This is an unusual view of British society, there are certain facts that appear difficult to assimilate. Throughout the twentieth century Britain has been in a constant state of change. there have been waves of immigration; Jews from Russia and Poland, successive waves of immigration from Ireland, the displacement of people during the 1 World War and the much greater movement of people after the 2 World War from the devastated countries of Eastern Europe. Yet we like to think of ourselves as a homogenous British group that we have been since the days of the Norman Conquest a thousand years ago. Two groups that are largely missed out from this story are those who came on the Empire Windrush in the 1940s from the West Indies and those who came from India and Pakistan, from what was then the British Empire.
Another subject mentioned only briefly was Britain’s leading part in the inhuman Slave Trade for two hundred years. Some British families got exceedingly rich and set up their very large estates on the profits of this trade between Africa and the Caribbean. Some beautiful mansions were embellished with paintings and elaborate furniture bought with the profits of treating human beings as if they were bits of machinery to be used ceaselessly and thrown aside when their usefulness came to an end. Historically Britain’s part in the slave trade has been minimised to the point of being a footnote. Maybe generations have to pass before we can face the full horror of what we have done.
Of course we know that workers in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries worked in appallingly dangerous conditions: in the mines, in the factories, on the land and in the ships. The only issue that mattered was Profit. The workers were not owned by the coal owner, instead it was a kind of serfdom. The programme ‘Black and British: a Forgotten History’ by the historian David Olusoga on BBC2 was brilliantly done. I’m looking forward to episode 2 tonight.