Sometimes antagonistic, sometimes ardently sympathetic: Contradictory responses to migrants in postwar Britain
Most sociological and anthropological studies of UK race relations produced in 1950s stress the wide spectrum of British reactions to new migrants. Yet, recent historians have tended to focus on the racism and xenophobia of the research and period, on the ‘antagonisms’. The ‘ardently sympathetic’ responses referred to by Ruth Glass in 1960, which were evident also in 1950s fiction, film and radical political movements, have often been ignored or misrepresented in order to construct a more dystopian picture. This article examines the cultural and sociopolitical context of the time and argues that the mood was more critical of British insularity and more anti-racist than many recent historians of 1950s Englishness and race relations research allow. This was, in part, the influence of dislocated intellectuals from postwar continental Europe and the commonwealth, white and black, who, radicalised by anti-fascism and decolonisation, contributed to a growing cosmopolitanism.
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