and get the chance to, see this film https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Swissmakers . Hopefully things have moved on since it was made.

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