chapter  8
4 Pages

`Race' in British Psychology 1945±c.1970: a brief note

The previous edition and Richards (2004) may, I fear, both be read as having been a bit too soft on the nature and extent of British racism. While not denying it, my focus on the intellectual literature, especially Psychology, of the inter-war period perhaps led to an inadvertent down-playing of the degree of racism among the British public at large. Lapiere (1928) did indeed report that, in his study of racial attitudes, of 315 English people, 254 were prejudiced, while in France only 9 of 360 were so. While sampling biases, and perhaps the linguistic factor, may have exaggerated the difference, this remains a pretty dire picture. What is indubitable is that during the post-1945 period, when large numbers of, initially Caribbean, immigrants established a signi®cant black presence in Britain for the ®rst time, racist attitudes erupted to the surface on a large scale. A very useful account of this period is Hill's 1965 How Colour Prejudiced is Britain? in which he reports on the ®ndings of his own extensive research in three contrasting London boroughs (Islington, Tottenham and Edmonton), mostly undertaken in 1964. Though Hill was a Congregationalist minister, not a psychologist, this was a fairly sophisticatedly designed study undertaken with help from the Institute of Race Relations, the Survey of Race Relations and two London School of Economic academics. The questionnaire was quite simple, the ®rst part being factual (e.g. `Are there any [coloured people] you would count as personal friends?'), the second an unstructured interview with guide questions on, for example, whether there was anything about coloured people the respondent liked or disliked and the third `Attitude Section' asking ®ve questions such as `Would you approve of a coloured person living next door to you?' This last was not intended to yield a score but to indicate the relative frequencies of the different attitudes. In total, 120 people were interviewed, 30 each from four groups: householders, employers, employees and landladies. It also shows `racial disturbances' increasing with unemployment between 1957 and 1958. The report is very sensitively nuanced and insightful regarding the differences between the areas, and the apparent causes of prejudice, as well as the

issue of mixed marriages. The activities of the far-right are also described. Without entering into the details of his ®ndings, it is clear that racist attitudes were extremely widespread, although somewhat modi®able over time. There is though one passage I feel is especially pertinent, in a section on `Emotional Attitudes'. In 1961 the author had appeared on the BBC Caribbean Service and said that, `providing they were in other ways compatible', he `would be happy for his daughter to marry a coloured man'. This triggered a ¯ood of vitriolic hate mail. Just one example is suf®cient: `I sincerely hope God will cut short your life and that you will die soon so that dear little white girl may be saved from the hideous fate you plan for her. A black blubber lipped Negro on top of her and unending half castes year after year' (p. 218).