Speaker: Professor John Belchem
Based on extensive primary sources, my book attempts to bring historical perspective and context to debate about race and immigration in Britain. As the gateway of empire, the great seaport of Liverpool attracted significant numbers of ‘coloured’ colonials long before the arrival of West Indian migrants on the ‘Empire Windrush’ in 1948. Their legal status as British subjects in the ‘motherland’ notwithstanding, Liverpool’s ‘coloured’ community of transients, sojourners and settlers were the first to discover that ‘There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack’. Their struggle against prejudice and discrimination serves as foundation narrative in the making of the black British, an identity obscured and misunderstood by conventional concentration on recent immigration.
The warnings emanating from Liverpool’s troubled pattern of race relations went unheeded in Britain’s uneasy transition to a multi-cultural society, as the empire ‘came home’ following decolonisation. Instead of serving as object lesson, Liverpool was by this time marginalised and denigrated, condemned as an internal ‘other’ at odds with positive developments elsewhere in enterprise Britain. For agencies seeking to regenerate and rehabilitate the city, measures to address racial discrimination and disadvantage were seldom a priority (or even included) in a succession of ill-fated projects to tackle multiple deprivation. In the aftermath of the Toxteth riots of 1981, once proud ‘cosmopolitan’ Liverpool stood condemned for its ‘uniquely horrific’ racism.
About the Speaker: Having published extensively on 19th century British popular protest and working-class radicalism, John Belchem changed focus a couple of decades or so ago to concentrate on the history of Liverpool. His books on the city include, Merseypride: essays in Liverpool exceptionalism; Liverpool 800: culture, character and history which he edited to mark the 800th anniversary in 2007 of the granting of letters patent; Irish, Catholic and Scouse: The history of the Liverpool-Irish, 1800-1939; Liverpool: City of Radicals which he co-edited with Bryan Biggs; and most recently Before the Windrush: race relations in 20th century Liverpool. He retired from the University of Liverpool after 33 years at the end of 2012, having completed a term of office as Pro-Vice Chancellor, and is now Emeritus Professor of History. He is currently working with Bryan Biggs on a book to mark the 300the anniversary of the Bluecoat in Liverpool in 2017.