David Holland is a 2nd year PGR student and Wolfson Foundation scholar in the Department
During 1919-20, a number a British ports were rocked by race riots, apparently between white working-class natives and non-white newcomers, mostly seamen from colonised territories in the British Empire. Subsequently our view of British domestic ‘race-relations’ during the interwar period has been primarily informed by these destructive events. However, this paper will present new research suggesting that other, equally significant, processes were at play in the period before the era of mass New Commonwealth migration.
Behind the period’s lurid headlines decrying ‘miscegenation’ and ‘racial degeneration’, social bonds formed between white working-class natives and non-white Muslims, mostly British Indian and Yemeni former seafarers, through marriage, friendship and work. These alliances constituted nodes on a trans-imperial migration network and aided both permanent settlement and further economic migration of sojourners. Marriages between natives and newcomers took place across Britain, particularly in imperial ports, but also inland. In particular, the paper explores a previously un-researched settlement in the industrial city of Sheffield.
Focusing not only on the process of pioneering early migration and migrants’ social networks, the paper examines the process of cultural exchange, fluidity and hybridity displayed by both natives and newcomers. This historical reconstruction and analysis of early British immigration history calls into question assumptions about the extent to which imperial notions of race and miscegenation were internalized among the home population, particularly within the working-class communities to which the Muslim newcomers belonged.