Timeline 1900 – 2017

The Race Riots

The 1919 race riots – in which a series of violent disturbances targeting black, Arab and other minorities occurred in nine of Britain’s main ports after the demobilisation of First World War service personnel – were not only the result of anger and resentment at ‘coloured’ men ‘taking’ white men’s jobs but also ‘their’ women. Along with the media, police officials and other dignitaries, such as the former British colonial administrator, Sir Ralph Williams, blamed these interracial relationships for causing the violence. Williams wrote to The Times in 1919 that “sexual relations between white women and coloured men revolt our very nature…What blame…to those white men who, seeing the conditions and loathing them, resort to violence?” (in Fryer 1984: 311). Such perspectives did not go unchallenged, particularly by the couples themselves.

I think as the white wife of a British coloured man I have a right to speak. ‘Hal o’ the Wynd’ thinks it repulsive to see a white woman in the company of a coloured man. It is a shame to say that. They are as God made them; they cannot help the colour of their skin. We, the white wives, know better than anyone what they are. We have been married for years and find the British coloured man – I don’t say all, but I say most – make us very good husbands.

— Evening Times, 21 June 1919 in Jenkinson (2008: 24).