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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
10 key moments in UK race relations
To mark the start of the UN World Conference Against Racism, we look at 10 seminal moments in UK race relations, and ask you to suggest others.

Since before slavery, black people have been living in Britain. But only in the last 50 years have blacks and Asians settled in these shores within any great number. Today they make up more than 5% of the British population.

In the intervening years, British race relations have come to be seen as perhaps the most important aspect in helping to forge a peaceful and fair society.


The arrival of the cruise ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on the morning of 22 June, 1948, marked the start of modern day mass immigration to Britain. On board were 492 Jamaicans, mostly young, single men, who had made the voyage across the Atlantic in search of work.

Empire Windrush
Stepping off the Empire Windrush, 1948
The economic depression in post-war Britain had led to a slump in trade with the Caribbean and jobs there were short. At the same time, Britain needed rebuilding and there was a shortage of labour.

The arrival of Windrush had been met with unease by some, and one MP remarked the new immigrants would be on the first boat home once the British winter set in.


In the 1960s, an MP told the House of Commons that the only sensible political debate in this country was taking place on Till Death Us Do Part. First screened in 1965, the sitcom landed like a meteor on the BBC's cosy TV schedule. It was trouncing Coronation Street by its second series, pulling in almost 20 million viewers.

Its star character was Alf Garnett, the brash, working class reactionary, described by one TV critic as "everything most hateful about our national character - xenophobic, illiberal, racist, anti-Semitic, toadying, authoritarian".

Writer Johnny Speight had meant it as a satire, but millions failed to spot the irony, preferring instead to see Garnett as a champion of the downtrodden, white, working man. Both sides saw the clear message that Britain was struggling to come to terms with immigration.


A brilliant scholar, linguist and eloquent speaker he may have been, but former Conservative minister Enoch Powell will always be remembered for his infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech in April 1968.

In the speech he warned of what he saw as the apocalyptic consequences of continued immigration of people from the Commonwealth.

His words earned him the sack as shadow defence secretary, but also roused the support of many ordinary people. Powell received 100,000 letters of backing and London dockers marched to express their agreement.


Trevor McDonald
Trevor McDonald became a favourite among TV viewers
They're only journalists perched in front of a camera, but British television audiences have always invested their trust newsreaders. In 1973, Trevor McDonald became Britain's first black newsreader, paving the way for many others including Moira Stewart, Zeinab Badawi and Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

Over the years, McDonald has become a revered broadcaster and was even named as one of the top 1,000 icons of Britishness by members of the public in a 1999 poll.


Twenty-five years old this year, the Race Relations Act 1976 enshrined many of the laws on discrimination that are taken for granted today. The act, which applies to Great Britain but not Northern Ireland, makes racial discrimination unlawful in employment, training, housing, education and the provision of goods, facilities and services.

The Act was amended last year to impose duties on many public authorities to promote racial equality.


In 1981, violence flared up in urban centres across England as young blacks vented their anger at society and, in particular, their treatment by police. Brixton, in south London, was the first flashpoint.

Nearly 400 people were injured and buildings and vehicles were set alight during the three days of rioting. Similar disturbances followed in the Midlands, Merseyside, Bristol and Leeds.

Lord Scarman led a public inquiry which settled on the so-called "rotten apples" theory - that only a few police officers were racist, most were not. The inquiry spawned new practices on the law enforcers and led to the setting up of the Police Complaints Authority, to supervise complaints against the police.


Prior to the 1980s, the last time a black MP had been elected to Parliament was in 1922. In 1987 it all changed with the election of four non-white MPs: Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant and Keith Vaz.

Keith Vaz
Leicester MP Keith Vaz
All were elected on a Labour ticket and promised to further the cause of better race relations. But their paths have varied widely since.

Grant, who died last year, was widely known for his remark that police had got a "bloody good hiding" the night one officer was murdered in a riot in Tottenham, although he later said the comment had been quoted seriously out of context. Abbott, a long-time member of Labour's NEC, has become an outspoken critic of Tony Blair and New Labour.

Boateng and Vaz, both lawyers, made it to government roles: the former is now financial secretary to the Treasury, the latter stepped down as Europe minister soon after becoming implicated in the Hinduja passport scandal, although he was cleared by an official inquiry.


Twelve years after the Scarman report, the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, in 1993, and the subsequent investigation, or lack of one, again blew open the schism between non-whites and the police.

Lawrence's parents gained influential support from the media as they persisted in hounding the police for answers. Eventually a public inquiry was ordered, chaired by Sir William Macpherson.

Macpherson blamed police racism and incompetence for scuppering any chance of justice. Crucially, he also identified the police as "institutionally racist", thereby challenging Scarman's "bad apple" theory.


The occasion almost passed without notice, but in 1993 footballer Paul Ince became the first black player to captain England in its "national sport". Six years later, Indian-born Nasser Hussain performed the same task for England's cricket side.

They are just two of many triumphant athletes from ethnic minorities to proudly fly the flag for Britain. Others include Lindford Christie, Frank Bruno, Daley Thompson, Tessa Sanderson and Prince Naseem Hamed.


Ugandan Asians
Initially, the Ugandan Asians were not welcome in Leicester
It hasn't happened yet, but according to population forecasts last year, Leicester is set to be Britain's first non-white city by 2010. The prediction was made amid claims that Leicester is a role model for good race relations.

Already "ethnic minorities" account for about half the city's schoolchildren. Ross Willmott, leader of the city council, said Asian and other communities "play a major role in Leicester's life and in the leadership of the city, giving it a unique character".

It wasn't always thus. In the early 1970s, as thousands of Asians prepared to flee tyranny in Uganda, Leicester council warned them to stay away from the city.

Can you suggest another key moment in British race relations? Click here to add your comments

Your comments so far:

The influence of the Ottoman Caliphate in Britain during the Elizabethan period through to the Victorian period, in terms of Architecture, Commerce (i.e. Tea Houses) was the precursor to British Empire and the subsequent mass immigration from the former Empire.
Saif Ud-Din, UK

The emergence of Naomi Campbell as a supermodel, Lenny Henry and the end of the appalling Love thy Neighbour and Mixed Blessings.
Michael Mackey, Korea

Notting Hill Race Riot back in the 1960s.
Mo Ahmed, San Clemente, CA, USA

The racist attack on a white pensioner in Oldham, and the realisation that it is not just white people who are racist.
Nigel, UK

The 1985 film My Beautiful Launderette mattered immensely, as it expressed the nascent idea that modern, cool, Britain was essentially about multi-ethnicity. In particular, from here on in there was no doubt that quality modern British art would often be about multi-ethnicity.
Darren, UK

The failure of the black Conservative candidate John Taylor to be elected showed a great deal still of prejudice exists, particularly in so-called more affluent areas such as Cheltenham.
Michael, UK

What about Clive Sullivan captaining the Great Britain rugby league side in 1968.
Richard, UK

I think that the recent tragic death of Damiola Taylor was of extreme importance as it has raised issues with regards to the tensions between Africans and Carribeans which is a very real and extremely worrying issue.
Kwame -Osei Batu David, South London

Don't forget that many black people and Asians also served in the British Military in World War 2.
John McCorry, USA

Albert Johanneson's appearance in the 1965 FA Cup Final for Leeds United. The South African was the first black player to play in the Cup Final. His experiences in South Africa had left him shy and unsure in front of white players. When he hesitated before getting in the bath with the Leeds team the players threw him in and from then on he was a great player for the club.
Matthew Knowles, UK

Diana's romance with Dodi Al Fayed -the beautiful English Princess with the dark skinned Egyptian. Many couples in mixed race relations must get a great deal of comfort from this beautiful story.
James, UK

I think the recent uprisings in Oldham, Burnley, and Bradford have many similarities with the Brixton riots. They are important because they underline the confusion, anger and frustration of mainly poor, first & second generation Asians struggling to define an identity in Britain.
Pranjal Tiwari, UK

The election of Mohammad Sarwar in Glasgow as the UK's first ever Muslim MP was a milestone in Scotland's race relations, overshadowed only by his alleged involvement in political scandal.
Robert McDowell, Scotland

Derek Beackon winning a council by-election on the Isle Of Dogs [in 1993, so becoming the BNP's first and only elected representative].
Tim, UK

The cap given to Viv Anderson who became the first black player to represent England at a senior level (and now nears 50 people) causing a precedent not only in football but across the whole of English sport.
TK, England

The hideous anti-immigration comments made by Eric Clapton at a gig in 1976 were very significant as it triggered the creation of the Rock Against Racism movement. It became cool to be an anti-racist, which given the social climate at the time was quite a feat.
Jon, UK

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