3a. Racism in Britain

Racism in Britain

I loved that country [England] before I came here, I loved the football here, and news about England…When I came here I’m very glad…99% of people [are] very kind and very good…British government is- first year I came here is everything ok and every year [they] make [things] a little bit too difficult for asylum seeker…especially for court, and finding solicitor, interpreter or everything…because my case is closed, you can’t come in and study in the colleges…I can’t speak very well, that is too much problem (refugee man, arrived in Britain in 2000)

Liza Schuster argues that Britain has a history of constructing asylum policy in response to non-existent or false evidence,[1] which forces us to question the real drivers behind policy. In the domestic policy context Lucinda Platt points out that approaches by Labour governments, under the banners of ‘combating exclusion’ and ‘building social capital’, failed to account for how geographical concentrations of deprivation and ethnic density do not occur ‘naturally’, ‘but are themselves shaped by policy decisions and opportunity structures’.[2]

Understanding the context for refugees and other migrants in Britain today can be aided by a historical perspective. Imperialist states have always been ready to acknowledge the positive value of immigration when it is under their control and benefits their labour markets, but when it is ‘spontaneous’, or out of their control, they express alarm.[3] Following the second world war the British state actively recruited from its former colonies to staff the expanded state welfare services and to undertake low-paid work in areas of light industry such as textiles, increasing profitability. As demand for low-skilled labour began to be satisfied, the state passed the 1962 Immigration Act, allowing entry only to relatively skilled or qualified workers, or those with jobs waiting for them.[4] Since then, there has been a succession of further acts, which have contributed to the composition of ethnic minority populations, with a decrease in primary immigration from Britain’s former colonies. The contemporary situation for many black people born in Britain has been described as ‘integrated yet alienated’. Their situation is characterised by weakening links to the countries members of their families migrated from and the highest rate of ‘mixed race’ marriages of any imperialist country, alongside rising levels of racism in areas such as the labour market.[5] This is the contradiction within calls for refugees to integrate,[6] when the terms of integration assign a subordinate position for the majority of black people. Deeply entrenched racism within Britain reflects the dominant and parasitic relation of Britain to the countries refugees flee. It is the role of the British state to ‘manage’ this contradiction, in order to maintain the smooth running of the imperialist system.


[1] Schuster, L. (2003). The Use and Abuse of Political Asylum. London: Frank Cass Publishers; Crawley, H. (2010). Chance or choice? Understanding why asylum seekers come to the UK. London: Refugee Council.

[2] Platt, L. (2009). ‘Social activity, social isolation and ethnicity’. The Sociological Review, 57(4), 670-702.

[3] Borjas, G. J. and J. Crisp, Eds. (2005). Poverty, International Migration and Asylum. Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan.

[4] Williams, F. (1992). Social Policy: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Polity.

[5] Williams, L. (2007). ”Home Alone”, in Revitalising Communities in a Globalising World, edited by L. Dominelli. London: Ashgate, 255-270.

[6] Kostakopoulou, D. (2010). ‘Matters of control: integration tests, naturalisation reform and probationary citizenship in the United Kingdom’. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36(5), 829-846.

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