- 'This is Staffordshire not Alabama': Racial Geographies of Commonwealth Immigration in Early 1960s Britain
- Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
- Volume | Issue number
- 42 | 4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH)
In the 1964 general election, the English town of Smethwick outside Birmingham became infamous for the unprecedented way in which issues of immigration, race and racism entered British national politics. Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths captured the Smethwick seat in Parliament from long-standing Labour MP Patrick Gordon Walker, aided by the slogan ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour’—a watershed episode soon overshadowed by the rise of Powellism in the late 1960s. Debates between Griffiths, his supporters and his opponents in the early to mid-1960s about the local and national implications of ‘coloured’ immigration (particularly of Indian Sikhs) from the Commonwealth and the legacy of empire drew upon a densely entangled set of global reference points that went beyond a ‘multi-racial’ Britain being reshaped by its ‘multi-racial’, postcolonial Commonwealth. Racist rhetoric, as well as an increasingly assertive anti-racist activism by the Indian Workers' Association and other groups, turned to analogies ranging from Nazi Germany to apartheid South Africa and racial segregation in the United States, as well as to protest techniques inspired by Gandhi in colonial India and African Americans in the civil rights movement. In Smethwick c. 1964, the global met the local, illuminating transnational flows of people and ideas about race and cultural diversity nonetheless contingent upon their time and place.
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