The Invisible Empire: White Discourse, Tolerance and Belonging (Studies in Migration and Diaspora)

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The Invisible Empire: White Discourse, Tolerance and Belonging (Studies in Migration and Diaspora)

The Invisible Empire White Discourse, Tolerance and Belonging Georgie Wemyss The Invisible Empire Studies in Migrat

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The Invisible Empire White Discourse, Tolerance and Belonging

Georgie Wemyss

The Invisible Empire

Studies in Migration and Diaspora Series Editor: Anne J. Kershen, Queen Mary College, University of London, UK Studies in Migration and Diaspora is a series designed to showcase the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature of research in this important field. Volumes in the series cover local, national and global issues and engage with both historical and contemporary events. The books will appeal to scholars, students and all those engaged in the study of migration and diaspora. Amongst the topics covered are minority ethnic relations, transnational movements and the cultural, social and political implications of moving from ‘over there’, to ‘over here’. Also in the series: Lifestyle Migration Expectations, Aspirations and Experiences Edited by Michaela Benson and Karen O’Reilly ISBN 978-0-7546-7567-9 International Migration and Rural Areas Cross-National Comparative Perspectives Edited by Birgit Jentsch and Myriam Simard ISBN 978-0-7546-7484-9 Accession and Migration Changing Policy, Society, and Culture in an Enlarged Europe Edited by John Eade and Yordanka Valkanova ISBN 978-0-7546-7503-7 Migrant Women Transforming Citizenship Life-stories From Britain and Germany Umut Erel ISBN 978-0-7546-7494-8 Polish Migration to the UK in the ‘New’ European Union After 2004 Edited by Kathy Burrell ISBN 978-0-7546 7387-3

The Invisible Empire

White Discourse, Tolerance and Belonging

Georgie Wemyss Goldsmiths, University of London, UK

© Georgie Wemyss 2009 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Georgie Wemyss has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company Wey Court East Suite 420 Union Road 101 Cherry Street Farnham Burlington Surrey, GU9 7PT VT 05401-4405 England USA British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Wemyss, Georgie. The invisible empire : white discourse, tolerance and belonging. -- (Studies in migration and diaspora) 1. Race relations. 2. Ethnic attitudes. 3. Toleration-History. 4. London (England)--Race relations--History. 5. Whites--Race identity. I. Title II. Series 305.8'009-dc22 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Wemyss, Georgie. The invisible empire : white discourse, tolerance and belonging / by Georgie Wemyss. p. cm. -- (Studies in migration and diaspora) Includes index. ISBN 978-0-7546-7347-7 (hbk.) -- ISBN 978-0-7546-9154-9 (ebook) 1. Whites--Great Britain. 2. National characteristics--Great Britain. 3. Hegemony--Social aspects--Great Britain. 4. Toleration--Great Britain. 5. Great Britain -Race relations. I. Title. DA125.A1W446 2009 305.809'041--dc22 2009031367 ISBN 9780754673477 (hbk) ISBN 9780754691549 (ebk.I)

Contents Series Editor’s Preface    Acknowledgements  

ix xiii

Introduction   The Invisible Empire?   White Liberal Discourse   Chapter Outlines  

1 1 5 19

Part I Introduction to Chapters 1 and 2   The London Borough of Tower Hamlets   Theoretical Approaches to Social and Cultural Remembering  

21 21 24


Terra Nullius to the Shrouding of Milligan: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs   Terra Nullius: West India Docks and the Isle of Dogs in 1990   White Histories: West India Docks 2000   The Souvenir Programme and Exhibition Panels   Abolition: The Sugar Warehouses 2003–2007   Conclusion  

27 27 30 31 41 49


Competing Colonial Anniversaries in ‘Postcolonial’ Blackwall: White Memories, White Belonging   Introduction   Blackwall 1606–1806   Blackwall 1990–2005: ‘Regeneration’ and White Memories   Blackwall 2006–2007: Transatlantic ‘celebrations’   Blackwall 2006: East India Amnesia   White Memories, White Belonging  

51 51 52 54 58 64 65


The Invisible Empire

Part II Introduction to Chapters 3 and 4   3


Subjects of the Invisible Empire: ‘Outside Extremists’, ‘White East Enders’, ‘Passive Bengalis’   Eight Days in September 1993   The Construction of Events of September 1993 in Media Reports and Competing Discourses: Keywords, Racial Categories and the Invisible Empire   The Emergence of Fixed Categories in the Dominant Discourse   Fixed Categories, Missing Histories and the Invisible Empire   Conclusion  

Part III Introduction to Chapters 5 and 6  

71 72 75 86 91 94



‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy and the Consolidation of the White East End   97 Section One: Chronology of the Re-construction of ‘The East End’ from September 1993 to May 1994   99 Section Two: Dominant White Discourse and ‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy   109 Section Three: Criticisms of the Carnival as Challenges to the Dominant Discourse   116 Conclusion   120


Tolerance, the Invisible Empire and the Hierarchy of Belonging   ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Toleration’   Belonging   Conclusion: Tolerance and Belonging  


‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories  141 Introduction   141 Colonial Racialised Classifications   144 ‘Lascars’ and Maritime Discrimination   147 Navigation and Merchant Shipping Acts, Racial Categorisation and Processes of Exclusion   148 Racial Characteristics of ‘Lascars’   153 Violence in Colonial Discourse   157 Conclusion   158

123 124 133 139



Conclusion: Exposing the Invisible Empire: Towards Commonality and Metropolitan Belonging   Introduction   Exigencies of Migration: Remittances, Restaurants and Raids   The London Bombs and ‘Muslim’ Identity   Citizenship and the Invisible Empire   The Muslim: Secular Dichotomy  

161 161 164 169 172 176

Bibliography   Index  

181 197

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Series Editor’s Preface Memory and language are essentials in the construction of self-identity, our understanding of where we find ourselves and the way in which others recognise us as either insiders or outsiders. In this thought provoking book Georgie Wemyss examines the way in which specific aspects of the first have been air brushed out of the history of the British Empire and the way in which discourses of Empire use words to identify and locate its subjects within the ‘hierarchy of belonging’. The spine of this volume is the ‘Invisible Empire’; a space inhabited by those aspects of colonial development and exploitation which are less celebratory than the mercantile success stories which span the mid-sixteenth through to the early twentieth centuries. However, this is not an abstract work which dwells in a realm of unidentified heroes and heroines and distance places. For the most part the action takes place in East London, in districts which have accommodated people from the British Empire for centuries. Spitalfields, a traditional place of first settlement since the medieval period provided lodgings for lascar sailors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More recently, it has been home to immigrants from what was Bengal during the days of the Raj and, since 1971, the independent state of Bangladesh. Yet, as the author highlights, though some have been resident for almost fifty years, these settlers have been, and by many still are, perceived as passive outsiders, whose ancestors’ role in the creation of the wealth and splendour of the British Empire has received little or no recognition. The discourse of Invisible Empire is at its most obtuse when it moves to Docklands, a creation of the early 1990s – a district so named, not in commemoration of the Indian seamen who worked on the merchant ships that brought wealth to Britain, nor in memory of those who made the involuntary voyage from Africa as slaves in chains to work on the plantations of the West Indies and North America. Docklands was not created as an apology for enslavement and capture, rather it was fashioned as a financial celebration of past commercial triumphs and a base for future entrepreneurial success. In spite of recent moves by some to recognise the ‘real’ history of the British Empire and the part played in it by non-Europeans, the White Liberal discourse all too often fails to acknowledge the contribution of all members of the Empire. Their oft reiterated statements of tolerance only serve to act as a reinforcement of the reality of the outsiders’ continuing alienation and invisibility. As Wemyss explains, Bengalis in Britain are now categorised in the newly constructed – and   As Wemyss describes it lascar seamen were at the very bottom of the British Merchant Navy hierarchies; thus, even if unconsciously so, the term was taken as a pejorative.

The Invisible Empire

crudely all embracing – categories of ‘Muslim’ and/or multi-cultured. They, in common with other minority groups, are being denied their individual identities and losing the opportunity to sound their voices as their fellow ‘British’ citizens do. By exposing the Invisible Empire as not only part of a racist dialogue but also as a constituent of the White Liberal discourse, Wemyss has begun a movement towards the rewriting of the history of the British Empire and the inclusion of all those who made it ‘great’. Anne J. Kershen Queen Mary University of London Summer 2009

This book is dedicated to my children, Ishan and Akashi, born in London in the 1990s and to their four grandparents born in Sylhet, Bombay and Colombo before 1947

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Acknowledgements This book brings together research that began when I started a part-time D. Phil in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex. I am forever indebted to Sue Wright for the generous amount of time, consistent commitment and perceptive supervision that she gave to the project even as she shifted jobs, institutions and national borders. I continue to be grateful for the cross-continental intellectual challenges and support of Rahnuma Ahmed and Eva Mackey whom I first encountered in the Sussex post-graduate seminars. Many thanks to those I interviewed who had been involved in the1990s events described and whose observations and insights inform the subsequent project. I am indebted to my ex-colleague, Muhammad Abdullah Salique, his aunt, the late Suratun Ali and her son Quddus Ali. I am grateful to the ESRC for funding my Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Surrey, which gave me the opportunity to write for publication. Thanks to John Eade for agreeing to be my mentor and for his continuing support. Thanks also to CRONEM colleagues Mirela Dumic, David Garbin and Michal Garapich for their encouragement. The opportunity of a Visiting Fellowship in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, has enabled me to finish the project. Teaching Access to Higher Education students at Tower Hamlets College has given me more than the job security that meant I could start and finish this project. Thanks to all Access to HE lecturers and other colleagues at the Arbour Square site, past and present, who share the stimulation of working in the Further Education sector in increasingly difficult conditions. I am especially appreciative of all mature students with whom I have worked in the youth, community and social work, social anthropology and South Asian studies classes since 1993. They have brought energy, wisdom and wit to the frequently distressing process of individual and shared excavations into colonial histories that have exposed the Invisible Empire in its many guises. My understandings of issues that have obsessed me over the last 16 years have developed through long term friendships, perceptive and inspirational discussions with Shamsul Alam, Julia Bard, Halima Begum, Julie Begum, Bill Dixon, Jobayda Fathema Koli, Alan Gardner, Ibrahim Ghahremani, Cyrus Ghahramani, Sara Hossain, Abdul Momen, Pragna Patel, Jill Rutter, Gita Sahgal, Vron Ware, Nira Yuval-Davis and the late Caroline Adams. Rozina Visram has been inspirational in both her scholarship and in her personal encouragement. Thanks to those who have read and commented on various sections at different times. Clare Murphy and Clare Ramsaran contributed their depth of knowledge


The Invisible Empire

to earlier versions, Colville Wemyss’ knowledge and skills were invaluable. Lucy Forman, Burt Caesar and Nandita Dogra gave valuable insights nearer the end. The book would not have been possible without the intellectual engagement and support of friends who, as parents, have understood the challenges of writing at odd hours and whose incisive conversations in child-centred environments gave me the energy to finish. Thanks to Gita Sahgal, Louise Restrick, Nick Fox, David Bergman, Sara Hossain, Cathie Louis, Tony Simpson, Fazlur Rahman Shagor, Yiu Yiu Rahman, Arifa Hafiz, John Eversley, Judith Stanley-Smith, Mark Phillips, Jane Burns, Catriona Wemyss, Dagmar Gleditzsch, Ruchir Joshi, Cassandra Balchin, Sohail Akbar Warraich, Tanya Talukdar, Noor Miah, Eileen Short, Glyn Robbins, Sarah Radcliffe, Ahea Hannan, Syeda Choudhury and all of their children. My greatest thanks to Shamsul Alam who has shared this project from beginning to end and to our children, Ishan and Akashi who have spent far too much of their lives on the other side of the door waiting for me to finish. Parts of this material have been published or presented elsewhere in different forms. I am grateful to the original publishers for allowing the material to be used. Parts of Chapter Two were presented in Wemyss (2006b), parts of Chapter Three were incorporated in Wemyss (2008), Chapter Four contains substantial parts of Wemyss (2006c), Chapter Five draws on Wemyss (2005) and the arguments in Chapter Six were honed in Wemyss (2006a). The writing of this book was commenced during a Postdoctoral Fellowship granted by the Economic and Social Research Council (PTA-026-27-1250) at the University of Surrey (Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Migration).

Introduction The Invisible Empire? We invited a family we had known for several years, and whose children played regularly with ours, for some Bengali home cooking. After a feast of lamb and fish curries, a disagreement over the motives behind the recent US and British military actions in Afghanistan and their imminent invasion of Iraq led to a wider dispute about histories and legacies of European colonialism. Over several hours of increasingly heated discussions one of our guests repeatedly railed against ‘Muslim’ threats to ‘western democracy’ and argued for ‘the west’ to control the oil supply in order to preserve those democracies. Twisted into his argument was his rage about the ‘dominating Bangladeshi Muslim population’ in our east London neighbourhood which he linked, in some undefined way, to the events of 9/11 and identified as a threat to his family’s way of life. Angry at his abusive tone and arrogance at addressing this diatribe at his Bengali Muslim host, we attempted to describe the four hundred year economic, political and cultural relationship between Bengal and Britain and relate it to contemporary politics and poverty in Bangladesh. We also tried to explain about the heterogeneity of ideas, class and cultures that are suppressed and hidden behind those constructed categories of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Bangladeshi’. Our guest wasn’t interested. He expressed his agreement with the recently assassinated Dutch sociologist and politician, Pim Fortuyn who had written a book ‘Against the Islamisation of our Culture’ and had advocated a halt to Muslim immigration to the Netherlands. My husband, being Bengali, used the example of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, where up to three million Bengalis are estimated to have been killed by the Pakistani Army and their Bengali allies, to add complexity to the discussion and to demonstrate how Muslims, rather than ‘Western democracies’, have most often been the victims of the political ambitions of other Muslims (Bhattacharyya 1988, Sugata and Jalal 1997, Sisson and Rose 1991). Later, the conversation took a different turn which led to the host mentioning that all photos of his late mother had either been lost during that 1971 war or had become invisible due to the humid Bengali climate. Our guest wasn’t interested in any of these contributions until much later when, in a general stream of bigoted  Pim Fortuyn was a Dutch sociologist and politician who held liberal views on social issues such as same-sex marriage. He classified Islam as a ‘backward’ religion and a threat to Dutch values of ‘tolerance’, advocating an end to Muslim immigration to the Netherlands. He was assassinated in May 2002 by an ‘animal rights activist’.

The Invisible Empire

abuse, he shouted ‘You Bangladeshis are all so stupid you can’t even preserve your photographs properly!’ As they left, his partner attempted to apologise for his swearing. She told us that although she lamented that the argument had become so heated, she praised him as ‘the most honest person’ that she knew. Like Fortuyn, he was ‘outspoken’, prepared to say the things that others were afraid to voice. We were both angry and upset and discussed the incident for days afterwards. This was a different experience of racism from that which we usually encountered. It was direct, it was middle class and it was in our home. We tried to work out why he had picked on the example of the poignantly vanishing photographic images to highlight his view about the inferiority of Bangladeshis. Was his aim to demonstrate European superiority through picking up on something irrelevant to his argument and distorting it to make his point? That point appeared to be that a population was stupid because it could believe in religion and couldn’t preserve photographs. Not only did he use a spurious example but he used it to condemn all Bangladeshi people as both one dimensional and inferior. As we talked through the argument I recollected the doublespeak, in a different context, of other white middle class parents when they discussed sending their children outside the local area for their schooling. Our guest had told us overtly what had been couched in the playground discourses of other parents and articulated by one white mother as ‘we like multicultural but Bethnal Green is too multicultural’ (for her ‘multicultural’ meant that there were too many Bengali children in the local school). Another white parent had said ‘Bethnal Green isn’t multicultural enough’ (she also thought there were too many Bengalis and wanted her child to be in a school area with a more diluted ‘multicultural mix’). Several parents used the term ‘middle class’ as code for ‘white middle class’ when discussing the high ratio of Bengali to white children in the school population. The careful class/educational attainment correlations that they applied to their categorisations of white children were not evident in their homogeneous classifications of their Bengali classmates, who were represented as blocs of shared interests and predictable behaviours. These conversations always took place with me, the white parent, never with my children’s Bengali father. This incident and remembered playground conversations brought into sharp focus the issues that I was grappling with at the time in the final stages of writing up my D.Phil, an anthropological study of British nationalism (Wemyss 2004). I was identifying and tracking dominant and competing discourses about Britishness relating to political and cultural events in east London and investigating how and why they shifted over a 10 year period. I had named the dominant discourse   I refer to Bengalis as people who either themselves, or their ancestors, came to Britain from the area of present day Bangladesh, West Bengal and the Karimgonj district in Assam. Present day Bangladesh was part of British India until 1947 and was East Pakistan until the 1971 Independence war. East Bengalis have therefore been Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in living memory. I use the term ‘Bangladeshi’ when directly referring to discourses which use that categorisation.


as ‘white’ and ‘liberal’ and had located specific institutions and organizations with which it was associated. I had also tracked several subordinate discourses associated with groups or individuals that were continually challenging that dominant discourse. Through detailed examination of these dynamic processes of contestation I was able to demonstrate that the white liberal discourse about Britishness had specific characteristics that work effectively towards ensuring that it and related institutions retain their dominance. The four most significant of these distinguishing features were distilled within our post curry argument and school gate conversations. The domestic events described above were not the focus of my ethnography and I did not include any reference to them in my thesis. However, I am using them here to introduce the characteristics of the dominant discourse precisely because they occurred in situations where I was not looking for them. An aim of this book is to identify and understand how, and with what effect such discourses continue to work. In this chapter, I begin by using these events to identify four significant characteristics of the dominant white liberal discourse. I then briefly detail the theoretical framework that supports my analysis and the labelling of the ‘white liberal discourse’ and summarise the methodological approach that I have used to identify and track the dominant discourse and challenges to it. Finally I outline how the chapters that follow combine evidence from my ethnography and the recent research of selected historians to identify, track and contest the dominant white liberal discourse. Returning to the events described above, our guest refused to see histories of empire as relevant to the current war in Iraq or the political economy of Bangladesh, insisting that ‘it was all a long time ago, and no excuse for current problems’. This is an example of the first and pivotal defining characteristic of the dominant discourse, what I name as the ‘Invisible Empire’. In varying levels of sophistication, the discourse consistently asserts particular narratives of Britain’s past whilst suppressing alternative histories, especially about the British Empire and related histories of white violence. When it does acknowledge the British Empire, it is a discourse of merchants and the spread of civilisation that suffocates competing memories. The other three defining features of the discourse all depend on the repetitious retelling of such partial European histories. Both our guest’s argument and the school gate conversations had rested on the assumption of their own privileged white, European identity. They used the homogeneous categories of ‘Bangladeshi’ and ‘Muslim’ entirely negatively, as threats to their own specific, liberal middle class aspirations (school achievement in a ‘tolerant’ and ‘diverse’ multicultural environment) and economically secure and culturally liberal way of life (supported by global economic and political structures). The assumption of European superiority was voiced by our guest in his dismissive and pointed assertion that photographs dissolve or go missing in Bangladesh only because of the stupidity of the natives. These are examples of the second characteristic of the dominant discourse; that it privileges and naturalises white experience, making the white subject invisible by normalising it at the

The Invisible Empire

same time as subjectifying the ‘non-white’ others. Through crude categorisations it makes the ‘ethnic other’ homogeneous and passive, an object of analysis and political debate. The genealogy of this process of categorisation and subjectification reaches back to the earliest days of English conquest and colonisation (events often retold in twenty-first-century discourses using the anodyne terms of ‘exploration’, ‘engagement’ and ‘settlement’) and stretches forward to contemporary policies of multiculturalism and the politics of belonging. In talking with the white parents at the school gate, if the financial or educational success of local Bengalis was referred to at all, it was, in different contexts, associated with a dilution of an assumed homogeneous and static ‘Bangladeshi culture’ (language, clothes, family, food, religion) and the acquisition of behaviours assumed to be more ‘Cockney’ or ‘English’. This is an illustration of the third characteristic of the dominant discourse, which also rests on the Invisible Empire narrative. The discourse constructs white categories, such as ‘Cockney’ or ‘English’ or, in this case, ‘middle class’ to which it is assumed others aspire. The membership of these categories are constantly struggled over but remain essentially white in the dominant discourse. Our guest’s support for the political agenda of Pim Fortuyn illustrates the values and categorisations shared in the dominant discourses in post colonial Netherlands and Britain. This exemplifies the fourth characteristic of the discourse – it is recognisably global at the same time as being internally differentiated. Historically distinct processes of colonisation by various European powers and continuous contests over meanings ensure that the discourse operates differently in multifarious contexts. Recent writing in critical whiteness studies across the social sciences and humanities has focused on discourse and power and the everyday racisms such as I have described in the mundane contexts of the dinner-table arguments and the school gate conversations (Twine and Gallagher 2008). An aim of this book is to build on previous work in the field to make the invisible and visible mobilisations of the British Empire in dominant discourse about Britishness central to the analysis. In order to expose and understand how the Invisible Empire works, I focus on challenges to it from subordinate discourses associated with contesting individuals and groups. Through making the contests and connections explicit, I aim to show how the discourse of the Invisible Empire works to define notions of Britishness and belonging. The continuing dominance of the Invisible Empire, despite the challenges from contesting voices, ensures the consolidation of ‘common sense’ assumptions about ‘race’ and belonging that infuse media and policy debates. Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault both saw ‘the most significant political problems deriving from the denial that power is operating’ (Ives 2004: 143). The incident discussed above demonstrates two ways that the white liberal discourse   The categories ‘Cockney’ and ‘English’ are examined in the following chapters. For the construction of ‘middle class’ see Reay (2008).


works: Firstly, to disguise how power operates, for example, through the obfuscation of past and present power relationships created by the discursive mobilisation of the Invisible Empire; secondly, to exercise power at the micro-level, for example through the construction of essentialised and exclusive categories such as ‘Muslims’ and ‘middle class’. In this book I aim to further unpack and expose how the dominant white liberal discourse, and its key element, the Invisible Empire, work to support the cultural hegemony of an alliance of powerful institutions and groups. Through detailed ethnographic investigation I am able to identify and analyse the discourse and challenges to it. Through tracking some of those challenges I am able to show the flexibility of the discourse as it adapts. Ultimately this book is about the power of the Invisible Empire. In the following section I summarise my theoretical framework, drawn from Foucault and Gramsci’s theorisations of discourse and power and theorisations on whiteness. I then introduce the context of the ethnography that forms the basis of the study. Finally I provide a chapter outline of the book. White Liberal Discourse This book is an investigation into the central and pivotal constituent of the dominant white discourse about Britishness, what I have named as the Invisible Empire. It aims to identify and locate the discourse and demonstrate the material and discursive processes whereby it works to retain dominance. Through locating and tracking the discourse over time, I aim to show its flexibility and how it adjusts to challenges from competing discourses associated with competing groups. My theoretical approach is broadly encompassed in a research field that has recently and provisionally been labelled as ‘third wave whiteness studies’. This field focuses on institutional and ideological arrangements and practices that maintain white privilege whilst challenged by competing movements. It investigates ‘locally specific ways in which whiteness as a form of power is defined, deployed, performed, policed and reinvented’ (Twine and Gallagher, 2008: 5). The theoretical framework of the study draws on both Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony’ and Foucault’s notion of ‘discursive formations’. Both concepts, grown out of contrasting theoretical traditions, focus on the processes whereby a dominant ideology/discourse becomes ‘common sense’ and embedded in institutions – a central concern of this book. Whilst accepting that attempts to reconcile Gramscian hegemony with Foucault’s discourse theory have been criticised as contradictory, I do not enter the debate about the relative strengths of the two theoreticians in furthering the understanding power. Rather, I use  Edward Said’s use of Gramsci’s hegemony and Foucault’s discourse in exposing Orientalism is one of the most apposite examples (1978). In opposition to such approaches, the cultural studies theorist, Tony Bennett argued that an earlier attempt within cultural studies to accommodate Foucauldian discourse theory into Gramscian hegemony was

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theoretical insights derived from both approaches in order to understand how white liberal discourse works. Central to the analysis are Foucault’s organising principles of discursive formations, where meanings are temporarily stabilised into a discourse, which, ‘constructs, defines and produces the objects of knowledge in an intelligible way while excluding other forms or reasoning as unintelligible (Barker 2000: 78). A discursive formation is when discourses allow ways of communicating about an issue in similar ways with common clusters of keywords, mobilising metaphors and ideas and forms of knowledge across various sites. The notion of ‘keywords’ stems from the work of Raymond Williams who traced the changing meanings of words that are central to the dominant discourse (Williams 1976). His conceptual histories of words finds echoes in the changes in discursive formations between epistemes theorised by Foucault. The shifting meanings of keywords make up the discursive record of political struggles between the dominant class and subordinate groups. The dominant class seeks to maintain its historic bloc and to retain hegemony through political negotiations and compromise, which may involve incorporating some interests of sections of the middle or working class. The meanings of words may thus shift in order to accommodate those interests. Shore and Wright employ the term ‘mobilising metaphors’ to describe those keywords that become: The centre of a cluster of keywords whose meanings extend and shift whilst previous associations with other words are dropped. Their mobilising effect lies in their capacity to connect with, and appropriate, the positive meanings and legitimacy derived from other key symbols of government such as ‘nation’, ‘country’, ‘democracy’. (Shore and Wright 1997: 20)

The Invisible Empire is constituted through such processes. The ‘British Empire’ has had and continues to have multiple meanings in different contexts, which continue to be struggled over (Armitage 2000, Marshall 2005). In the following chapters, through focusing on keywords and mobilising metaphors, I argue that dominant discourses about Britishness in twenty-first-century London invest the British Empire with positive meanings associated with merchants, profits and the spread of liberty and democracy. Negative connections with exploitation, disease and racism – the Invisible Empire – are obscured. only possible by erasing Foucault’s theories on the mechanisms of power and culture that questioned the basis of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony (Bennett 1998: 64).  Mark Olssen provides a useful summary of arguments for and against the complementary use of Foucault and Gramsci’s theorisations of power. He concludes that, taken together they ‘present a more powerful perspective on social structure’ than either does on his own.’ My approach is close to his demonstration of how hegemony and discourse can be used as ‘analytic and explanatory tools in conventional sociological work’. (Olssen 2006: 95–118)


Dominant discourses are the result of power struggles, in which their ordering of knowledge and expressions of truth are provisionally victorious over other forms of knowledge. How can the power struggles that contribute to the domination of the white liberal discourse be identified? Foucault’s writing on disciplinary power and microprocesses of power are particularly useful in this study of a shifting dominant discourse. Disciplinary power refers to the relationship of power/knowledge embodied in modern institutions, practices and associated discourses. It works through the discourses of academic and professional disciplines constructing the subject as a docile object of inquiry which can then, amongst other things, be categorised and improved. Disciplinary power requires the creation of a body of knowledge about the subject group which can take different forms historically. The subject fulfils the constructed identity created for them by those in authority (Foucault 1979). As well as conceptualising power as being embodied in modern institutions, associated practices and discourses, Foucault understood power as being grounded in day-to-day relations between individuals - the microprocesses of power. He suggested that rather than coming from a single centre of control, power relations are present in all social relationships, permeating society like capillaries. Thus the analysis of the discourses and practices of individuals as well as of politically organised groups and of official discourses, are all central to an understanding of power. I have avoided using the term ideology so far in this discussion, because of complex debates over its definition and relationship to discourse. However, Barker offers an analytically useful understanding of ideology which is interchangeable with the Foucauldian concept of power/knowledge discussed above: By power/knowledge is meant a mutually constituting relationship between power and knowledge so that knowledge is indissociable from regimes of power. Knowledge is formed within the context of the relationships and practices of power and subsequently contributes to the development, refinement and proliferation of new techniques of power. However, no simple uncontaminated ‘truth’ can be counterpoised to power/knowledge for there is no truth outside of it … ideology [can be defined as] discourses which have specific consequences for relations of power at all levels of social relationships (including the justification and maintenance of ascendant groups). (Barker 2000: 20)

Knowledge, communicated as discourse, cannot be isolated from the power relationships which it both shapes and is shaped by. Dominant discourses, associated with powerful groups, constitute an ideology, one of the consequences of which is the assertion of one particular ‘truth’. This provides a conceptual and terminological bridge between Foucault and Gramsci, allowing the latter’s theoretical understanding of hegemony to inform this study. White liberal ideology   The concept of ideology was rejected by Foucault (1980), and post modernists such as Rorty (1989), because of its common counter positioning opposite ‘truth’.

The Invisible Empire

is constituted by dominant shifting discourses and discursive formations which have consequences for power relationships in multiple social contexts. Like Foucault, Gramsci was concerned with analysing processes whereby dominant ideology (discourses) becomes ‘common sense’ (‘truth’) and embedded in institutions. Both saw power as operating in sites not often understood as political. For Gramsci the specific relationships between ideology, power and relations of production are central. He transformed the term hegemony into a concept that can be used as a tool for understanding and changing society. In contrast, Foucault did not focus on how people can mobilise to change a given discourse. Although Gramsci’s writing was always grounded in specific places and times his analysis of power can be used to understand very different societies when combined with equally well grounded research (Simon 1982, Ahmad 1996, Crehan 2002).10 Recent scholarship has argued that Gramsci’s notion of hegemony is no longer useful in understanding twenty-first-century politics (Lash 2007, Thorburn 2007). Johnson (2007) has argued that such criticisms are based on a limited usage of hegemony as cultural politics, reduced to domination through language, discourse and semiotics without clear constitutive relations with identifiable dominant, complicit and subordinate groups who produce and contest them. This ‘cultural politics’ interpretation of Gramsci has also been referred to as ‘hegemony lite’ (Crehan 2002: 172–181). I employ what Richard Johnson refers to as ‘an expanded version of hegemony’ closer to Gramsci’s original usage (Johnson 2007). Ideology and common sense are explicitly connected to struggles between competing global and local groups over, for example, capital accumulation, fossil fuels or water.

  Gramsci’s analysis of power differs from Foucault’s analysis in developing a more direct link between competing discourses, social groups, classes and relations of production. He argued that in order to become the hegemonic class in civil society, to achieve and retain control over the apparatus of the state, a class must also have significant control over processes of production. Because workers contest that control, it is never absolutely held by the dominant class. To remain hegemonic, a class must combine leadership of processes of production with leadership of a ‘bloc’ of social forces in civil society. Gramsci referred to a ‘historic bloc’ as an alliance of groups and forces in society, held together around key ideas or ideology. In order to become hegemonic, a ‘historic bloc’ must involve alliances outside the class interests of the dominant group. For example, populist or nationalist ideologies propounded by a dominant class include ideas that are attractive to sections of the middle and working classes. In order to attain state power and control of production, a subordinate class must seek to gain hegemony in civil society through making alliances across classes that challenge the dominant bloc (Simon1982).  Originally, the Greek term meaning the predominance of one nation over another. For a detailed discussion of how that transformation took place see Ives (2004).   Ives (2004: 143). 10  A stimulating example is Aijaz Ahmad’s discussion of using Gramsci to analyse Hindutva political movements in India (Ahmad 1996: 221–66).


In Gramsci’s analysis of power, both coercion and persuasion are used by a dominant class and its representatives, to exercise power over subordinate classes. His concept of hegemony can be summarised as ‘organised consent’. The dominant class is seen as divided and needing to secure alliances with others as it is continuously challenged by subordinate groups. The never-ending political and cultural struggles in the state over policies and strategies are understood as complex processes. Hegemony is a dynamic process of establishing ‘unstable equilibria’ which is shaped in significant ways by the actions and reactions of the subaltern classes (Gledhill 1994: 81 citing Forgacs 1888: 205–6). For Gramsci, the struggle between capital and labour is understood as taking place in the context of complex social and cultural relations between classes in three different spheres –those of the state, civil society and of production.11 There is no clear boundary between the different spheres. For example, educational establishments which are part of civil society, also embody some of the state’s coercive relationships. The non-coercive social relations that are manifested in and between the organisations of civil society are also power relations. Civil society is where class and other struggles take place, in short, where hegemony is exercised and contested. In analysing power in different societies at distinct historical moments, the relative significance of coercion and consent cannot be assumed. Their relationship can be understood through the detailed investigation of features of the state, civil society and production. For example in British India, although the colonial state did not rule by coercion alone, the importance of force far outweighed that of consent.12 Power struggles between different classes lead to shifting power relations, hegemony is therefore never stable: What constitutes a particular hegemonic landscape at any particular moment – remembering that this is always only a single moment in a ceaseless power struggle where power is never totally secure – is likely to include an extremely complicated intertwining of force and consent, and of the entanglement of accounts

11  The apparatus of the state (police, military, welfare agencies) have a monopoly on coercion. Civil society is made up of a range of institutions and organisations including the family, mass media, religious, voluntary, political and cultural organisations which are composed of non-coercive social relationships. 12  Guha argued that the relationship between consent and coercion is different in a colonial society from that of the metropolitan context. In British India the population of those ruled considerably outnumbered the rulers and therefore coercion outweighed consent. In metropolitan Britain consent outweighed coercion (Guha 1997: xii). In the British political context of Tower Hamlets in the 1990s, consent can be assumed as outweighing coercion. However, thirty per cent of the population was made up of people whose family histories and subordinate status resulted from the political experience of coercion outweighing that of consent. The British immigration laws and their application are the starkest and daily reminder to separated Bengali families of how the British state organises consent to forcefully exclude friends and relations from the old Empire.


The Invisible Empire of reality with hard realities that are more than discourse. What hegemony ‘is’ therefore is necessarily extraordinarily protean. (Crehan 2002: 175)

Hegemonic ideology is never complete or closed. Opposing blocs can adopt aspects of the ideology to recycle and challenge the dominant bloc. The dominant class has to reassert its ideology and adapt it in negotiations and compromises with potentially defecting groups within its bloc. Once attained, hegemony has to be continually fought for. The dominant class attempts to retain hegemony by achieving the consent of subordinate classes by incorporating them into institutions that support its authority. When the dominant class is challenged, its alliances with organisations and groups of civil society have to adapt to changing conditions, and compromises are made with other political and social forces. In the process, state institutions may be reshaped and ideologies may change. When the dominant class is able to build a new system of alliances, hegemony is re-established (Simon 1982: 37–41). Gramsci’s notion of ideology is key to unifying the different elements that make up what he termed the historic bloc. As a hegemonic class builds alliances that combine the interests of other classes and groups, the ideology works to give a ‘common conception of the world’ to the diverse elements. Dominant ideology is manifested as ‘common sense’ – that is the way individuals perceive the world uncritically and, to an extent, unconsciously. However, although dominant ideology is ‘naturalised’ as ‘common sense’ it can also be ‘denaturalised’ – that is shown to be a fabrication – and to represent the interests of a specific group. ‘Common sense’ is therefore also a site of contest and negotiation. It is where the dominant ideology is constructed, resisted, challenged and reconstructed. Ideologies (discourses) are embodied and elaborated in the social, cultural and political practices of individuals, organisations of civil society, commercial, financial and state institutions. Day-to-day negotiations and compromises between the dominant class and potentially defecting elements of its bloc are made as the former asserts and adjusts its ideology (discourse). These negotiations constitute the diversity of practical politics which can be observed in ethnographic research. Gramsci’s concept of hegemony thus enables the mapping of shifting power relations in specific times and places. I use the concept of hegemony to explore how members of different social groups and organisations accept, manipulate or contest dominant discourses of British culture in east London at specific moments over the last two decades. Through these processes the Invisible Empire and its related elements of the dominant discourse are exposed and their dynamism understood. Early in this chapter I identified the dominant discourse about Britishness as both ‘white’ and ‘liberal’. I now move on to introduce in more detail what I mean by these terms and how they work together. There has been a proliferation of writing on ‘whiteness’ over the past twenty years. Much of that work has focused on the complex normalising processes and relations to domination of ‘white’ ethnicity and identity, ‘whiteness’ as a social



and cultural construction, representations of ‘whiteness’, ‘white’ subjectivities, deconstructing ‘whiteness’ and on specific white discourses in particular contexts. Cultural and communication studies have focused on ‘whiteness’ and popular culture, investigating how the meaning of white skin is constructed through communication. Writing on white racism and eurocentrism has included complex considerations of the intersections of whiteness, gender, religion, sexual orientation and class and the decentering of whiteness (See Frankenburg 1993 and 1997, Cohen 1996 and 1997, Dyer 1997, Ware 1997, Back and Ware 2002, Werbner 1997, Hage 1998, Johnson 1999, Byrne 2006, Twine and Gallagher 2007). These studies have exposed the centrality and importance of whiteness in people’s everyday lives. Ruth Frankenberg described ‘whiteness’ as a terrain made up of linked dimensions. It is a location of structural advantage (race privilege), a standpoint from where white people look at themselves and others, and it is a set of usually unmarked cultural practices. Her work is useful in demonstrating the interconnectedness of ‘the material and discursive dimensions of whiteness’, and acknowledging that white people perceive their environments through a set of discourses on race, culture and society grown out of ‘Western expansion and colonialism’ (Frankenburg 1993: 1–2). Whiteness is a historically constructed and internally differentiated process which is seen to be contested and contestable (Frankenburg 1997: 4). The work of Frankenberg, Dyer, Ware, Hage and others is useful in mapping the meanings of whiteness, identifying it – thus making it visible – and relating discursive and material dimensions of whiteness. I draw on their work in identifying the content of the dominant discourse. However, this study differs from earlier studies of whiteness, in that rather than focusing on the meanings, constructions, privileging and subjectivities, the analytic focus is on how white discourse works in order to retain cultural hegemony when challenged and changed in struggles with alternative discourses associated with subordinate groups. Theorising about whiteness has led to calls for more grounded research. There have been calls for the use of more empirical evidence to expose the different and shifting ways that whiteness functions and what it means to be the subjects of its discursive dominance (Frankenburg 1993 and 1997, Nakayama and Martin 1999, Ware 1997 Solomos and Back 2000, Shome 1999). This study builds on earlier theorising about whiteness through detailed ethnographic research and discourse analysis focused on east London. I investigate the processes through which white liberal discourse mobilises specific histories, normalises whiteness and constructs different subjects. This approach allows me to identify the institutions and organisations through which the discourse is embodied, to explore when, how and by whom challenges to the dominant discourse take place, to map how the discourse shifts and how it supports the coercive power of the state. I am able to analyse the dominant discourse in relation to different subject positions and in contest with subordinate discourses. In the opening of this chapter I introduced the four elements of white discourse that were condensed into the after curry argument. I expand on them in this section.


The Invisible Empire

The Invisible Empire is the first and pivotal element of the dominant white discourse, asserting positive narratives about Britain’s colonial past and obscuring contesting histories, including those of white violence. There is an infinite repertoire of invented and remembered ‘traditions’ that may be mobilised in representing ‘the past’ in any local, national or global space (Hobsbawm 1983, Mackey 1999). The dominant discourse includes histories that work to legitimise the dominant group, whilst marginalising subordinate groups’ claims to share local or national space. It has been impossible to escape the British Empire in twenty-first-century Britain. Colonial anniversaries, scattered throughout the calendar, are remembered through corporate sponsorship and public funding of museum exhibitions. Popular Empire histories play on TV and radio and in the pages of local newspapers. References to Britain’s imperial past infuse ongoing political and media debates about British identity and citizenship.13 Since the Empire was vast and its impact on different peoples and places so varied, those ubiquitous reminders of Empire cannot tell a single imperial story. Its complexities have been revealed further through challenges to its representation in all of the above contexts.14 Alternative discourses about the British Empire are mobilised in other museums, galleries and festivals whilst recent post-colonial historical and sociological writing has shifted the focus from studying the Empire ‘over there’ to exploring the role of Empire in shaping past and present British society and cultures (Hall 2000, 2002, Gilroy 2004, Hall and Rose 2006 and the Studies in Imperialism Series edited by John M. MacKenzie). The historian, Catherine Hall has referred to an ‘amnesia’ about Empire in white England during the main period of decolonisation in the 1960s and 70s, where guilt and embarrassment meant Empire was either forgotten or remembered nostalgically (Hall, 2002: 5). Such ‘amnesia’ is recognisable in different forms in discourses associated with many of the colonial-related events over the last decade. This selective loss of memory about British colonialism is one example of the Invisible Empire. The book goes beyond asking what the Invisible Empire is, or identifying where it can be located, to explore what it does and how it does it. How does the absence of some histories of the British Empire, and the mobilisation of others, work to include or exclude different categories of people from the twenty-first-century British collectivity? How does the Invisible Empire 13 Niall Ferguson’s Empire: How Britain made the modern world Channel 4 2003. BBC Radio 4 This Sceptred Isle. Anniversary commemorations include: Battle of Trafalgar 2007, Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 2007, Jamestown 2006–2007, Independence of India and Pakistan 2007. On Gordon Brown’s first visit to Africa (when Chancellor of the Exchequer) he was quoted in the Daily Mail: “I’ve talked to many people on my visit to Africa and the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over. We should move forward … We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it … And we should talk, and rightly so, about British values that are enduring, because they stand for some of the greatest ideas in history: tolerance, liberty, civic duty, that grew in Britain and influenced the rest of the world (Benedict Brogan, Daily Mail 2005). 14 National Maritime Museum, Trade and Empire Gallery, British Library East India Company 2000.



combine with other keywords and discursive practices to construct a hierarchy of belonging, where some people are consistently identified as more British than others? How does the Invisible Empire work to ensure that such constructions remain despite being challenged? The second element of dominant white discourse is the privileging and naturalising of white experience, making the white subject invisible by normalising it. The discourse assumes that white people are ‘just people’. In being ‘just human’ the power to speak for all of humanity is asserted (Dyer 1997: 2–3). The discourse makes the voices of what it sees as the ‘ethnic other’ passive, as they become the subjects of measurement, categorisation, analysis, and of social and public policy. Hage defined this process as ‘a discourse of internal orientalism’ (Hage 1998: 17). The normative cultural processes of this discourse are most invisible to those who are most immersed in it, the people who speak as ‘we’. White discourse is most visible to those it dominates and does violence to, referred to as ‘them’. Lola Young has argued that the ubiquitous use of the word ‘we’ consolidates white dominance ‘[the] use of ‘we’ and ‘they’ … serves to re-inforce the Euro-American dominant cultural status in determining who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’ (Young 2000: 284). Dyer demonstrated how whiteness is made invisible as debates about ‘white’ as a particular category become discussions about more specific ‘subcategories’ of whiteness (Dyer 1988: 44–7). In this study, the constructions of ‘East Ender’, ‘Islander’, ‘Cockney’, ‘English’, ‘middle class’, ‘working class’ and ‘British’, are such subcategories, all superficially racially unmarked, yet all are sites of struggle over their racial meanings. The dominant discourse constructs these groups as the dominant group in specific circumstances. Apart from the ‘middle class’ category, they are normalised as being the natural and historically legitimated occupiers of the East End space. In contrast, I track how in white discourse, in different historical contexts, Bengali people living in east London, if visible in the discourse, have variously been categorised as ‘lascars’, ‘Asians’, or ‘Muslims’. In each case they have been the subjects of social and cultural analysis and political debate where a single identity (based on their presumed employment, ethnicity or religion) has been used to define the whole person or group of people. I investigate the struggles over meanings associated with both the constructed ‘white’ and ‘Bengali’ categories. I explore their shared embeddedness within the dominant white discourse and how they work to both maintain and are sustained by the Invisible Empire. The third element of whiteness is that the dominant discourse constructs ‘white’ as a category, (or subcategory, such as those discussed above) which people from various ‘non-white’ backgrounds may, it is suggested, ‘aspire’ to in order to become part of the ‘white’ elite. When challenged, the discourse shifts to include different categories of people as ‘white’ in different contexts. The social and cultural capital associated with that category puts ‘white’ people in positions of structural advantage. Historical studies have explored processes whereby those defined as not in the dominant category ‘white’ in specific historical and spatial contexts have been


The Invisible Empire

included in the ‘white’ category when circumstances have changed in some way. Contests take place over which groups of people should be included or excluded as ‘white’. Becoming ‘white’ depends on the accumulation of specific social and cultural attributes which are relevant to their specific locations. This is illustrated in the experiences of migrants from all over Europe and the Middle East who arrived in ex-colonial countries of the United States, Canada and Australia as Macedonians, Ukrainians, Norwegians or Lebanese Christians, for example. Over time, and to different degrees, they acquired a ‘white’ identity which they did not have before (Roediger 1991, 1994, Hage 1998, Jacobson 1998, Frankenberg 1993 and 1997). Discourses of whiteness can be effective in uniting otherwise disparate peoples (Dyer 1997: 19). ‘White’ people can mobilise around certain issues in opposition to people categorised as ‘other’. Hage has argued, in an Australian context, that people aspire to being ‘white’. In this study I do not use the term ‘aspire’ because of its connotations of desire. The word does not challenge the processes whereby ‘non-whites’ are made the subject of the discourse. Those who wish to contest the dominance of the ‘white’ discourse are forced to communicate on its terms. Processes of becoming white in London have some similarities to those in the settler ex-colonies. East London has a history of migration and settlement of peoples from all over Europe and around the world. Historians have demonstrated that there have been economic and political advantages associated with being ‘white’ (often in terms of being identified as belonging to the subcategories ‘Cockney’, ‘East Ender’ or ‘Islander’) for at least the last four hundred years (Fryer 1984, Lahiri 2002, Visram 1999, 2002, Fisher 2004). It is beyond the remit of this study to focus on historical processes whereby migrants might have acquired various degrees of whiteness (Cockneyness), or have been categorised as ‘sometimes whites’ at specific political moments (Dyer 1993). However, I show in Chapter 5 how the discourse of tolerance is used to both unite different people as ‘white’ and to exclude others from that category. The hidden histories of South Asian and African settlement and intermarriage/ relationships with other migrants from the British Isles and Europe in east London and beyond, which are increasingly being researched by historians of the Asian and black presence in Britain, challenge the power of the Invisible Empire and the bounded categorisations of minorities. In the following chapters I draw on the research and writings of historians including Michael Fisher and Rozina Visram which challenge the common sense ethnic categorisations of the dominant discourse and the mobilisations of selective histories of the British Empire. The fourth element is that white liberal discourse is global, but with internally differentiated discursive formations. This point is central to my analysis. This study is based on ethnographic research in a very specific time and place. The individuals, groups, organisations and institutions that are the focus of the study communicate through dominant and subordinate discourses which cross local, national and global contexts. Shome, writing about whiteness in postcolonial India and Nair in relation to the Caribbean, explored colonial and postcolonial ‘processes of whiteness’ in ex-British colonies which were no longer ruled by white



elites, and from where migrants to Britain brought with them colonial experiences of whiteness (Shome 1999, Nair 2000). Dogra (2009) has demonstrated how the discourse works through the fundraising and advocacy communication of British-run Development NGOs working in ex-colonies. The dominant elite, as exemplified in the discourse of the part-Canadian owned Canary Wharf Group and associated with transnational capital and finance, discussed in Chapter 1, draws on a white liberal discourse recognisable well beyond the local context. The white discourses of ‘real East Enders’ that I analyse in Chapters 3 and 4 are different in specific content and context from the discourses of ‘real Canadians’ or ‘real Australians’ in studies by Mackey (1996) and Hage (1998) respectively but are similar in their meanings and clusters of ideas. The same can be said of the keyword ‘tolerance’, which as I will show, has its roots in seventeenthcentury English liberal philosophy and which is central to the dominant nationalist discourses of the ex-English colonies now Canada, Australia and the USA. British and North American white discourses have both similarities and differences which derive from shared and alternative historical, social, political and economic processes. The dominant white liberal discourse developed from the five-hundred year history of European colonial expansion across the world, but it is manifested differently over time and space. The different and similar manifestations of the dominant discourse in distant national contexts highlights the necessity for both analysing the discourse in a global, postcolonial framework and for understanding the internal differentiations caused by struggles of different subordinate groups. This study builds on the literature on whiteness, in using a supranational framework of analysis where metropole and colony are analysed as a single field of study (Cooper and Stoler 1997). This approach is especially significant since, as I argue, the dominant discourse excludes or obscures specific historic, political, economic and cultural relationships that existed, and continue to exist, between Britain and her ex-colonies and protectorates. Although it is beyond the scope of this study to research the white liberal discursive formation in all its contexts, it is important that the discursive continuities and associated power relationships that cross continents are recognised, and that a normalised international ‘common sense’ is identified when it is mobilised. I have chosen the title white liberal discourse, as opposed to white discourse, as the term liberal carries with it a history of meanings that is not contained in ‘white’. ‘Liberal’ is itself a keyword which has accumulated meanings since the fourteenth century and remains a highly contested term. Williams traced liberal to the early meaning of ‘free man’, concluding that it has become a political doctrine of certain, necessary kinds of freedom and, essentially, of possessive individualism. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ‘liberal opinion’ came to mean open-minded, the opposite of orthodox. In the nineteenth century, political liberalism developed its own political orthodoxy. It still has associations with the leisurely pursuits of people of independent means together with meanings of generosity. Conservatives criticise it as lacking in restraint and discipline, being


The Invisible Empire

of weak beliefs and lacking in rigour. Radicals have claimed it as a term for their ‘progressive’ opinions (Williams 1976: 179–181). My use of the word implies all of the above meanings, but most particularly those associated with the philosophy of John Locke (1632–1704). His was a political doctrine of individualist theories of man and society. The dominance of the discourse of the ‘Enlightenment’ for most of the eighteenth century made common sense the notions of progress. Classical liberalism was rationalist, empirical, secular and based on individualism. John Locke remained the favourite thinker of vulgar liberalism because he put private property as the most basic ‘natural right’. He embodies the relationship between ‘liberal’ as a philosophy of individualism and progress, and ‘white’ as a privileged, normalising, ahistoricising, shifting category. He is also a significant formulator of the notion of ‘tolerance’ which is an important keyword in the dominant discourse and which I investigate in depth in Chapter 5. Several European philosophers writing in the context of the religious strife of the seventeenth century developed the notion of the state as secular rather than a religious institution. In this discourse, the role of the state was seen as maintaining internal peace and material well being. Whilst Hobbes saw the primary duty of the state as the preservation of the individual life, Locke extended it to the preservation of the individual’s property. Hobbes and Locke also differed in their views on the relationship between different Christian sects and the secular state. Whilst Hobbes believed that the church should not be in a position to control the day-to-day activities of the state, he advocated a single religion laid down by the sovereign. A reason for this was that he believed that religious competition could lead to political conflict. In contrast, Locke argued for the establishment of the Anglican Church and toleration of other Protestant sects. Catholics, however, Locke argued, should not be tolerated, as he saw them as politically subversive due to their allegiance to the Pope (Brockliss 2001: 176). Locke’s rather than Hobbes’ ideas on religious toleration were codified in the 1689 Toleration Act to which I refer in more detail in Chapter 5. Locke and his contemporaries were not just writing in response to religious conflict, but also to their widening knowledge of the non-European world. Pagden argues that from the increased awareness of different customs and beliefs, naturallaw philosophers were seeking to find different definitions of ‘natural’ which would support the assumed truth of Christianity and superiority of European civilisation. At the same time they wanted to recognise the range of beliefs and customs in the world (Pagden 2001). By the time that Locke was writing, Europeans had charted most of the globe. Seventeenth-century Europe was extending its hold over the Americas and coastal Africa. Knowledge of Chinese, Japanese and Indian civilisations was increasing. The emerging Enlightenment discourse united the history of the world in a single story of evolution from pre-Christian, to Christian and secular societies. This narrative of the origin of society schematically represented Europeans as having progressed whilst the rest of the world had remained in the pre-Christian era. Locke contributed to this narrative, informed by



contemporary travel writing based on ethnographic information and speculative fictions. In his Second Treatise on Government, Locke intended to sanction the English expropriation of American Indian lands by describing seventeenth-century America as ‘still a Pattern of the first Ages in Asia and Europe’ (Locke 1690 cited in Pagden 2001: 192). Locke also used non-Christian beliefs as justification for slavery. Both the Bible and the Qur’an accepted enslavement of populations in ‘just wars’ but Christianity restricted the degree to which Christians could enslave other Christians. Christian slave traders justified the purchase of African slaves by claiming that they had been seized in a ‘just’ internal African conflict. However the idea that slaves were captured as a result of ‘just wars’ was questioned by Lourenco da Silva, a mixed race African Portuguese in 1684–86. He complained to the Holy Office that most slaves had been seized to satisfy the European market. This led to Catholic condemnation of, but not action against the slave trade. John Locke denounced the principle of slavery as ‘So vile and miserable an estate of Man and so directly opposed to the generous Temper and Spirit of our Nation; that ‘tis hardly conceived that an Englishman much less a Gentleman would plead for it’ (Locke quoted in Pagden 2001: 208). Paganism, however, remained a justification for enslavement. Locke defended slavery for Africans (and thus his shares in the Royal Africa Company) on the grounds that it rescued them from eternal damnation. It was preferable for an African to be a converted Christian slave that a free pagan (Pagden 2001: 208).15 David Wootton argues that Locke’s ‘Second Treatise’ made slavery as it existed in the American colonies illegitimate, but that Locke, who played a role in shaping England’s policy towards the colonies chose to do nothing about it. Locke’s priority at the time was to work towards achieving a ‘secure and wealthy’ government that could defeat Catholicism and the Absolutism of Louis XIV of France (Wootton 1993: 117). Democracy and the freedom of slaves were never important considerations. This brief discussion of the philosopher John Locke indicates how his liberal ideas were rooted in the processes of colonial expansion and expropriation of the seventeenth century. Cooper and Stoler argued that as the discourses of the European Enlightenment and liberalism spread from seventeenth-century European metropoles and impacted upon the new and older colonies ‘the dialectics of inclusion and exclusion’ emerged. They stated that: The colonies of France, England, and the Netherlands … did more than reflect the bounded universality of metropolitan political culture; they constituted an 15 Historian of the slave trade, Hugh Thomas, argues that ‘Historians should not look for villains’, and follows this statement with a list of famous European cultural figures who had links with slavery, finishing with Locke ‘No-one surely, would refuse to take seriously John Locke, even as a philosopher of liberty, because he was a shareholder in the Royal Africa Company, whose initials, RAC, would be branded on so many black breasts in Africa during the last quarter of the seventeenth century’ (Thomas 1997: 14).


The Invisible Empire imaginary and physical space in which the inclusions and exclusions built into the notions of citizenship, sovereignty and participation were worked out … Efforts to define what a dominant class or a government could and could not do, helped to create Homo Europeaus and the social projects for which that entity stood, and therefore clarify who was the most fit to rule, at home and abroad … the rationalizing, accumulating and civilizing tendencies of European expansion both built on and could not escape the violence of militarism as that expansion blended coercive and persuasive strategies of racial rule. (Cooper and Stoler 1993: 3)

This is not to argue that Enlightenment discourses are essentially European or necessarily associated with militarism and coercion. Dominant discourses about the Enlightenment may assert that their essential Europeanness, when ‘Europe’ has never been a closed system culturally, politically or economically. So-called Enlightenment Principles and urges to classify and differentiate were not and are not confined to European thought (Subrahmanyam, 1997: 761). However, it is the dynamic, shifting and enduring relationships between the coercive power of militarised European colonialism combined with the persuasive hegemonic power of the discourses of the Enlightenment and liberalism that is flagged in the labelling of the dominant discourse as white and liberal. In this chapter I have described and justified a theoretical framework that combines Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, Foucault’s notion of discursive formations, theories of whiteness and theorisations on liberalism and which treats the metropole and colony as an analytic whole. The following chapters are based on ethnographic research and discourse analysis that took place intensively over a period of one year in 1993–94 and less intensively over two decades, in east London. Through participation in a series of events, interviews of participants and observers, participant observation, and analyses of local and national media and political discourse, I investigate complex processes involved in the acquisition and transmission of power. I identify and map the dominant white liberal discourse, and challenges to it, focusing on contests over keywords and ideas in different and related contexts. I investigate how groups become categorised subjects and how they challenge those categorisations. I demonstrate the flexibility of the Invisible Empire through showing how, when challenged, the dominant discourse shifts to accommodate different histories and in the process the dominant group consolidates alliances and maintains hegemony. The arguments in this book were developed through the ethnography and discourse analysis that were part of my D.Phil research in social anthropology. I was living and working in Tower Hamlets throughout the period in which this book is based (1990–2009). The intense period of ethnographic fieldwork and collection of media and political discourses was during a specific period of racial violence and related political struggles in 1993–94. In September 1993, seventeen year old Bengali British student, Quddus Ali, was permanently brain damaged in a racial attack in Stepney. A week later a British National Party councillor was elected



in a by election to represent the Millwall ward on the Isle of Dogs which is part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. During the eight months between his election in September and defeat in local government elections the following May I attended political meetings, demonstrations and supposedly unrelated cultural events. As well as participant observation, I carried out interviews and collected related visual and aural material. I accumulated material and analysed discourses of powerful organisations, including the Canary Wharf Group, the police and the BBC, I analysed the discourses of two local newspapers, the paid-for East London Advertiser and the free paper, East End Life, published by the local authority (Tower Hamlets) and supposedly delivered to every address in the borough.16 In the multidisciplinary field of discourse studies, many analyses focus on a single point of time, imposing a misleading notion of fixity onto the discourses analysed. The focus of my study is on examining the processes through which keywords and symbols are transformed and how meanings of associated terms are changed; in short, how discourses shift.17 Through focusing on discourse shifts in their social and historical context, specifically on how people from the ex-colonies were constructed in 1990, 2000 and 2005–2007 on the Isle of Dogs and surrounding areas in east London, I am able to demonstrate the historical specificity and flexibility of discourse and discourse change. This necessitates identifying how dominant and subordinate discourses are associated with specific groups, categories of people or institutions at specific times. It follows that the discourse analysis techniques that I employ involve investigating the changing ‘context’ as well as ‘text’ (Blommaert 2001).18 Chapter Outlines Each chapter seeks to uncover different ways that the Invisible Empire and related elements work in the dominant white liberal discourse about Britishness. The chapters are arranged thematically. Chapters 1 and 2 both examine the Invisible Empire as a constituent of the dominant white liberal discourse in the context of British Empire related anniversaries that took place in the East End of London between 2000 and 2007. They are a preceded by an introduction which sets out the theoretical and ethnographic context. Chapters 3 and 4 also are preceded by an introduction which 16  The East London Advertiser had a circulation of 24,973, targeting Tower Hamlets but also read further afield. It claimed to contain ‘hard news’ and to be ‘caring and campaigning about the community it serves’, (ELA Special Supplement July 1992). In 1993–94 terrestial TV channels dominated, consequently data collection was a less complex process than a decade later. 17 Early examples of this type of discourse analysis include van Dijk 1993, Wetherall and Potter 1992 and Williams’ approach to keywords. 1983: 15. 18  In examining the content of the discourses of interviewees, I do not use the more intricate speech analysis of sociolinguistics as exemplified by Rampton (2001).


The Invisible Empire

sets the scene for their examination of processes of the construction of ‘white’ and ‘Bengali’ categories and their relationship with the Invisible Empire during a period of political conflict during 1993–94. These chapters explore how people experienced and challenged the constraints imposed on them by these discursive constructions and the extent to which police, local authority and media discourses shifted in response to those challenges. They identify historical absences in the dominant representations of the East End local media and government discourses, demonstrating that what is edited out of discourse is as significant as the images and memories that are mobilised. They show that the processes of exclusion have histories and are related to the specific political economy of the East End and its relationship with the nation and empire. Chapter 5 addresses how the Invisible Empire combines with other elements of that discourse to maintain a flexible ‘hierarchy of belonging’ where different categories of people are constructed as having greater or lesser rights to belong. ‘Tolerance’ is examined as a keyword that is central to white liberal discourse and the maintenance of cultural hegemony in Britain. Chapter 6 makes the Invisible Empire visible through drawing on recent historical research to investigate nineteenth- and twentieth-century categorisations and connections of people from South Asia and to demonstrate how the dominant discourse and the British state have worked historically through to the present to subjectify, classify and exclude people from the Indian subcontinent from fully belonging. The final chapter considers how the Invisible Empire and simplistic ‘communitarian-culturalist’ categorisations of Bengali people as ‘Muslims’ in recent discourses about ‘multicultural Britain’ combine to work against ‘genuine metropolitan belonging’ (Bhatt 2006) through the privileging of differences at the expense of commonalities. Each chapter assumes Britain and its colonies or ex colonies as an analytic whole and necessarily involves searches for the stories of the British Empire that are hidden, absent and omitted from that ubiquitous narrative. This investigation has been hugely helped by the recent research of scholars including Gopalan Balachandran, Rozina Visram and Michael Fisher who have expanded knowledge about the pre-twentieth century experiences of people from South Asia in Britain.

Part I

Introduction to Chapters 1 and 2 The following two chapters expose and analyse how the Invisible Empire works through an examination of the shifting dominant discursive representations of an area that was the hub of the British Empire. Through ethnographic research and discourse analysis in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, I identify, locate and track the shifting dominant white liberal discourse and demonstrate how, in different ways, that discourse constructs or excludes competing histories of Empire. I examine significant constituents of that discourse, including clusters of keywords and ideas in different and related social, cultural and political contexts. I identify discursive shifts in that dominant discourse and in doing so, investigate the sites of struggle between powerful organisations, different social groups and competing discourses. I demonstrate that explorations of the processes whereby such discursive shifts occur, works to expose how ‘cultural hegemony’ is maintained. I begin by giving a brief historical and geographical overview of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, focusing on the area now known as ‘Docklands’. I then summarise the theoretical approach to social remembering that I employ to analyse the contingency and flexibility of the white liberal discourse and of its pivotal element, the Invisible Empire, in the context of dock related commemorative events over two decades. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets London developed as a trading city because of its location on the River Thames. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, ships bringing goods from around the British coast and abroad, unloaded onto quays along the river banks, or moored midstream and the goods were unloaded onto smaller boats. In 1796, it was estimated that at any one time there were nearly 8000 sea going vessels and river boats occupying a 6 mile stretch of river, mostly east of London Bridge (Palmer 2000: 37). Problems associated with congestion led to huge investments of private capital in the construction of docks and related infrastructure on land bordering the Thames. Between 1802 and 1828, the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs, the London Docks and St Katherine’s Docks in Wapping and the East India Docks in Blackwall were opened. The construction of larger ships from the 1850s led to the building of further docks downstream between 1880 and 1921. These included the Victoria and Albert Docks, Tilbury Docks and King George V Docks. The introduction of container transport in the mid-sixties, along with


The Invisible Empire

improved road communication, led, in spite of much organised union resistance, to the relocation of most dock activity downstream to Tilbury. Between 1967 and 1981 all commercial shipping operations ended in the docks of Tower Hamlets and Newham. Only Tilbury remained, as a container dock, having had tens of millions of pounds invested in its modernisation. Dockworkers went on strike and took other industrial action against modernisation and redundancies in 1967 and 1972 (Palmer 2000: 159–64). However, between the 1960s and 1980s, 20,000 jobs were lost from the docks, and many more in dock related industries (Risebero 1996: 223). In 1970, in a protest, aimed at drawing attention to poor social conditions, the Isle of Dogs ‘declared independence’ (UDI) from the rest of London. A group of Isle of Dogs dockworkers and residents barricaded the single road to the ‘Island’. They stood on the bridges, preventing them from being raised and ships from entering the docks. Their leader, Ted Johns, argued that the docks brought wealth into Britain, but the money was spent by the City of London, which contains within its borders some of the richest financial and commodity trading institutions in the world. The ‘City’ is adjacent to Tower Hamlets and a similar size to the Isle of Dogs. It had become a separate borough in 1965 when the three east London boroughs had merged to form Tower Hamlets. Johns claimed that the 1970 protest resulted in a new secondary school, housing schemes and improved public transport (Ted Johns letter to The Guardian 11 February 1994). During the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservative central government initiated ‘regeneration’ projects in the south and west of the borough. In 1981, an unelected body, the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was created to oversee the ‘regeneration’ of the former docks and the surrounding areas. In 1991 the Bethnal Green City Challenge Company was formed to manage public and private investment into areas bordering the east of the City. Similar smaller ‘regeneration’ projects in other parts of the borough followed at the end of the decade. In 1982, under the LDDC, much of the Isle of Dogs became an ‘Enterprise Zone’. This meant that, for a ten-year period, no rates would be charged on industrial or commercial premises and any capital investment within the zone could be off set against tax. Speculative property developers were attracted to the 5000 acre site. In 1988, Olympia and York, a Canadian owned company, submitted plans for the centre of the redundant West India Docks. Named Canary Wharf, it included plans for office space for 60,000 people, accommodated in 3 skyscrapers and ten-storied waterside office blocks. The first tenants moved into the Canary Wharf development in 1991 (Palmer 2000: 166–8). The area now known as Tower Hamlets has been associated with poverty, bad housing and poor health since the early nineteenth century (Palmer 2000, Milligan 1995). Due to the location of the docks and the borders with the City of London, it has long been a home of migrants and the focus of local and national political conflicts and racialised violence. Even as the City has expanded eastwards into   Consequently it has been the subject of sociological, political and fictional studies too numerous to do justice to here. For discussions of antisemitic violence and political

Introduction to Chapters 1 and 2


Tower Hamlets, and after over twenty-five years of ‘regeneration’ it is still the third most ‘multiply deprived’ borough in Britain, with residents experiencing high levels of unemployment, overcrowding and crime, bad health and low levels of skills and income (Government Office for London, December 2007). Global financial institutions previously only based in the City are located on the western borders of the borough or shifted to the renamed ‘Docklands’ (the Isle of Dogs) in the south east – areas under the remit of the regeneration companies. Due to the presence of such corporations, workplace-based earnings in the borough are twice the national average (Local Futures Group, December 2007). Since the last decade of the twentieth century the East End has been an area of both extreme wealth and extreme poverty. East London boroughs, in common with Greater London as a whole, experienced out-migration from the 1950s. Between 1971 and 1981, the period of the closure of the docks, the population of Tower Hamlets declined by 15 per cent from 164,349 to 139,996 (compared to a decline of 10 per cent for Greater London) (Rix 1996: 22). However, since then and unlike most other London boroughs, it has experienced population growth through in-migration and a relatively high birth rate. According to the 1991 census the total population was 161,042, of which 23 per cent were Bangladeshi and 26 per cent were under the age of 15 (OPCS 1993). By 2001, the population of the borough had grown by a further 15.2 per cent to 196,106. In 2007 it was estimated to be 215,300 (Office of National Statistics). In 2001 the census statistics categorised 51.4 per cent as ‘White’ and 33.4 per cent as ‘Bangladeshi’, 2.7 per cent ‘Black-Caribbean’ and 3.4 per cent ‘BlackAfrican’ (OPCS 2003). In 2001, 45 per cent of the population were aged under 15. The period of with which I am concerned coincides, therefore, with a time of an expanding, young, relatively poor population, a significant percentage of whose parents or grandparents were born in what is now Bangladesh. discourses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries see Chris Husbands (1983). For the racist violence and discourses of 1970s east London see Kenneth Leech (1980).These studies provide background to the events and discourses that constitute the empirical focus of this study.   The Index of Deprivation 2007 is based on a variety of indicators combined into seven domains: Income, Employment, Health Deprivation and Disability, Education, Skills and Training, Barriers to Housing and Services, Crime and Living Environment. These seven domain indices have been further combined to form the overall Index of Multiple Deprivation (Government Office for London 2007).   These are the categorisations used in the census forms. There has been much debate around the categories used, including the introduction of a ‘mixed race’ category in 2001, the definition of ‘White’, ‘Black’ and ‘African’. I do not have the space here to deal with these issues save to point out that the construction of unchanging fixed categories of people is an aspect of dominant discourse that I explore further in this book.  Both 1991 and 2001 census have been criticised as under recording the population of Tower Hamlets. In 2001 the response rate was 76 per cent compared to a national average of more than 90 per cent (East End Life 17–23 February 2003). I therefore assume that the population of the borough is higher than the figures suggest in 1991 and 2001.


The Invisible Empire

Theoretical Approaches to Social and Cultural Remembering Recent theories of memory as a social and cultural process understand memory as a contested terrain, a product of multiple competing discourses (Misztal 2003). Misztal summarizes the theoretical perspective of the dynamics of memory as being where memory is conceptualized as ‘a contingent product of social or political actions and as grounds or basis for further action’ (Misztal 2003: 73). In the following two chapters I identify some of the social and political actions and the multiple competing discourses that constructed how the British Empire was remembered at the sites of the former West India and East India Docks during the early 1990s, in 2000 and in 2006–2007. I analyse the dominant discourses about the docks’ Empire histories and identify which institutions or groups they are associated with. That the past does not exist independently from the present and that power is constitutive of the production of historical narratives has been comprehensively demonstrated in his studies of Haitian and USA histories by the anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot (Trouillot 1995). His analytical approach is useful in dissecting the competing processes involved in the production of contemporary discourses about the histories of the West India and East India Docks. Trouillot compellingly described any historical narrative as a ‘particular bundle of silences’ (1995: 27). Each bundle is the result of a unique process that can be deconstructed and addressed through the use of a conceptual tool that identifies four significant ‘moments’: Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of the sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of the archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of the narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance). (Trouillot 1995: 26)

Power can be tracked through investigating contesting groups and discourses involved in the production of histories at these often overlapping ‘moments’. In his studies of Haitian and North American histories, Trouillot demonstrated how different types of silences, identified at any of the four different ‘moments’ of historical production, ‘criss-cross and accumulate’ over decades or centuries. In these two chapters, I focus on the silences that enter the production of history during the last two ‘moments’ – those of ‘fact retrieval’ and ‘retrospective significance’ to deconstruct and problematize the silences about the British Empire in the production of dock related narratives and events from the early 1990s to 2007. In only considering these ‘moments’ there is much still left to be exposed and explained outside the confines of these chapters. However, for the purposes of the following discussion, it is understood that the first two conceptual ‘moments’ – the creation of the sources and of the archives on which the later historical narratives which inform the twentieth- and twenty-first-century commemorative events,

Introduction to Chapters 1 and 2


took place in the contexts of increasing British colonial power in the Caribbean, North America and nineteenth-century India. It is no surprise that there is plentiful archival material relating to the colonies that can be used to tell the stories of the colonisers whilst the task of unmasking the silences of the colonised remains enormous. Silences in historical narratives are deafening to those who are aware of them and infuriating to those who know that they are there, but have little knowledge of what exactly is missing. Exposing each ‘bundle of silences’ demands an interdisciplinary approach that mobilizes a broad range of ethnographic, sociological, political and historical research. The theoretical fields, grown out of the specifically British experiences of Empire, that have exposed the discursive silences of the docks and which have driven me to investigate further, include those of ‘postcolonial’ history and geography and anthropology that examine the metropole and colony as an analytical whole, examining how Europe was created through its colonies (Catherine Hall 2002, Rozina Visram 2002, Michael Fisher 2004, Jane Jacobs 1996, Ann Laura Stoler 1997, 2002, and M-R Trouillot 1995), as well as that of Sanjay Subrahmanyam 1997 which forced a focus on the historical intellectual connections between peoples; critical whiteness studies that deconstruct and name the normalising and exclusionary processes of dominant white discourses (Les Back and Vron Ware 2002, Caroline Knowles 2007) and political studies of the intersectional interplays of ‘race’, nation and gender (Paul Gilroy 1987, 2004 and Nira Yuval Davis 2006). The exposure of the Invisible Empire necessarily requires the mobilisation of contesting histories that tell the stories that have been buried. Obviously there are numerous interpretations of the past that can be proffered as different to the dominant discourse. However, this book is not an exercise in academic ‘pick and mix’ from ‘history’s sweetshop’ warned against by John Goldthorpe (1991: 225). Rather, it is an application of what Sanjay Subrahmanyam, writing about ‘Eurasia’ in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, has called ‘connected histories’ (Subrahmanyam 1997). In his demolition of the historical, ethnographic and philosophical parochialism engendered by Area Studies disciplines, Subrahmanyam argued that the combination of modern nationalism and historical ethnography, which emphasize difference, have ‘blinded us to the possibilities of connection’. Historians need to seek out the ‘fragile threads that connected the globe even as the globe came to be defined as such (1997: 761–2). Gurminder Bhambra constructs a bridge between the focus on connected histories called for by Subrahmanyam and contemporary sociological theory. In her challenge to Eurocentric accounts of the development of modernity she argues that ‘Europe’ has never been a discrete entity and neither has ‘European’ philosophy. Europe was connected with different parts of the globe through travel, colonialism, trade and intellectual activity, which   For example the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, the Virginia Historical Research Library in Virginia and the East India Company /India Office archives at the British Library.


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to varying degrees have created the dominant discourse of European culture. However, that Eurocentric discourse has buried the connected histories on which modernity is built. She argues that ‘new understandings cannot be added to pre-existing ones without in someway calling into question the legitimacy and validity of previously accepted parameters’(2007: 149). The ‘new understandings’ in this book are built through exposing the hidden connected histories of the Invisible Empire in discourses of Britishness past and present. These connected histories have been obscured in dominant discourses about Britain because they are constitutive of British economy and culture and of its political and economic connections with the rest of the world. The alternative, connected histories that I foreground and explore are constituents of existing discourses associated with various subordinate groups that seek to challenge the dominant representations of the British Empire. In challenging those representations they are also challenging contemporary legislative and cultural practices as well as global economic arrangements that discriminate against people living in, or who have migrated from Britain’s ex-colonies. Although the constituents of any particular ‘bundle of silences’ is unique, in Chapters 1 and 2 I analyse a single, flexible, discourse, centred around one manifestation of the Invisible Empire, that constructs historical narratives that make up several separate dock related anniversaries and other commemorative events. What I call the mercantile discourse constructs a British Empire where goods and profits are foregrounded whilst the lives and histories of those who produced them if not totally invisible, are constructed as peripheral to the central story. Euphemistic (but contested) keywords including ‘settlers’, ‘plantations’, ‘merchants’ ‘freedom’, and ‘trade’ effectively make invisible the conflicts, violence and coercion of colonial projects. Anniversaries of events that precede or follow successful conquest are ‘celebrated’ unless contested by the conquered, when they most often switch to being ‘commemorated’. The mercantile discourse that communicates the anniversary events in London enables the mobilisations of specific white historical memories at the same time as silencing the historical connections that link the docks with colonial violence. The contemporary significance of these processes is discussed in Chapter 5 where I demonstrate how the patterns of discriminatory amnesia about Empire examined in Part I in relation to the docks, combine with related discourses about British and local history, examined in Chapter 4, to work to ensure that local people whose ancestors were subject to British rule in the Asian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean remain near the base of what I describe as an unstable ‘hierarchy of belonging’. I argue that the silences constructed through the mercantile discourse work towards white citizens retaining their position at the pinnacle of the ‘hierarchy of belonging’ and the continuing marginality of belonging endured by those whose ancestors were subjects of the overseas British Empire. Chapter 6 explores the hidden histories of those who proved those connections, Indian seamen.

Chapter 1

Terra Nullius to the Shrouding of Milligan: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs In this chapter I examine three distinct manifestations of the Invisible Empire in the dominant discourse about the West India Docks and the surrounding area of the Isle of Dogs in east London. Each version constructs the history and represents the Docks differently as the discourse shifts to accommodate challenges from subordinate discourses associated with specific groups of people. Each discourse relates to a particular moment: the early 1990s, 2000 to 2002 and 2006 to 2007. In the following chapter I examine the representations of the East India Docks over similar time frames. Terra Nullius: West India Docks and the Isle of Dogs in 1990 In the early 1990s, Olympia and York Canary Wharf Limited, the developers of the then in progress Canary Wharf development of the derelict West India Docks, published a glossy brochure advertising the future development to international and City of London-based corporations and financial institutions. Inside, a double page spread illustrated an artist’s impression of the yet-to-be built South West Water Court section. The picture shows imposing solid, stone and glass buildings, fronted by wide pavements and stone steps. In the foreground, suited white male and smartly dressed white female office workers fill the chairs of the busy pavement café. In the background, a white grand pianist, accompanied by a double bassist and trumpeter (with their backs to the artist), entertain white passers-by, as well as white men and white women sitting on the steps. A fifteen metre long stone wall runs along the steps. At one end the wall is three times as high as the white male figures walking past. On its most prominent aspect, overlooking this scene of purposeful leisure, there is an inscription in capital letters, each letter a third the height of an adult. It reads: THE WORLD HAS BEEN EMPTY SINCE THE ROMANS  Olympia and York Canary Wharf Limited was the registered name of the company involved in the Canary Wharf development. It was part of the privately owned Olympia and York Group that claimed that it ‘owns and actively manages over 55 million square feet of office space in 21 North American cities’. Canary Wharf was Olympia and York’s ‘first major European project’ (Olympia and York 1990).


The Invisible Empire

The second and third pages of the brochure are filled with a drawing of an aerial view of the future development. Titled ‘A New District’, it shows three towering skyscrapers surrounded by smaller blocks, all within the loop of the river Thames. It states: At Canary Wharf, we started with a clean slate. There was virtually nothing here except land and water. So we have been able to plan nothing less than a new business district for London; a district that will enable London to maintain its leading position as an international business and financial centre. We looked back to London’s past and its tradition of elegant streets, wellplanted squares and architectural harmony. We looked forward to London’s future and saw the city’s need for a new district which can measure up to the demands of competitive business life in the 21st century.

The streets on the architect’s plans are already named: Cabot Square, West India Avenue, East India Circle, Wren Landing, Churchill Place and Canada Place. The description of the district as a ‘clean slate’ would have come as a surprise to any of the 18,000 inhabitants of the Isle of Dogs who came across the brochure. I demonstrated in the overview of Tower Hamlets above, that the Isle of Dogs had been an important centre of colonial trade since the opening of the West India Docks in 1802. As well as the docks and related industrial activity, in 1990 it had an established infrastructure of roads, extensive council housing, schools and churches built for the thousands of people employed in dock related work. The docks had been closed for less than 15 years when the Canary Wharf publicity brochure was published. Although unemployment had led to out migration during the 1980s, in 1991, as Olympia and York declared the area ‘empty’, the combined population of the two Isle of Dogs wards of Millwall and Blackwall was 18,551 (OPCS 1993). In this example from the early 1990s, the Invisible Empire is manifested through two processes. First, through the marketing of the docks as ‘empty’: critiqued in academic discourses during the 1990s (Keith and Cross 1993: 9). Second, through the planning decisions and architectural styles; Riseboro noted the parallel between the ‘implanted Canary Wharf’, built in ‘consciously historicist’ style – the ‘traditional’ streets and squares of London – and the ways that colonial architects used ‘traditional forms to dignify the colonial process’ (Riseboro 1996: 224). In combination, the two processes emulate the colonial doctrine of terra nullius (land belonging to no-one) which worked to control existing populations. The doctrine of terra nullius, derived from Roman law and categorising land as unoccupied, was central to British colonial expansion, legitimising the expropriation of ‘unowned’ land by British ‘settlers’. In the case of Australia, the doctrine of terra nullius operated for over 200 years, denying the indigenous people any inherent land rights until a High Court judgement in 1992 (Mackey 1999, Jacobs 1996). Mackey draws on Foucault’s (1977) analysis of the functioning of disciplinary power to argue that:

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


the history of land and politics in Australia was an attempt to either make invisible, or control, the presence and spatial distribution of indigenous people in the body politic and economy of space in the nation. They, as indigenous people with a potential right to land, are seen as dangerous and risky to the nation and progress (1999: 118).

In the discourse of the publicity brochure, Olympia and York Canary Wharf Ltd used the colonial doctrine of terra nullius to attract tenants to the development of what was once the nineteenth-century hub of Empire. In order to attract the tenants, the indigenous population was made silent and invisible. However, I have shown that in the period leading up to the closure of the docks, dockworkers had gone on strike in protest against the modernisation that was leading to large numbers of redundancies. In 1970, local people, protesting about bad social conditions, had used the contrast between wealth they claimed was generated in the docks, but spent in the City, in their declaration of independence for the Isle of Dogs. The Labour voting, highly unionised, occasionally militant population of the Isle of Dogs who had their own ideas about how the docks should be redeveloped, were potentially dangerous and posed a risk to the Canary Wharf development. The repatriation of the idea of terra nullius to the place where, until recently, the goods of Empire had been unloaded, served to control an indigenous population, as it had in Britain’s colony Australia. The proposed names of the streets do nothing to foreground the people who built or worked around the docks. Instead, they hint of days of Empire and national glory: Cabot, the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century father and son explorers of present day Canada; West India and East India refer to different hemispheres of the British Empire; Wren, the architect of late seventeenth-century London, the imperial city; Churchill, the Prime Minister who led Britain, its Empire and its North American allies to victory in the Second World War; Canada, once a British ‘settler’ colony, now an independent state. These names link the site, not with the local populations, but obliquely with its past and present links with Empire – Olympia and York at the time being headed by three Canadian brothers. ‘Blackwall’, ‘Millwall’ and the ‘Isle of Dogs’ – terms which refer to the communities on the north and south of the peninsula, locally referred to as ‘the Island’ – are not mentioned at all in the publicity brochure. In 1990, in the discourses of Olympia and York, the local population became invisible. The site of the development, the West India Docks themselves, are referred to only once in the twenty-two pages of the brochure, in the context of the ‘exciting possibilities’ of waterside developments – cafes, promenades, waterfalls and fountains. One of those attractions, the South West Water Court has writing on the wall that sweeps aside 2000 years of world history. The ancient Roman Empire, which left an architectural legacy of solid and well-proportioned buildings, is  Paul, Albert and Ralph Reichmann who headed Olympia and York took over the Canary Wharf project in 1987 (The Wharf 12 June 2003).


The Invisible Empire

remembered in stone inscriptions, as the last significant moment in history. An implication is that nothing that has happened between Roman Londinium and modern London matters at all. In this discourse, the glories of European Empires are hinted at in street names and architectural styles and Roman references. Together they work to make invisible both the local population and the violence of Britain’s colonial enterprises. Between 1990 and 2000, events took place in the area immediately surrounding Canary Wharf and beyond which have made the narrative of the Isle of Dogs as terra nullius no longer viable. The architectural vision of the 1990 publicity brochure was only partially fulfilled. The South West Water Court in 2000 was not very different from the artist’s sketch. The wall, however, was blank. No inscriptions, no assertions regarding world history. Neither did the social vision embedded in the discourse of 1990 materialise. The political events that challenged the discourse of terra nullius are explored in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4. In the next section I examine the shift that took place in narratives of ‘Island history’ which emerged in 2000 as dominant in the discourses of the Canary Wharf Group. This rejuvenated discourse retained the Invisible Empire as its central element whilst accommodating selected histories of the local population that it could no longer ignore. White Histories: West India Docks 2000 By the turn of the century, Number One, Canada Square, the tallest building in Britain, had become a famous London landmark. It was the new ‘tower’ of Tower Hamlets in publicity material, visually eclipsing the 900 year old Tower of London which gave its name to the borough. The Canary Wharf tower is often used in preference to the twin towers of the Victorian gothic Tower Bridge and, with its two sister towers, has become a symbol of East London in the new millennium. In 2000, the Canary Wharf development had been in progress for thirteen years. In 1992 its owners, Olympia and York, had gone into administration and the estate had been bought by the Canary Wharf Group in 1995. In July 2000, the Canary Wharf Group (CWG) acted as the main sponsor for events associated with the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the West India Docks in 1800. This included the sponsorship of the construction of a stone replica of the original main gate of the West India Docks, erected near to its original position. CWG also sponsored a historical exhibition, fun day and souvenir programme associated with the anniversary celebrations. The programme was distributed free inside the local East London Advertiser newspaper. Exhibition panels narrating the history   In May 1992, Olympia and York went into administration, owing $20 billion. In 1995 the Canary Wharf estate was sold for £800 million to a group that included Paul Reichmann one of the original owners of Olympia and York. In April 1999, Canary Wharf Group was floated on the London Stock Exchange for £2.2 billion. In October 2000, it was valued at £3.8 billion (The Wharf 12 June 2003).

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


of the docks were displayed at the celebration fun day, where their target audience was the local Isle of Dogs population. After the event, a selection of panels was attached to the walls of the shopping mall underneath the Canary Wharf office buildings, on a subterranean street that leads from the high street shops to the Canary Wharf Jubilee line underground station where they would have been seen (and may have been read) by office workers from further afield, passing by on their way to work or shop. The Souvenir Programme and Exhibition Panels On the first page of the souvenir programme, George Iacobescu, Chief Executive of Canary Wharf Group, explained why his Group was sponsoring the events: After 13 years we see ourselves as ‘not so new’ members of this historic community and we are pleased to join this community both in celebrating its past achievements and in anticipating the future.. Why did we sponsor the Main Gate? Why indeed are we sponsoring the exhibition and this community fun day? First and foremost it is in recognition of the contribution that the Isle of Dogs has made to London and the UK economy over 200 years. The Main gate is a symbol, an important symbol, of the Island’s mercantile past. At a time of rapid change it is right to reflect, with pride, on that past. The community groups, who have played a key role in both the fun day and the opening of the Main Gate, understand that although we have much to celebrate today, we should not forget the past – the abomination of slavery and the inequalities and injustices of dock employment practices. But their request to us was to rebuild the gate because it is a reminder of those days, both good and bad. It is also a reminder that today all sections of the community are working together to forge greater understanding and a better tomorrow..

The section of the programme on the history of the docks, gives reasons behind their construction and refers to Britain’s eighteenth-century trade with its colonies: Britain’s West India commerce contributed 10 per cent of her larger trading economy, and British investment in the West Indies generated seven to 10 per cent of Britain’s annual income … Their [West India] trade was the most valuable in the Port [of London] and discontent over congestion and delays was increased by losses through pilferage, estimated at between £250,000 and £500,000 in the 1790’s. The outbreak of another war with France prompted the merchants to take action, perhaps anticipating government support because of the loss of customs revenue caused by theft of goods.


The Invisible Empire The main organisers of the West India Dock Company and the concept of closed docks were Robert Milligan (c.1746–1809), a former Jamaican planter who had returned to London in 1780 and William Vaughan (1752–1850), a naval architect and director of Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation … The West India Dock Company … obtained much of its finance from those who had direct or related interests … The Docks were an immediate success, for now, West India merchants could discharge their ships in four days instead of four weeks.

In the section titled ‘The Main Gate’, The souvenir programme continues: Robert Milligan persuaded George Hibbert to join his consortium in 1797 … Hibbert was a vital convert; he was a leading West India merchant, an important wharfinger [someone who unloads goods from wharves] and from 1798 a City Alderman. The Hibbert family had been associated with the West India trade, particularly Jamaica, for two generations. He was a very able power broker in the City and an able organiser and speaker. Without his support, it is unlikely that these docks would have been the first built. He eventually became MP for Seaford 1806–1812 and Agent for Jamaica 1816–1831. (200 years: The bicentennial of the Isle of Dogs and Blackwall community souvenir programme, East London Advertiser 2000)

The programme also refers to the replica Main Gate to the West India Docks, identical to the one erected 200 years previously. Original and replica gates had been topped by a model of the ship ‘Hibbert’, whose history is summarised: Ship ‘Hibbert’ was built on the River Thames in 1784 for Hibbert and Company with [sic] George Hibbert and his cousins owned a number of ships trading directly to Jamaica from London and Liverpool with ‘Hibbert’ sailing a regular run from London to Kingston, Jamaica and back following the Gulf Stream … Generally it transported plantation goods, food and wine to the island and returned with sugar and rum intermixed with cotton, coffee and tropical hardwoods… in 1799 the ship was sold…by 1803 she was back in the West Indies Trade.

Next to the history of the Main Gate section there was a report on the opening celebrations of the replica Main Gate: He [London Mayor Ken Livingstone] was joined by High Commissioners from the West Indies and representatives from the High Commissions in Bangladesh and Belize. Onlookers were able to witness familiar scenes from the docks [sic] history recreated around the replica gate, including barrels of rum and raw sugar being unloaded from a sailing ship, an Asian dance routine, Chinese Dragon Dance and Philippine dancers.

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


Mayor Ken and his entourage arrived in period style on board a traditional cutter … A 20 piece steel band provided music and a pearly prince and princess rounded off the characters from the docks era to entertain the crowd.

The exhibition panels summarised dock history further. The panels entitled ‘The Building of the Docks’ explained the need for the building of the docks: by 1790, trade had tripled, while the average tonnage of ships had doubled from 50T to 100T over the previous 100 years. There was room at the mooring piers for 600 ships, but when seasonal traders arrived, such as those bringing sugar from the West Indies, room was needed for up to 1400 ships at the same time. The ships that could not get ‘berth space’ were forced to moor on the river, creating floating ‘traffic jams’, and were a temptation for pilferers and river pirates. This particularly affected the West India merchants, whose estimated losses were £250K to £500k per year – equivalent to enormous sums today. The West Indies trade was the most valuable in the port. The ships were only second in size to the East Indiamen, and the bulk of the trade was seasonal, so the merchants could present a powerful and convincing case for the constitution of a secure port.

The Panel titled ‘The Main Gate’ gave an explanation for the choice of the ‘Hibbert ship’ above the gate: As a powerful and well established West India merchant with considerable political clout, George Hibbert was a supporter of the plan to build the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs. He was Chairman of the West India Merchants (and therefore the docks until 1831). In common with many men in his position and social standing, George owned a number of slaves in the West Indies, at a time when this practice was seen to be, mistakenly, perfectly acceptable. We now realise that slavery is an unjustifiable evil, and, in his time, with all his undoubtable political clout and connections, George found that public opinion was moving strongly against the practice. By 1807 slavery in the colonies was discouraged, and by 1830 was abolished completely throughout the British Empire. His fellow directors readily agreed to the placing of a model of his ship on top of the Main Gate, and, in time the gate became known colloquially as the ‘Hibbert Ship Gate’ (although its proper name was and is still, officially the ‘Main Gate’. It is historically incorrect to believe that the name ‘Hibbert Ship Gate’ in some way was meant to be a memorial to the man – even in his time, and the re-erection of the Main Gate, complete with the model ship, as part of the 200 year history of the Isle of Dogs and Blackwall certainly does not represent any support for the practice of slavery or the part that George Hibbert played in it. The Island community, including the ethnic minorities, which make up the 200th anniversary committee fully support the commemoration of our history in the rebuilding of the Main Gate, including the model of


The Invisible Empire the Hibbert Ship, and George Hibbert, as the chairman at that time of the West India Company, in the building of the docks. [Italics and bold are in the original]

The panel on the building of the docks refers to the labourers employed: Many of the workers came from Scotland, where Highland clearances were making many families homeless and unemployed. They came to London in search of work, and most settled here permanently.

There were separate panels on Shipbuilding and Ships, Imports and Exports, Recent History and UDI (the 1970 declaration of independence referred to above), the 1889 Dock Strike, Watermen, Jobs at the Docks and Working Conditions. In the latter panel, an example of bad conditions was included: Unloading bags of sugar weighing 152 kilos was exhausting work which stripped the dockers’ skin.

The discourse of the souvenir programme and the exhibition panels of 2000 contrasts with the 1990 discourse of terra nullius in the marketing of Canary Wharf. A history of the docks and of the local population is central to the discourse of 2000. The local population is included both as an existing community and as having historic links in the construction of the docks and in dock related employment. Condemnation of slavery is also present in panels and programme. The visibility of the local population was asserted in the title of the souvenir programme – ‘200th Anniversary of an island community’. Inside, the ‘island community’ is further defined as ‘the Isle of Dogs and Blackwall community’. Blackwall is the geographical area on the north of the peninsula and of the West India Docks. The Isle of Dogs (Millwall ward) is the southern part of the peninsula, south of the West India Docks. The precise naming of the geographically defined ‘community’ in the official anniversary title, rather than of the docks, suggests the local population is being given more importance than the docks. The docks have come and gone, but the people are still there. The population is also made visible in mention of the representation of local groups in the production of the exhibition and involvement in the fun day. In this discourse, the docks and those who lived and worked in the area are celebrated as having contributed to the national economy. However, the historic context in which the docks flourished is narrated in complex and contradictory ways. The discourse recognises a link between the docks and the slave economy, but never makes the relationship explicit. For example, Iacobescu, the Chief Executive of CWG remembers the ‘abomination of slavery’ and writes that the Main Gate is a reminder of the ‘good and bad’, but does not explain how slavery and the docks are related. Iacobescu distances himself from the direct reference to slavery. It is not he but ‘the community groups’ who ‘understand’ that particular

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


history should not be forgotten. However, there is no detail in the programme or panels to remind people of slave histories. Much more is written in the following pages, of the ‘mercantile past’ that he celebrates. Throughout this discourse, the process of trade is foregrounded whilst the human involvement in the slave economy, which produced those goods, is obscured. The discourse of ‘mercantile past’ in the sections on history and the Main Gate in the programme and panels uses euphemism and omissions to obscure the link between slavery and the docks. Discursive references to ‘West India commerce’, ‘West India trade’, ‘related interests’, ‘West India merchants’ and to ‘planters’, obscure any direct involvement in the violent trade and abuse of enslaved Africans on Jamaican and other island plantations. The nature of ‘British investment’ in the West Indies is left unexplored. The omission of detail about the source of the ‘mercantile’ wealth and the ‘related interests’ of those who financed the West India Docks, contradicts the stated aim of ‘community groups’ understanding of slavery. The programme does not mention that the profits from these goods were high because enslaved African labour was used on all the plantations (Walvin 2000: 84–100). Whereas the brochure and the panels state that George Hibbert had owned slaves, they do not state that he had also traded in them and had been politically active in opposing the abolition of the trade in enslaved Africans at a time when there was increasing public support for abolition (Thomas 1997: 555). He was the author of a pamphlet opposing the abolition of the slave trade (Fryer 1984: 49). As a Member of Parliament for Seaford, and whilst chair of the West India Dock company, Hibbert had taken part in the 1807 Parliamentary Debate on abolition. In the Commons debate he insisted that ‘more acts of cruelty occurred every week in London than in a month in Jamaica’ (Parliamentary Debate 23rd March 1807 cited in Thomas 1997: 555). The mercantile discourse gives respectability to Hibbert as a merchant, MP and Alderman, but omits to contextualise those positions. As Fryer and others have demonstrated, the sugar and slave money of the West India merchants was used to buy parliamentary seats to increase their political power, including their ability to lobby against those who were trying to abolish the slave trade and plantation slavery forced upon Africans (Fryer 1984: 47–9; Thomas 1997). In the description of George Hibbert’s involvement in slavery, on the ‘Main Gate’ panel, the discourse omits to mention the abolitionist movement directly. Rather, it states that ‘public opinion was moving strongly against the practice’ – an apparent contradiction with the earlier statement that slavery ‘was seen as perfectly acceptable’. In this discourse, the historical narrative is one of no conflict. Slavery simply moves from acceptability to unpopularity. These facile assertions obscure the struggles over the issue of slavery taking place throughout the Atlantic world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Several discursive strategies are used to support the inaccurate notion that in eighteenth-century Britain, slave trading and ownership were uncontested practices. The first is the use of the phrase ‘was seen as perfectly acceptable’, in reference to slavery, without any indication of by whom. It therefore carries with it a universal assumption that everyone in the late eighteenth century accepted


The Invisible Empire

slavery, which is well documented as not the case. The second discursive strategy is omission. Through omitting references to the powerful Abolitionist movements at the time, the violence and terror of the Atlantic trade system is also ignored. West India slave traders and plantation owners – those who lobbied for the docks to be built, are represented as acting for the public good. Enslaved Africans had demonstrated their opposition from the beginnings of slavery through rebellion and running away (Walvin 2000; Fryer 1984). Ex-slaves Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano produced abolitionist material during 1787–88. In 1787, Cugoano published a tract ‘Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species’. In March 1788 Equiano wrote a petition to Queen Charlotte, demanding the end of slavery (both cited in Walvin 1998: 157–8). In the second half of the eighteenth century there were well documented antislavery movements amongst different classes in Britain and America (Thomas 1997: 449–557). The first British abolition campaign was started by Quakers, many of whom were powerful businessmen. In 1783, the campaign involved mass distribution of anti-slavery literature and press advertisements urging people to refuse to buy slave grown produce. Sections of the Anglican middle class joined the abolition movement in 1785 when William Wilberforce used the abolition of the slave trade as his main parliamentary campaign. He launched the first anti-slavery debate in Parliament in 1789 (Colley 1996: 374). Thomas Clarkson publicised the link between the abolition of the slave trade and the economic potential of trade to Africa. The Abolition Society was formed in 1787 and quickly attracted people from different sections of British society (Walvin 2000: 128–39). Women demonstrated their opposition to slavery in 1791 when male abolitionists launched a nationwide boycott of slave-grown sugar. Some women chose not to use West Indian sugar in their homes, and only bought ‘free’ sugar. Initially the sugar strike made little impact, but was very successful when relaunched in the 1820s (Colley 1996: 292). Evidence of London working class opposition to slavery has been documented since the 1760s. Referring to the dangers of recapturing escaped slaves in London, a magistrate, Sir John Fielding wrote in 1768 that the slaves had ‘The Mob on its Side’ (cited in Fryer 1984: 71). Fryer argues that the ‘Mob’ referred to by Fielding is the pre-industrial craftsmen and labourers who, in 1768, had marched through Shoreditch, the City and Westminster, smashing Mansion House in the City and large houses elsewhere, demonstrating for ‘Liberty and Wilkes’. Fryer argues that   For more evidence of black activism against slavery see the writings of Africans, Equiano and Sancho compiled by Carretta (1995 and 1996) and Walvin (1998). Considerably more material has been published on anti-slavery movements since the 2007 anniversary events commemorating the British Parliamentary abolition of the slave trade. However, I have restricted the references to those that were in the public domain, and therefore available to organisers, before the 2000 West India Docks events.   John Wilkes was a Protestant Dissenter and MP, famous for his popularism, English nationalism and hatred of Scots. He was imprisoned in 1768 (Colley 1996: 112–22).

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


the ‘Mob’ opposed the idea of slavery, and saw slaves as fellow victims of the ruling elites (1984: 71). In 1788 two-thirds of the adult male population of Manchester signed a petition demanding the abolition of the slave trade (Colley 1996: 373). The souvenir programme and the exhibition panel represent the building of the West India Docks as an unopposed project, whereas other contemporary historical narratives demonstrate that their construction was contested (Fryer 1984: 49). In the decades running up to 1799, when the Act of Parliament permitting the construction of the West India Docks received Royal Assent, the issue of the abolition of the slave trade and, to a lesser extent, of slavery itself, was a significant part of political discourse across social classes and at local and national levels. However, it became a suppressed discourse during the course of the 1790s. The French Revolution and its reverberations across Europe, the slave revolt in Haiti and its feared affect on British plantations, and the war with France from 1793, led the British Government to fear both radical domestic demands and abolition. It has been suggested that the West India lobby would not have succeeded in building the West India Docks if Britain had not been at war with France. The explanation, in the brochure, is that the government needed the customs duties that were being lost through ‘pilfering’. However, this was also a period when opposition to government was violently suppressed because of the fear of revolutionary ideas. From 1794, the government enacted repressive penal restrictions on reforming and radical organisations, activities and publications, including abolitionists and their literature (Walvin 2000: 170). The discourse of abolition went underground until the early nineteenth century. When it emerged again, the West India Docks were already in operation. The trade in slaves was made illegal by Parliament in the 1807 Act and the ownership of slaves was abolished in the British colonies in 1838. Analysed in terms of the above discussion on abolition and the trade in enslaved Africans, the text relating to the Hibbert Ship on the Main Gate panel, is interesting in two respects. First, the panel made a very strong assertion of the ‘correct’ way that people both in the nineteenth and the twenty-first centuries should interpret the Hibbert Ship. Second, the panel gave legitimacy to its view by stating that ‘ethnic minorities’, included in the 200th Anniversary Committee, ‘fully supported’ that view of history. Further investigation into the discourse of 2000 reveals more complexities and contradictions. Why did the readers of the panel need to be directed towards a ‘correct’ view of history? In the programme, Iacobescu wrote that the Main Gate was an ‘important symbol of the Island’s mercantile past … a reminder of those days both good and bad’. The focus on the ship Hibbert, presented as innocent and heroic, allows Iacobescu not to endorse the slave-owning George Hibbert and draws attention away from the system, which linked slaves, slave owners, ships, goods and profits. The ship and the man were part of the same Atlantic trading system, dependent on slavery, on behalf of which the West India Docks were built. The panel asserted that the replica gate does not represent support for slavery or the part that George Hibbert played in it. Yet the discourse was never explicit about how Hibbert’s activities related to slavery: his ownership of slaves was defended as having been


The Invisible Empire

‘perfectly acceptable’ then. When George Hibbert was the subject of the discourse, his biographical details were used selectively. His organising skills were referred to in respect of lobbying for the construction of the docks, rather than in opposing the abolition of the slave trade through pamphleteering and Parliamentary debate. The political power bought with the profits of a slave economy, and used to fight abolition, was represented in terms of the respectability of public office. However, the assertion of a ‘correct’ history did work to delegitimise any claim that the Hibbert Ship can represent different things to different members of the community. A claim that the name Hibbert represents a celebration of the profits from a slave economy would come from people who want to foreground the links between slavery, ‘mercantile trade’ and the docks. Those people have understandings of history that challenge the dominant historical discourse of the panel or the programme. They are the people to whom the assertion is addressed. Why should their views be countered in an exhibition panel? The emphasis on the support given to the ‘Hibbert Ship Gate’ by ‘the Island community, including the ethnic minorities’ indicates that there may have been expectation that some people would raise questions about the inclusion of the ‘Hibbert Ship’. The panel deflects criticism through the representation of a united ‘Island community’, who support the ‘correct view of history’ presented by the panels. In the souvenir programme, Iacobescu remarked that ‘today all sections of the community are working together to forge greater understanding’. A present-day ‘community’ without conflict is represented, and yet the panel is answering potentially contesting views on the symbolic meaning of the ‘Hibbert Ship’. Who is ‘the community’ in this discourse? The ‘community’ referred to includes Canary Wharf Group plc and the groups represented by the Anniversary Committee members. Photographs and captions at the back of the programme show the committee members responsible for the exhibition referred to in the panel. Out of the seventeen photographs of committee members whom I categorised as ‘not ethnic minority’ (the categorisation used in the discourse of the panel), one claimed to be a ‘fourth generation Islander’, another three said they are third generation ‘Islanders’ (one claimed that her greatgrandchildren represent the sixth generation), one other was born on the ‘Island’. Six others said that they had worked in the docks for most of their lives (including Ted Johns, leader of the 1970 UDI), three more had been local teachers, one was a local newspaper editor, one the MP and another a local councillor. There were three ‘ethnic minority’ members photographed and captioned in the programme. One was a member of the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets, described as ‘born in Hong Kong’. The other two were local councillors of Bengali and African descent, but they did not mention that in their caption. None of the three ‘ethnic minorities’ claimed to have any links of descent, birth, residence or employment with the ‘Island’. Apart from the eight politicians, teachers and newspaper editor, twelve committee members were in their 60s or 70s. There were no youth involved. Twelve were men and eight were women. The ‘Island community’ in 2000 was represented as largely white, ageing and long established.

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


The ethnic minority members all had political responsibilities either as councillors, or in representing the local ‘Chinese community’. Their inclusion as representatives of the ‘ethnic minorities’ supports the dominant discourse of the ‘Island’ as an isolated white community employed in dock related work, the business of which was in the processing of ‘goods’. The ‘ethnic minorities’ in the committee claimed no such direct connection with the Isle of Dogs or docks, despite their all having strong connections with ex-British colonies which were part of the trading network of empire. In the discourse of the programme and panels, the ‘ethnic minorities’ appear less deeply embedded in the history of the docks than the other members. Their involvement and support of the ‘correct history’, works to delegitimise challenging views and strengthens the dominance of the ‘mercantile’ discourse. The inclusion of a history of a specific ‘ethnic group’ – the Scottish – in the creation of the docks, contrasts with the omission of the roles of others, including African slaves. The panel did not refer to the economics and politics of the Highland Clearances, which had allowed landowners loyal to the Crown to expel tenants in favour of sheep farming (Davies 1997: 632). However, it did hint at a reason behind their arrival, and at their role in the creation of the docks. It informed us that Scottish people had a reason for leaving their homes and were able to find employment in dock construction. It therefore provided a historical justification for the settlement of people of Scottish descent on the Isle of Dogs 200 years ago. This contrasts with the representation of people from the Africa and the West Indies as having an indirect relation with the area when the docks were built. They were not seen as having had any role in the development of the Isle of Dogs, rather their enslavers and abusers were given this credit. The role of people of African descent in the production of goods and profit, for which the docks were built, was not explained. In referring to slavery and unjust dock practices in a single sentence, Iacobescu was signalling equivalence between them. The programme included reminiscences from an ex-stevedore about the bad working conditions and there were panels on display in the shopping mall detailing the appalling conditions of the nineteenth century and the 1889 strike. The programme included no equivalent detail about the processes of slavery. Although there was a panel on display at the fun day, titled ‘Africa and the West Indies’, which included a history of slavery and the 1950s immigration, which may have made some of those links, that panel was not displayed in the more permanent exhibition in the shopping mall. It is a characteristic of this discourse that the link between the violence of the slave economy and the ‘West India trade’ is obscured, whilst other histories, such as of those who built and worked in the docks, are foregrounded. Within the late twentieth-century discourse of ‘mercantile past’ the repetitive use of words ‘mercantile’, merchants, ‘planters’ and ‘West India trade’ ensure that the trade in goods is the focus of interest. The strongest relationship explicit in the discourse is between the wealth generated by the trading of plantation goods and the construction of the docks. An alternative relationship between the generation


The Invisible Empire

of wealth through the commercial exploitation of African people and enforced by violence, is edited out of the discussion. Although the ‘mercantile past’ is a late twentieth-century discourse, it uses terms taken directly from the eighteenth century. However, these words do not carry the same meanings across the centuries. As I explored above, in the late eighteenth century the issue of slavery was contested by a range of different interest groups. Moreover, the ‘West Indies’ and associated terms had signifying power outside the arena of organised political activity, in a range of social and cultural contexts. This is demonstrated in Said’s exploration of the meanings of references to the Caribbean island of Antigua in Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park, published in 1814. Referring to the significance to early nineteenth-century readers of Sir Thomas Bertram, master of the English country estate and absentee plantation owner, he suggested: The Bertrams could not have been possible without the slave trade, sugar and the colonial planter class; as a social type, Sir Thomas would have been familiar to eighteenth and early nineteenth century readers who knew the powerful influence of the class through politics, plays … and many other public activities (large houses, famous parties and social rituals, well known commercial enterprises, celebrated marriages… . (Said 1993: 112)

At the time when the West India Docks were being planned and built, the terms ‘West Indian’, ‘plantations’, ‘sugar trade’ carried with them strong associations with wealth generated from slave trading and ownership. However, in late twentieth-century Britain, where the West Indies is likely to be referred to in terms of a cricket team, ‘Third World’ poverty or a holiday destination, they do not carry the same associations. It is therefore possible to use the very words that were associated with slave trading and slave ownership two hundred years earlier, in a modern discourse that works to obscure the significance of the commercial exploitation of enslavement of Africans in the creation of the West India Docks. In 2000, the doctrine of terra nullius was no longer integral to the discourse of Canary Wharf, as the programme and the exhibition gave space to the histories of white ‘Islanders’ and of working docks. This discourse constructed a past of no conflict through omission of detail on the processes of slavery and the abolition movements. It also constructed a present of no conflict in the representation of the ‘Island community’, as exemplified in the deliberate defence of the representation of the ‘Hibbert Ship’. However, detailed narratives of Empire, the historical glue that can connect the docks and the ‘Island community’ with the ‘ethnic minorities’ in the present day were missing. This omission was more evident in the section of the opening of the Main Gate in the souvenir programme, an event celebrating ‘200 years of an island community’.   The main text of the brochure referred to ‘Islanders’ and the ‘Island’. However, the title page referred to ‘an island community’.

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


In the report about the Mayor of London’s opening of the Main Gate in July 2000, the ‘mercantile discourse’ transformed into the more contemporary discourse of ‘multiculturalism’ (Hage 1998, Mackey 1999). In the programme and newspaper reports, the Mayor was reported as having been joined by several High Commissioners ‘from the West Indies’. The names of the countries they represented, their relation to, or perspective on, the docks was not reported. The nomenclature of Empire, with its direct (and colonial) link to the (metropolitan) docks was used, but not explained. In the entertainment representing ‘the docks era’, the foregrounding of goods, a discursive practice of the mercantile discourse, was combined with scenes of ‘cultural exoticism’ integral to the discourse of multiculturalism. Rum and sugar were unloaded from a sailing ship, a steel band played, dancers from the eastern ex-empire danced and a pearly prince and princess, emblems of ‘the Cockney East End’, entertained the crowd. There was nothing to indicate how the goods or the people represented related to each other or to the docks. In 2000, London’s ‘multicultural’ present was foregrounded whilst the economic, political, social and cultural domination of the colonies that created the docks were hidden. The Invisible Empire, the pivotal element of the dominant discourse about Britishness, remained central in the discourses about the West India Docks in 2000. In the next section I explore a third shift that took place in the following decade. Abolition: The Sugar Warehouses 2003–2007 Throughout the two decade period of the transformation of the West India Docks into Canary Wharf and the heart of ‘Docklands’, staff in the Museum of London had been working on ‘The Museum of Docklands Project’ (MiDP) that aimed to create a museum telling the ‘2000 year story of the river’. The core of the displays would come from the collections of the Port of London Authority and the Museum of London and it would be housed in a 200 year old warehouse built specifically for the West India sugar trade. In 1997 the MiDP received a £11.525 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), a capital grant from the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) of £3.5 million and £1 million in donations. The LDDC also transferred the ownership of the five floor warehouse to the Museum on a 999 year rent-free lease (MiD Press release 1997b). Press releases issued by the MiDP and publicity material about the planned museum during the 1990s and up to the opening of the museum in 2003 all communicated through the mercantile discourse that had dominated in the discourses of the Canary Wharf Group during the development of their Docklands estate. The sugar warehouses were referred to as ‘late Georgian’ that in the process   The HLF granted a further £851,000 several years later to fund additional preopening costs (Museum in Docklands Press release ‘Clarifying Statement’: http://www.

The Invisible Empire


of repair would be returned to their ‘original splendour’, conjuring comfortable images of period drama gentility. Their purpose was explained as being for the storage and protection of ‘valuable cargos’ of sugar, rum, coffee and molasses’ and they were praised as ‘great monuments of European Commercial Power’. No mention was made of the relationship between the West India Docks and the slave trade or the relationship between the enslavement of Africans and sugar. In a press release about a display depicting the 1940 Blitz and its devastating effect on the area and its population, the Port of London was described as ‘the very heart of a vast trading Empire’ that ‘held strategic importance to the enemy’. As in the dock commemorations of 2000, the local white dock communities became central to the discourse whilst the British Empire and the people in it remained almost invisible and entirely peripheral. In a glossy publicity brochure aimed at potential donors, all the people in images of planned display materials (dockworkers, sail maker, diver) and in an artist impression of the galleries were white. The front cover included a picture of the statue of Robert Milligan, the slave trader and instigator of the Docks. The Museum was heralded in the same brochure as ‘enhancing the area’s pride and prosperity’ and as a ‘cultural focus for London in the 21st century’. That ‘vision’ was repeated by the Chairman of Trustees in a press release. The final section of this chapter demonstrates how that ‘cultural focus’, that particular version of the Invisible Empire, was forced to shift following the opening of a new gallery seven years later (Museum of Docklands 1997a, 1997b, 2000). When the Museum opened, after many delays, in 2003, it was clear that the mercantile discourse still dominated in the galleries of the museum. The focus was on the development of the docks themselves from Roman times to their recent reincarnation as a regenerated docklands, the goods that were traded and the white people who lobbied for, designed, built or worked in the docks. The gallery called The First Port of Empire avoided any investigation into the subject of the British Empire beyond it being the source and destination of traded goods. A portrait of George Hibbert in The Coming of the Docks gallery was displayed prominently alongside pictures of the docks and warehouses, with the non ironic caption that although he was a slave owner, he was also a liberal patron of the Arts. The means through which he was able to fund his cultural pursuits was obscured. At the opening event, again, without irony, the Chair of Trustees situated Canary Wharf within the mercantile discourse about London’s past in a speech that linked the ‘venture capital’ of the new towers of Docklands with the ‘venture capital’ of the early traders who had set out from London in previous centuries. The statue of slave owner and anti-abolitionist, Robert Milligan, pictured on the front of the publicity brochure, remained directly in front of the entrance to the museum. The original plaque proclaiming: To perpetuate on this spot The memory of Robert Milligan A merchant of London

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


To whose genius, perseverance and Guardian Care The surrounding great work principally owes Its design, accomplishment and regulation. The directors and proprietors, deprived by his death on the 21st May 1809 Of the continuance of his invaluable services, By their unanimous vote Have caused the statue to be erected.

People often crowded around the statue, using it as a meeting place. On one visit I observed a white woman reading the plaque out loud to three children. One of the children asked ‘What’s a merchant’ to which she replied ‘He was a merchant, he sold things’. Neither the museum, the Canary Wharf Group nor any other organisation had placed additional accompanying text that would give the broader context to Milligan’s role. Commemoration of ‘Abolition’ and the West India Docks 2007 Four years later in 2007, a new permanent gallery, London, Sugar and Slavery opened in the Museum in Docklands. This gallery directly challenged mercantile discourses that had dominated in the early nineteenth and late twentieth centuries and continued to dominate in twenty-first-century Britain. In this section, I begin by using the short examples of the representations of George Hibbert and Robert Milligan to demonstrate how the gallery challenges the dominant discourse about the West India Docks and exposes the Invisible Empire. I then locate those challenges in the context of the contested 2007 national anniversary commemorations of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 in order to identify both how the discursive shift has taken place and the limits of that shift. The naming of the gallery, London, Sugar and Slavery, immediately connects the capital of the British Empire and commercial exploitation of enslaved Africans that were consistently hidden in the mercantile discourse about the docks. The gallery itself makes explicit that the dock complex and the sugar warehouse that housed the museum were funded by those implicated in the commercial exploitation of enslaved Africans, either as traders, plantation owners or sugar merchants. Colin Prescod, Chair of the Institute of Race Relations and an advisor to the gallery explained that the 140 objects, personal accounts and interactive displays are used to narrate an untold history of how ‘over some three centuries, transatlantic slavery and the associated ‘triangle trade’ generated extraordinary profit, amassed   Conversation recorded on 6 May 2006. No contextualising plaques have been situated alongside either the Hibbert Gate which remains with its inscription ‘The Hibbert, a 405 ton West Indian Man, traded from this dock between 1785 and 1813, principally to Jamaica …’ or alongside the huge plaque celebrating the opening of the docks in 1802.   The web address of the gallery is: EventsExhibitions/Special/LSS/.


The Invisible Empire

unimaginable wealth and spawned obscenely inhumane brutalities on a massive scale … [the gallery] demonstrates that these events were pivotal in the history of London’s and Britain’s rise to world dominance, and that they bequeathed a discomforting legacy in a complex heritage’ (Museum of Docklands 2007: 1). The 1811 oil portrait of George Hibbert, which since 2003 had been displayed in the earlier gallery as a hero of dock construction, is displayed differently in the new gallery. In 2007 his relationship to the commercial exploitation of enslaved Africans is foremost. This time the caption to the portrait read that: He was a highly successful West India Merchant and slave owner with a large number of plantations in Jamaica. Member of Parliament for Seaford and a leading member of the London Committee of West India Merchants and Planters, he played a key role in the defence of the slave trade. In the Parliamentary debate on abolition, Hibbert argued that a greater number of acts of cruelty occurred each week in London than Jamaica. In 1834 his family received £31,120 compensation for 1,618 slaves.

In a booklet about the gallery he was referred to as ‘one of London’s richest slave owners who had led the campaign against the abolition of the slave trade’. In 2007, mirroring Hibbert’s portrait is a ‘reconstructed’ (imaginary) portrait of ‘radical activist’ Robert Wedderburn, whose father was a plantation owner and whose ‘mother, Rosanna was an enslaved African on the plantation’. Wedderburn had arrived as a sailor in London in 1778 and had ‘preached simultaneous revolution of the poor in Europe and enslaved Africans in the West Indies’ (Museum of Docklands 2007: 3). The two portraits, hanging side by side present a permanent challenge to the mercantile discourse through exposing the chains of exploitation that linked the West India Docks, the slavers (plantation owners and traders) and sugar profits. Together with the other exhibits the gallery makes the Invisible Empire visible. A short-term attempt to connect Robert Milligan with profits from enslaved Africans was made at the evening opening event for the gallery, in November 2007. The memorial statue to Milligan, owner of thousands of enslaved Africans, that stands immediately outside the entrance to the museum was concealed beneath a black shroud tied with thick rope. A floodlight focused on it, ensuring that passersby and museum visitors noticed it. However, cloak and ropes were removed after the event and the statue returned to its usual state, devoid of any new plaque to challenge the discourse of the 1809 original.10 The examples of the shifting representations of Hibbert and Milligan between 2000 and 2007 demonstrate that the dominant discourse about the West India Docks was challenged and did shift. The contrast between the confident assertion 10 Before the bicentenary and up to the time of writing, The Museum of Docklands Website has been inviting people to respond to Milligan’s statue in a way that would acknowledge his complicity in the enslavement of Africans: http://www.museumindocklands.

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of Hibbert’s active complicity in slavery inside the museum and the dramatic but fleeting condemnation of Milligan outside the museum is both illustrative and a result of the manoeuvering between subordinate groups who challenge the dominant discourse about the docks which denied the centrality of the enslavement of Africans to Britain’s wealth and those powerful institutions that choose to use a discourse that elides the violence and oppression of the British Empire. Understanding these processes of assertion, contestation and accommodation that took place in the run up to the opening of the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery in 2007 demands further concentration on national government funded events and discourses and challenges to them. The shift in the discourse about the West India Docks was related to both a government led national focus on the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807 together with pressure from different groups of people who challenged the government preoccupation with remembering 1807 at a national level and who were angered by the obfuscation of the relationship between the enslavement, torture and violence forced on Africans, the West India Docks and museum itself. The government set up an advisory group, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, to advise on national plans for the anniversary. Some of these had been debated in Parliament in 2005 where it became clear that a huge focus would be on ‘celebrating’ the role of William Wilberforce through thirty four weeks of ‘celebrations’ in his hometown, Hull, which was also the parliamentary constituency of the Deputy Prime Minister. Other events included in that debate included exhibitions in museums in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool at the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth and the Houses of Parliament. It was made clear in the debate that funding for anniversary events would be available through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).11 The HLF gave over £14 million pounds to more than 165 projects related to the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and the slave trade generally. From its initiation, the government-led national focus on the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was contested by many groups and individuals who questioned why the government chose that anniversary rather than others to ‘commemorate’ or ‘celebrate’ during 2007. For example, that year was also the tricentenary of the Acts of Union that joined England and Scotland, an anniversary that was went almost unnoticed in comparison.12 Others argued that the focus on an Act which allowed the enslavement of Africans to continue for a further 30 years did 11  Hansard 13 December 2005. The word ‘celebration’ in relation to Wilberforce and his role in getting the abolition of the slave trade act through parliament, was used four times in the debate by the Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull, North who had initiated the debate. She used it again in a speech in Parliament on 20 March 2007. The Deputy Prime Minister represented Kingston upon Hull East. 12 Other British Empire related anniversaries that the government chose not to focus on included the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Polashi (Plassey) which marked the beginning of British colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent, the 150th anniversary of the


The Invisible Empire

‘a disservice to the memory’ of those who remained enslaved. They also objected to the spotlight being on the role of Wilberforce and his protracted struggle towards the 1807 moment of abolition rather than on the far longer term involvement of Britain and Britons in the forced enslavement and commercial exploitation of Africans or on the resistances and rebellions of African people throughout that period.13 The most high profile challenge to the dominant discourse about 1807 took place in Westminster Abbey on 27th March 2007 when British African, Toyin Agbetu confronted the Queen and Prime Minister Tony Blair during a live BBC television broadcast of a service of commemoration. Agbetu strode out from the pews to face the Queen and Prime Minister where he demanded an apology for Britain’s role in the commercial exploitation of Africans. When surrounded by security guards he refused to be thrown out of the back of the Abbey and, whilst the broadcast continued, he was escorted out of the front entrance whilst asking that all Christians who were Africans should walk out with him.14 Unsurprisingly, considering the availability of funding, at the planning stage, the museum framed its proposals for the (as yet unnamed) gallery as being part of a larger plan to mark the anniversary in 2007. However, it was not until March 2007 that the museum received £506,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (for the gallery and community activities). It also received £230,000 from Renaissance London (a government funded project to support museums in their education and regeneration work). The museum had approached a range of corporations for funding but they had not wanted to be associated with the gallery.15 It received nothing from the Canary Wharf Group or any of its tenants who had been referred to as ‘venture capitalists’ at the opening of the museum in 2003. The museum had begun discussing plans around the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 2004 and initiated an academic consultative process.16 A consultative group made up of ‘academics and representatives from Indian Liberation War (‘Mutiny’) or the 60th anniversary of Indian Independence from British colonial rule. 13  For example see Declaration of Protest to the 2007 Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the British Abolition of theTtransatlantic Slave Trade. The Ligali Organisation August 2005. 14 See You Tube with subtitles from Agbetu: VVqIatY&feature=related. Analysis: Two days earlier the Prime Minister had made a statement that carefully avoided a full apology. In a message to a bicentennial event in Ghana he had sent a message “It is an opportunity for the United Kingdom to express our deep sorrow and regret for our nation’s role in the slave trade and for the unbearable suffering, individually and collectively, it caused’. 15  Interview with consultative group member 30 October 2008. 16  The initial consultative process was led by Professor Lola Young. Interview with Dr Tom Wareham: Interview with Museum Director, David Spence: 1807commemorated/interviews/spence.html

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


the African-Caribbean-British community’ was set up in 2006. The group met on a monthly basis from mid 2006 to October 2007 in the run up to the exhibition. Consultative group member, the actor and director, Burt Caesar, described the meetings as very deep seminars that discussed ‘cutting edge’ ideas that challenged the dominant discourses about Britain and slavery. This included challenging not only the dominant narrative but, recognising the importance of the meanings carried in individual words, they challenged individual words and labels. For example they agreed not to use the word ‘slave’ but ‘enslaved Africans’.17 The meetings took place in the context of the government-led bicentennial initiatives and contests to them, including Agbetu’s protest.18 The process of ensuring that their challenges to dominant discourses about the role of the West India Docks and British involvement in the enslavement of Africans were accommodated in the new gallery went ‘up to the wire’. A month before the gallery was due to open the consultant graphic designers presented a text to the consultative group. The group found the ‘tone and perspective bewildering’ not reflecting the views that had evolved out of intense debate over a long period. For example, the word ‘slave’ had been used instead of the agreed upon ‘enslaved Africans’ and there was nothing to show the revolts and resistances by Africans to slavery.19 In the final two weeks before the opening of the gallery, a member of the consultative group and one of the curators rewrote the entire 14,000 word script of the gallery.20 The resulting text and displays of the gallery were the outcome 17  ‘Enslaved’ or ‘Captured’ Africans recognises that African people were free before capture and became ‘enslaved Africans’ after. It indicates also that African people resisted and rebelled against capture. See Declaration of Protest to the 2007 Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the British Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Ligali Organisation August 2005: 18. 18 Other contesting voices included Richard Gott ‘Britain’s vote to end its slave trade was a precursor to today’s liberal imperialism’ The Guardian 17 January 2007. Kwame Kwei-Armah described the dominant discourse about the bicentennial as events as ‘a retreat into excusedom’ including excuses such as ‘it happened a long time ago’,’how can I say sorry for something I didn’t do’, ‘we ended it’, ‘African’s were selling each other first’ etc’ Tamara Gausi, Calabash October 2007: 29. 19  Interview with Burt Caesar, 30 October 2008. 20  In an interview the curator explained his perspective: ‘I suspect that we [The museum] were trying originally to maintain some sort neutral position, which isn’t to say we weren’t forthright in the original draft, because we pretty much nailed our colours to the mast. But the consultative group just wanted us to say, ‘this is this’ and not try to pussyfoot around quite simply. From their point of view there was far more politics in this story and they felt we should be making those politics clear. I think as museum curators – though we had agreed with that – we had felt that professionally in some way we had to try and step back. But what you have to realise is that in writing a gallery text you have to reduce everything down to 150 words a panel. You can only make a series of statements, you have to get straight to the point and that’s what the consultative group wanted to see. http://www. See also interview: http://


The Invisible Empire

of negotiation and struggle between consultative group members and different interests within and outside the museum. They also agreed that the gallery should evolve and that there should be an additional temporary display space where a range of groups would be able to include their own narratives that uncover more of the relationships that connect London, sugar and slavery. The discourse about the history of the West India Docks had shifted considerably from 2003. However, that shift was localised and contained within the walls of the sugar warehouse. On receiving his invitation to the opening and without visiting the gallery, Charles Moore wrote a piece in The Telegraph (which had been a tenant of the Canary Wharf Tower until 2006) demonstrating his unwillingness to be exposed to the Invisible Empire of violence and oppression: The publicity material speaks of ‘obscene profits, horrific brutality’ and how ‘the seeds of racism’ were sown. It would be an understatement to say that the museum organisers regard slavery as a wholly evil thing. … although I cannot think of any good arguments for slavery, I think there is something priggish and unhistorical about the approach of the Museum in Docklands, which seems to be jumping into a pulpit rather than spreading information.21

As I have shown above, the gallery was ‘spreading information’ that until then had been obscured in discourses about the docks. The Telegraph columnist attempted to delegitimize it and rebury the Invisible Empire with unsupported charges against the museum being ‘unhistorical’ and ‘priggish’. Individuals and groups had, through the consultative group and supported by the curators and director of the museum, forced a shift in the dominant discourse about the West India Docks and Britain’s ‘mercantile past’. However, that shift remained within the confines of the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery. The empire of white violence and exploitation remained peripheral and often invisible in the 2007 dominant discourse about the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act that located Wilberforce rather than enslaved Africans at the centre. The debates about why the British Government chose to remember this anniversary and, through the HLF, to fund associated events in 2007 are far broader 21 Moore was making a moral equivalence between slavery and abortion. The omitted section of the piece included: On the same day as I opened my invitation, Dawn Primorolo, whose name sounds like a brand of margarine, but is actually a health minister, was telling the Common’s Science and Technology committee that there was no justification for lowering the limit for abortion below the current 24 weeks … As the slavery exhibition shows, something that one generation accepts readily enough is often seen as abhorrent by its descendents…just as today, we are invited to glare at the Georgian portraits of fat, bewigged English sugar planters or proslavery politicians, there could be a rogues gallery of pro-abortionists. (Telegraph.Com, 27 October 2007)

As well as being a Telegraph columnist, Moore is a trustee of the think tank Policy Exchange referred to in Chapter 8.

Terra Nullius: White Histories on the Isle of Dogs


and more complex than can be done justice to in this chapter and have been the focus of investigation elsewhere.22 I build on the evidence of this chapter to argue in the following chapter, that anniversary events were used to promote imagined positive qualities of ‘Britishness’ such as those embodied in the Act of Abolition of the Slave Trade rather than the negative ones implicit in the profits made over three centuries out of the brutal enslavement of Africans. Conclusion In 1993, Michael Keith and Malcolm Cross referred to the invention of a new place, ‘London Docklands’. They described ‘Docklands’ as ‘an urban myth, a forgery passed off as an icon of regeneration’. They argued that discourses of the state and academia had combined not only to normalise the existence of ‘Docklands’, but also to endorse the idea that there was ‘nothing there in the first place’ (Keith and Cross 1993: 9). However, although in 2000 the notion of ‘Docklands’ was more firmly established than a decade earlier, following political challenges from residents of the Isle of Dogs during the 1990s, the narrative of the Isle of Dogs as terra nullius was no longer viable. In 2000, references to the West India Docks and to the ‘Island community’ contrasted with the publicity brochure of a decade earlier and indicate that whilst the dominant representations of the area had shifted, the Invisible Empire remained central to the discourse but inaudible in what Trouillot termed a ‘bundle of silences’ (1995). A selective history of the transport of goods, the construction of and work in the docks was mobilised. A historical narrative that would locate the docks in the networks of colonial expansion and expropriation of land and people was marginalised. In Chapters 3, 4 and 5, I explore how these historical omissions contributed to the contemporary constructions of an ‘Island community’ as predominantly white and rooted in the locality and an apparently unconnected, ‘ethnic minority’ population struggling for the right to belong. The following chapter will explore how, although the discourse of ‘mercantile trade’ and ‘dock communities’ was challenged in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery of the Museum in Docklands, the white liberal discourse and its core element, the Invisible Empire continued to dominate outside the walls of the gallery.

22  Discussions of the relationships between history, memory and transatlantic slavery:, and a special edition of Patterns of Prejudice July 2007 (vol. 41, no 3) ‘Imagining Transatlantic slavery and Abolition 2007–2008’.

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Chapter 2

Competing Colonial Anniversaries in ‘Postcolonial’ Blackwall: White Memories, White Belonging Introduction In the previous chapter, I analysed the flexibility of the dominant white liberal discourse through focusing on the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in 1990, 2000 and 2007. I demonstrated how the dominant discourse about the area and its populations shifted to accommodate challenges from competing groups that were focused on specific anniversary-related events during over that period. I argued that although the discourse shifted to accommodate changes, its pivotal element, that which I have named as the Invisible Empire, the British imperial histories of violence and oppression, has remained central to that discourse. So that for example, although in 2007 the brutality of the capture and economic exploitation of Africans was made explicit within the confines of the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery in the Museum in Docklands, and in the protests made by Toyin Agbetu in Westminster Abbey, the dominant discourse in 2007 was one that celebrated the roles of Britons such as William Wilberforce in the ending of the slave trade. In this chapter I build on the above argument to demonstrate how the Invisible Empire has worked in a slightly different way in the same dominant discourse in relation to regeneration and empire-related anniversary events focused on the adjacent maritime site of Blackwall. I begin by describing two British Empire related historical events associated with Blackwall that took place in 1606 and 1806. I then investigate ‘regeneration’ activities and discourses during the 1990s and the 2006 moment of the respective 400th and 200th anniversaries of these Empire events to investigate further how the Invisible Empire works as the pivotal element in dominant white liberal discourse. The focus of the previous chapter was on the obfuscation of the direct connection between the West India Docks and the enslavement of Africans in dominant discourses. This chapter investigates similar patterns of concealment of the links between the East India Docks and the impoverishment of Bengal and of Bengalis.


The Invisible Empire

Blackwall 1606–1806 In late December 1606 three small ships, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery set sail, without fanfare, from Blackwall on the River Thames, down river from The City of London and east of the Isle of Dogs peninsula. The ships carried 104 colonists and 39 crew members, all male. The expedition was organised and funded by the joint-stock Virginia Company of London which had received its charter from King James 1. The royal mandate specified that it was to settle and plant a colony in the environs of Virginia, where it was also granted a trading monopoly. It was instructed to search for and exploit gold, silver and copper mines and to propagate Christianity. The Company was also seeking a route to the riches of Pacific Ocean (Price, 2003: 15). Five months later in May 1607 the ships landed and the colonists established ‘James Towne’, the first permanent English colony in North America. Blackwall had been important in shipping terms since the fifteenth century. It was a prised anchorage, victualling station and embarkation/disembarkation point for travellers who would save time by not sailing around the Isle of Dogs. It was also significant as an area for ship repairing and shipbuilding. Many expeditions set off from Blackwall, including Martin Frobisher in search of the fabled North West Passage to Asia in 1577 (Hobhouse, 1994: 548–52). By 1783, one hundred and seventy six years after the departure of the Virginia Company expedition, Britain had lost its thirteen American colonies in the War of Independence. By then a far more powerful joint-stock company, the East India Company, which had received its charter to trade with the East Indies from King James’ predecessor, Elizabeth 1 in 1600, had become the dominant military and political force in the Indian subcontinent. The East India Company’s victories at the Battles of Polashi (Plassey) and Buxar in 1757 and 1764 respectively had led to it taking tax collection rights and establishing political control over Bengal and marked the beginning of almost 200 years of British colonial rule in south Asia. In 1793, almost seven million pounds worth of goods were imported into London from ‘The East Indies’ in heavily militarised ships. The ships usually unloaded downriver and the cargoes were transported to the East India Company warehouses in the City of London in smaller boats and by land. Following the opening of the enclosed West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in 1802, the valuable East Indies cargoes had become more of a target for river pirates and pilferers who could easily sell teas, silks, saltpetre and spices on the black market. It was estimated that two thousand one hundred pounds worth of tea was stolen annually from ships arriving from ‘the East’ at that time. To protect their profits enclosed docks were campaigned for and funded by merchants and shipbuilders  Originally called James Towne or Jamestowne after King James the First, the modern city in the US state of Virginia is Jamestown.  See Peter Linebaugh (2003) for a discussion on the wider context of the increased security of surrounding imported goods in the eighteenth century.

White Memories, White Belonging


with interests in the East Indies. The initial investors included twenty three of the twenty four directors of the East India Company, other East India merchants and owners of East Indiamen, shipbuilders and various bankers and insurance brokers. Large East India Company ships had been mooring in the deep waters, having repairs carried out and sailing from Blackwall since before the East India Company constructed their principal shipyard there in 1614. Construction of the East India Docks began in 1803 (Hobhouse, 1994: 575–82). Two hundred years after the downbeat departure of the Virginia Company ships a very different event took place at Blackwall. On 4 August, 1806 up to twenty thousand people, including members of London’s fashionable society turned out to witness the opening of the East India Docks: The Grand Gate, on the land-side, was opened for the reception of visitors at half-past eleven, and by one, the place was crowded with genteel company.’ After a 21-gun salute, the Trinity House Yacht, adorned with flags of all nations, entered the dock, preceding the East Indiaman the Admiral Gardner, followed by the City of London, the Lady Castlereagh and then the Surrey. The whole having entered, the band on the board the Admiral Gardner ‘immediately struck up in excellent style, “God save the King”, which was chorussed by a crowded Orchestra of charming Syrens on board’. It was estimated that 15– 20,000 people were assembled within the dock walls, ‘and as such exhibitions are always attractive of female curiosity, it is scarcely necessary to add, that the whole formed a lively coup d’aile, richly studded with beauty and elegance. (The Times, 5 Aug 1806: 3 quoted in Hobhouse, 1994: 575–82)

To mark the event, a huge engraved plaque was mounted on the Grand Gate of the Import Dock, through which cotton, silk, tea, spices and porcelain from Bengal, South India, Indonesia and China continued their journey in wagons escorted by the East India Company’s own militia westwards to the Company’s fortified warehouses in the City of London. The plaque acknowledged the support of the King, Government and East India Company in the building of the docks ‘appropriated to the commerce of India’ and clearly proclaimed their significance: The Grand Undertaking originated in the laudable endeavours of the managing owners of ships in the company’s service and the important national objects of increased security to property and revenue, combined with improved accommodation, economy and despatch were thus early realised through the liberal subscriptions of the proprietors and the unremitting attentions of the directors of the East India Dock Company.   The full text of the plaque reads: ‘ Under auspices of our most gracious Sovereign, George III, the sanction of his majesty’s government and the patronage of the East India Company, these Wet Docks appropriated to the commerce of India and ships in that employ were accomplished in those eventful years MDCCCIV, MDCCCV, MDCCCVI


The Invisible Empire

2006 was the anniversary year of the two Empire building events that took place on the River Thames at Blackwall described above. However, the grandeur of their respective anniversaries contrasted strongly with the original events. The subdued departure of the Virginia Company ships in 1606 was remembered in 2006 with extravagant fanfare and celebration marking the beginning of the official 400th anniversary events linked to the founding of the United States of America. In contrast, the bicentennial anniversary of the grandiose opening of the East India Docks passed almost unnoticed. Why is it that these two events – chronologically and geographically separate but politically and economically linked passages of Britain’s Empire story – were remembered so differently? Blackwall 1990–2005: ‘Regeneration’ and White Memories This section begins with a brief overview of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Blackwall. I then examine how contrasting histories of the two Empire-building events of 1606 and 1806 and their respective colonial relationships with Virginia and India were mobilised in ‘regeneration’ activities during the 1990s. From the mid-nineteenth century, significant trade shifted downstream from the East India Docks at Blackwall and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs to the Royal Victoria, Royal Albert, Tilbury and King George V docks (opened in 1855, 1880, 1886 and 1921 respectively) which had been built to accommodate larger steamships. The East India Docks continued to operate and were heavily bombed during the Second World War. The import basin of the docks complex was drained and used to build a floating harbour (called ‘Mulberry’) used for the 1944 allied invasion of France. After the war, the export dock was drained, filled and a coal fired power station built on the site. The import dock remained open for smaller, more local ships until 1967 after when it was filled in and used for an extension of the power station which was itself demolished in 1988 when the ‘Regeneration’ of Blackwall began. ‘Regeneration’ has been a keyword in national and local government policy discourses on urban poverty since the 1970s. Regeneration policies have enabled private sector organisations, including building companies to invest in and profit from derelict industrial sites across Britain, whilst providing some benefits, such [1804,1805,1806]. The first stone being laid March IV, MDCCCIV [1804]. They were opened by the introduction of five ships from 1,200 to 800 tons with valuable cargoes on IV August MDCCCVI [1806].The Grand Undertaking originated in the laudable endeavours of the managing owners of ships in the company’s service and the important national objects of increased security to property and revenue, combined with improved accommodation, economy and despatch were thus early realised through the liberal subscriptions of the proprietors and the unremitting attentions of the directors of the East India Dock Company. Joseph Cotton Chairman, John Woolmore, deputy chairman, John Rennie, Ralph Walker, engineers.’

White Memories, White Belonging


as low cost housing, to existing populations (Butler and Rustin 1996, Cohen and Rustin 2008). They frequently faced (usually unsuccessful) opposition from sections of local populations who had alternative proposals for the use of land. Today, Blackwall refers to the riverside area of Tower Hamlets opposite the Millennium Dome on the regenerated Greenwich peninsula and around the northern entrance to the Blackwall tunnel. It is currently part of a newly created council ward, Blackwall and Cubitt Town that covers the whole of the eastern side of the Isle of Dogs and includes the adjacent eastern riverside area where the original Blackwall was located. Until May 2002, the Blackwall ward bisected the Isle of Dogs peninsula horizontally, from Shadwell in the west to the River Lea in the east. The Blackwall site where the ‘First Settlers’ set off for the ‘New World’ has been recognised as important by US citizens and British property companies at several moments in the twentieth century. A ‘First Settlers’ plaque and monument was erected in 1928 by the US organisation the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. The plaque was embellished with a mermaid by the Port of London Authority in 1951. Both were unveiled by the US Ambassador of the time. At some point the mermaid vanished. During the 1990s the filled-in East India Export Dock was transformed by the building company, Barratt, into ‘Virginia Quay’. The whole development was named to reflect that first English colony in North America – Newport Avenue leads onto Jamestown Way and Pilgrims Mews. Barratt, restored and enlarged the monument and shifted it to a spectacular position on a paved terrace (‘plaza’ in the publicity brochure) across the river from the Millenium Dome and downstream from the nearby towers of the Canary Wharf business complex. It stands flanked by three flagpoles that usually fly two stars and stripes and a union jack. This ‘revitalised memorial to the Virginia Settlers’ was unveiled in 1999 in a ceremony attended by the U. S. Ambassador to Great Britain and supported by the Jamestowne Society – an exclusive organisation whose members have to prove they are descended from the original English ‘settlers’. The ceremony included a march past the monument by pikemen and musketeers.   For example the Isle of Dogs community plan which was used to oppose the London Docklands Development Corporation.   The Association was established in 1889 and is now known as now APVA Preservation Virginia.   According to a publicity brochure distributed by the developers Barratt in 1998 and the website of the Jamestown Society: (accessed 7 December, 2006).  Newport is named after Captain Christopher Newport who was appointed the Admiral of the voyage of the three ships by the Virginia Company in 1606. As a man, he exemplified the now obscured links between Britain’s colonies, as in 1615 he captained a ship that delivered Sir Thomas Roe, Britain’s first Ambassador to the Mughal court to Surat in India.   A prospective member must demonstrate descent to the Society’s registrargenealogist from one qualifying Jamestowne Ancestor. Information about the events from Barratt publicity brochure 1998 and Jamestowne Society Website: http://www.jamestowne. org (accessed 6th December 2006).


The Invisible Empire

The ‘First Settler’ identity was a slick marketing device for the ‘Virginia Quay’ developers who structured their sales promotion around their own interpretation of the English colonial story. The promotional literature echoed and embellished the wording of the plaque on the 1928 monument: There are few places in the United Kingdom that hold such an eminent place in history as the area surrounding Virginia Quay … it was from this area, in 1606, that 105 Virginia Settlers set sail. Fair winds and brave hearts accompanied the adventurers across a vast ocean to establish the first permanent English colony in North America – at Jamestown in Virginia. (Barratt 1998)

These remarks were followed by references to John Smith, Pocahontas and the Disney film. The 1928 plaque (that has been retained as part of the ‘revitalised memorial’ unveiled in 1999) had not used the term ‘settlers’ or decorative language of hearts, winds or oceans and had used the term ‘adventurers’ in inverted commas: From near this spot December 19 1606 sailed with 105 “Adventurers” [lists names of three ships, their tonnage – 100, 40 and 20 tons – and names of Captains] arrived at Jamestown, Virginia May 13 1607 where these “Adventurers” founded the first Permanent English Colony in America [lists names of leaders] At Jamestown July 20 1619 was convened the first representative assembly in America … in commemoration.

The 1998 publicity brochure showed white families wandering around the monument and development. At that time the private development included no schools or shops. By 2006 there was a single shop and some social housing (not on the river front or overlooking the monument). Double yellow lines cover the entire estate. The ‘plaza’ is a public space, but with no direction signs and no parking, every effort being made to ensure that the ‘public’ do not intrude. The American settler connections continued in marketing the adjacent Blackwall plot overlooking the river and developed by Ballymore through naming the ‘luxury’ estate ‘New Providence Wharf’ and the roads, Augusta and Fairmont Avenues, after places in Virginia. The penthouse apartments cost one million eight hundred thousand pounds, its promotional material echoed that of Barratt: Four centuries ago the first American settlers sailed from Blackwall Port to found the Virginian colonies. Taking its name with a nod to US history the awe inspiring New Providence Wharf development shows just how times have changed. (ELA Homehunter 23 November, 2001)

The 2002 launch publicity again showed photos of white people using the private pool and gym. In 2000, potential buyers visiting Virginia Quay were greeted by a signboard saying: ‘Barratt, A Link with History 1606–2000+’. There was nothing to indicate

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that ‘Virginia Quay’ was the regenerated name for the area that had been the export dock of the East India Dock complex opened in 1806, heavily bombed in the 1940s and filled in to build a coal powered power station that opened in the 1950s. 1606 rather than 1806 was the marketable moment in history. North of ‘Virginia Quay’, still in Blackwall, is a separate office development on the much larger site of the import dock of the East India Dock complex. The link with the past is visible due the remaining 1806 fortifications, or dock walls, that partially surround the office buildings and are preserved by conservation laws. The road names within the filled in dock area attempt to reflect the Eastern cargoes, using types of spices such as Nutmeg Lane and Clove Crescent, but also including Mediterranean herbs such as Oregano and Rosemary as the names of Drives. Modern office buildings relate to river and maritime trades: Lighterman House, Compass House, Anchorage House. The two local Docklands Light Railway stations are called East India and Blackwall. When the import docks were regenerated in the 1990s, children in local primary schools made small brass relief panels that are stuck up around the inside of the dock wall. These plaques make reference to the local people who worked in the docks, the docks themselves, the ships and boats. One of them even refers to the Virginia story: ‘The Godspeed setting sail for America from the (future) East India Dock 1603 (sic)’. None of the panels refer to the content of the cargoes, the people who produced them, nor do they recall any relationship with ‘East India’ and what that meant or means, or to the reason for the docks being built. It is not as if that information was unavailable during the 1990s. Unlike the small plaque on the Virginia Quay monument that dates back only to 1928, the original two hundred year old plaque that marked the opening of the East India Docks in 1806 (described in the introduction above), still exists in an inaccessible corner of the estate overlooking the traffic junction near the Blackwall tunnel, in the position where it and the impressive entrance to the docks had stood before being demolished in 1958 to build the northern approach of the tunnel. The hidden-away plaque is clear about the reason for the docks: The British monarch, government, East India Company and other ship owners and merchants all expected to benefit from the tax revenues and increased profits made from the trade with India. What is not mentioned on the plaque is that a major reason for profitability was the East India Company’s control of terms of trade in the subcontinent and for the past 40 years, the repatriation of Bengal tax revenues to Britain through traded goods (Marshall 1976, Robins 2006, Bowen 2006). In 1993 when the Liberal Democrat controlled local authority moved its Town Hall to an office building on the site of the enormous import dock of the East India Dock complex, there was no publicity that connected its location to the growing Bengali population of the borough; a migration that had started in the 1600s with south Asian crews, known as ‘lascars’, on early East India Company   ‘Lascars’ was the term used to categorise men from Africa or Asia employed on European commanded ships. Seamen from the Indian subcontinent (many from Bengal) were


The Invisible Empire

ships. Although the East India Company bound Indian seamen to return promptly, due to the trade imbalance (much more was imported from India than exported to the subcontinent) they were forced to remain in Britain for long periods before they found work on homebound ships (Visram 2002: 17). By the 1850s, as industrialisation and global trade expanded, Visram estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 ‘lascars’ were crewing ships to Britain every year, and that sixty percent of them were Indians (2002: 33). At the end of the First World War twenty per cent of seamen in British merchant ships involved in global trade were Indian. By 1938 this had risen to twenty-six per cent, over 50,700 men, a substantial percentage of whom will have passed through and lived near to the East India Docks. In Chapter 6, I explore aspects of the hidden histories of Indian seamen including their roles in connecting east London and Bengal, and of their being the subjects of exclusionary racist discrimination by the British state. In Virginia Quay, Blackwall, in the 1990s, a history that celebrated the colonisation of Virginia by English ‘adventurers’ and the creation of the USA was remembered in the regeneration and marketing activities of developers and with the support of US organisations and government. During the same period the regeneration of the East India import dock largely silenced a history of the colonisation of the Indian subcontinent and the creation of present day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan which would have connected modern east Londoners with the subcontinent. This pattern of remembering selective colonial links with the US in parallel to the silencing of those with Bengal was repeated in the anniversary year of 2006. Blackwall 2006–2007: Transatlantic ‘celebrations’ Officially termed ‘America’s 400th anniversary’ the remembering of the ‘planting’ of the first permanent English colony in America was a huge series of events in the USA that took place throughout 2006 and climaxed in 2007. Events in England were part of the official activities, with a British organising committee staffed by two Lords and with key involvement of ‘VisitBritain’ (the British tourist authority) and the counties of Kent, Suffolk and Lincolnshire. The VisitBritain campaign aimed to ‘inspire and galvanise’ United States visitors to return to the UK in search of their roots. British partner events in Kent include a visit by an ‘official Virginia Indian delegation’ to Gravesend, the grave of Pocahontas and 4 July celebrations at Leeds Castle in Kent.10 The Museum in Docklands, located in a sugar warehouse employed in increasing numbers on East India Company (EIC) ships travelling to England from at least 1685 (Visram 2002). The Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders opened in Limehouse, east London in 1857. It served as a hostel, repatriation centre and evangelising mission to ‘lascars’ (Ibid 59–60). See Chapter 6 below. 10, http://www.beginyouradventure. (accessed 15 September 2006).

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in the nearby West India Docks ran a six month long exhibition titled ‘Journey to the New World: London 1606 to Virginia 1607’ supported by the US Embassy. A replica of the smallest ship, the Discovery was docked directly outside the museum, a gift from the Governor of Virginia. The Museum closed for half a day on 19th December 2006 in order to host a high security VIP reception that honoured the departure of the colonisers (now named ‘settlers’ – no longer ‘adventurers’) 400 years earlier. It was attended by the US Ambassador, the Governor of Virginia, a Virginian Native American chief, Stephen Adkins, Jamestowne Society members, the local Member of Parliament, other British and American dignitaries and members of favoured local organisations. The reception was followed by a small wreath laying ceremony downstream at the Virginia Quay monument. Wreaths were left by the ‘VisitBritain British Tourism Commemoration Partnership’, ‘The Jamestowne Society’, ‘Families of Virginia 1607–1624’, the Governor of Virginia on behalf of the people of Virginia and another wreath listed the names of all those who had sailed on the boats. A local community project also ‘celebrated’ the events.11 Official 400th anniversary publicity material in the US was careful to use the term ‘commemoration’ rather than ‘celebration’. Contesting voices from Virginian Native American and African American organisations and individuals in Virginia ensured that the story of the English colony was not narrated as solely celebratory in North America. Chief Stephen Adkins who was present at the VIP event and wreath laying ceremony in Blackwall had been instrumental in changing the official title of the 400th anniversary of America from ‘celebration’ to ‘commemoration’.12 Official partner organisations in England also referred to 11  Taken from the website of SPLASH: ‘SPLASH, set up the East Meets West project in 2005 to research the Virginia Settlers story and celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the departure of three ships from Tower Hamlets’ Blackwall docks to America, on December 19th, 1606. Money raised from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Isle of Dogs Community Foundation, State Street Bank and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets funded work with children and families in the Blackwall and Limehouse Community for eighteen months, raising awareness of our historical roots, and the richness and diversity of our mixed population. The work culminated in an afternoon’s celebration in St.Matthias Community Centre on Tuesday 27 February 2007 … a good time was had by all’ (http://www.splashcd. org/events.php?catid=event). 12 Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy Indian tribe and a member of the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission ensured the change of the event’s official title from ‘celebration’ to ‘commemoration’. He argued that “[Jamestown] marks the beginning of the diminution of our culture,” and within a century, 90 percent of Virginia’s Indians would be gone. Many Indians initially wanted no part of the 400th anniversary. The founding of the first permanent English settlement, Adkins explained, “represents the start of the greatest nation of Earth.” Moreover, Indians were important in the very survival of the settlement in the early days. In an interview he defended his involvement in the 400th anniversary events through using them as a world stage to tell the Indian’s story. He was involved in an anniversary conference ‘Virginia Indians: 400 Years of Survival’. Adkins argues against the use of words like ‘savages’ and ‘massacre’ when a straightforward reading


The Invisible Empire

‘commemoration’ events or committees. However, in the English context, both Americans and British slipped back into the celebratory talk. Most significantly, the website of the US Embassy reported: 19 December 2006 Ambassador Tuttle celebrates the origins of Jamestown [my emphasis] Ambassador Tuttle attended the ceremony to mark the 400th departure of the settlers from London who went on to found Jamestown, the US’s first Englishspeaking settlement, at the Museum in Docklands on Tuesday “It is a great honour for me to be standing on the banks of the Thames on this historic occasion which marks the start of America as it exists today. I pay tribute to the brave voyagers who crossed the Atlantic in winter to seek a new world, and who formed the origins of modern America” (US Embassy Website 2006).13

On its own US-based website, the exclusive Jamestowne Society did not feel pressurized into reporting the 19 December events in Blackwall as ‘commemorations’ either: English Celebrations of the Departure of the Three Ships (my emphasis) The fleet of three ships that arrived in Jamestowne in May, 1607 departed from London on December 19, 1606. The 400th Anniversary Celebration of the Founding of Jamestowne began, appropriately, with ceremonies in England to commemorate the departure of the three ships. Representatives of The Jamestowne Society participated in those ceremonies. Lieutenant-Governor Carter Furr and Attorney-General Ken Bass both laid wreaths at the Virginia Monument located in the docklands area of London.14 of events puts less blame on indigenous Indians than on the intruders. The Europeans took land, which Indians had always shared ( 2007.apx.-content-articles-RTD-2006-12-07-0001.html) 13 14  The report continued: ‘That evening, the American participants joined their English colleagues in a magnificent dinner in the Great Hall of the Middle Temple, the London Inn of Court that Sir Walter Raleigh belonged to where much of the planning of the Virginia Company took place. The dinner was attended by the Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, the Lord Chief Justice of England and numerous luminaries. Prior to the ceremonies in London, the delegation spent two days touring various historic sites in Kent County, which has formed a close partnership with the Jamestowne 2007 American entities and is heavily involved in planning the celebrations in America. The highlight of that tour was a visit to St. Georges Church in Gravesend, the burial site of Princess Matoaka, perhaps better known as Pocahontas. Suzanne Flippo, a member of The Jamestowne Society and a member of the

White Memories, White Belonging


The specialist tour company that managed the itinerary of the ‘Jamestowne’ tourists also advertised ‘celebration’: Day 6: Tue Dec 19 – Today we join in the 400th Anniversary Ceremony and Celebration of the Departure from Virginia Quay [sic] for the New World of the Three Ships. Visit famous Blackwall and Virginia Quay. This evening we take part in a 400th Anniversary Banquet.15

The Museum in Docklands exhibition ‘Journey to the New World: London 1606 to Virginia 1607’ that ran from November 2006 to May 2007, referred to ‘celebrations’, excluded narratives about the enslavement of Africans and marginalised Native American experiences. London and Londoners’ (as ‘settlers’) impact of ‘the emerging nation’ were the focus of the exhibition’s publicity material: Journey to the New World: London 1606 to Virginia 1607 is a major new exhibition which marks the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia. Archaeology, artefacts, documents and stories come together in a tale of daring survival that charts the crucial role of Londoners in the founding of the United States of America. Coinciding with anniversary celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic, Journey to the New World is a unique glimpse into the history of an emerging nation.16 Federal Jamestowne 400th Commemoration Commission, laid a commemorative rose at the base of the statue of the Indian Princess who embodies the partnership of the early settlers and the original inhabitants. The delegation included Chickahominy Tribe Chief Stephen Adkins. Tagged on the end of the report, Stephen Adkins had justified his involvement in the ‘commemoration events’ as an opportunity to tell the story of Jamestown from an Indian perspective on the ‘world stage’. However, although he had contributed to the replacing of ‘celebration’ with ‘commemoration’ in some public contexts, the experiences of the colonised inhabitants remained marginal in the UK based anniversary events and discourses of 2006. This page was accessed in January 2007. However it is not currently available on the website. 15 (accessed on 7 December 2006). 16  The publicity material continued: ‘Journey to the New World brings to life the hidden story of the first pioneering group of settlers who sailed from Blackwall … the exhibition charts the history of Jamestown and its links with London. The exhibition tells a story of hope and despair, conflict and failure, tragedy and triumph, and shows how ordinary and extraordinary men, women and children helped to create a new nation. It also tells of how the expedition changed forever the lives and culture of the Native American Indians already living in what was to become Virginia. Through bodices and beads, coins and cups, prints, charts, maps, astronomical and maritime instruments, visitors will discover startling new evidence about the colonists’ diet, health and lifestyles, their relationship with the local indigenous peoples and their attempts to manufacture goods for trade. Tracing the


The Invisible Empire

The accompanying talks, for example one on 29 April 2007, included some references to ‘Native Americans’: From Jamestown to genocide: the fate of the native peoples of North America When Jamestown was established as the first permanent English settlement in America the lands and way of life of its indigenous peoples were changed forever. Talks and film will explore the plight of the Native Americans from colonisation to the present day.

This talk suggests that the contesting voices of ‘Native Americans’ had forced a shift in the ‘mercantile discourse’ and an acknowledgement of the Invisible Empire discussed in the previous chapter. The enslavement of Africans, however, did not intrude on the story of Virginia as told in the exhibition which highlighted the labour shortages of the early years of the colony, the English indentured labourers and the triumph of Virginia tobacco. Apart from three short references to enslaved Africans in the seventeenth-century chronology (on the back of a leaflet), the final solution to the labour shortage – enslaved Africans – were absent.17 This contrasts with the dominant discourses in Virginia, where on 25 February 2007, the Virginia General Assembly became the first US state to apologize for the State’s role in slavery. It also expressed regret for ‘the exploitation of Native Americans’ and linked the apologies directly to the 400th anniversary events.18 The absence of Africans in the creation story of Virginia as told in England is a glaring example of the Invisible Empire in 2007, a year throughout which there was a national focus on ‘celebrating’ the anniversary of the British Government’s 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. I demonstrated in Chapter 1 that the dominant mercantile discourse was contested within the confines of the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery of the Museum in Docklands that opened in November 2007. However, within the same museum and during much of the same year, the Journey to the New World exhibition elided English involvement in trading and owning African slaves in Virginia in the same the mercantile discourses as that used about story of Jamestown and the Virginia colonies from their birth to eventual prosperity with the development of the tobacco trade, Journey to the New World is a captivating look at the hidden story of hardship, adventure and big business behind the founding of the United States ( JourneyNewWorld.htm). 17  1619: Twenty Africans arrive on a Dutch ship and are bought by some of the settlers in exchange for victuals. 1661: The Virginia Assembly introduced new laws to weaken the rights of slaves 1687: By this date 732 Africans had been transported to Virginia. 18 Virginia General Assembly, House Joint Resolution No. 728, Acknowledging with profound regret the involuntary servitude of Africans and the exploitation of Native Americans, and calling for reconciliation among all Virginians. Agreed to by the House of Delegates, 24 February 2007, Agreed to by the Senate, 24 February 2007 (http://leg1.state.

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the building of the docks during their anniversary celebrations in 2000. Although the African labour force on tobacco plantations was essential to the ‘development’ of Virginia, the roles of the descendants of English colonists (‘settlers’) in the economic exploitation of enslaved Africans remained invisible in the English ‘celebrations’ of America’s 400th anniversary. A further reason to ‘celebrate’ the specific interpretation of the Jamestown story became clear in several contexts that linked partners in Britain and Virginia. At the VIP wreath laying ceremony on 19 December at Virginia Quay, a VIP made a speech that referred to ‘democracy and the freemarket’ having started right there. Three days later, the curator of the museum exhibition was interviewed on TV News. In front of the replica ship and beneath the towers of Canary Wharf, she said that ‘venture capital from London’ had been important in the establishment of the USA. The report finished by saying that ‘London is central to the story of America’ (BBC London News, 2006). Even amidst the 2007 celebratory clamour that surrounded the 200th anniversary of British Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, the mercantile discourse reinscribed the venture capital of London as central to the story of the creation of the US whilst the connections between venture capital, colonisation and slavery were obscured. This message reached a wider audience when, in May 2007, the British Queen Elizabeth made a state visit to the USA to mark the 400th anniversary.19 In his welcoming speech to the Queen, President Bush continued on the theme of ‘celebration’ of both the Jamestown colony and their contemporary shared political goals: Based on our common values, our two nations are working together for the common good. Together we are supporting young democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together we’re confronting global challenges such as poverty and disease and terrorism. And together we’re working to build a world in which more people can enjoy prosperity and security and peace. Friendships remain strong when they are continually renewed, and the American people appreciate Your Majesty’s commitment to our friendship. We thank you for helping us celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. We’re confident that Anglo-American friendship will endure for centuries to come. (White House News Release, 2007)

Events and discourses described above demonstrate that the 2006 anniversary events at Blackwall can only be understood in the context of USA and Virginia 19  The contemporary political importance of her visit was made clear before the visit by President Bush who said: ‘The United States and the United Kingdom enjoy an extraordinary friendship that is sustained by deep historical and cultural ties and a commitment to defend freedom around the world …We look forward to Her Majesty’s State Visit as an occasion to celebrate these enduring bonds’ ( fr/-/1/hi/uk/6151124.stm Published: 2006/11/15 15:39:43 GMT).


The Invisible Empire

State government sponsorship of ‘2007: America’s 400th anniversary’. The ‘partnership’ between Rolfe and Pocahontas, ‘settlers’ and ‘Indians’ celebrated by the Jamestowne Society is echoed by President Bush addressing the British Queen, espousing and celebrating the ‘common values’ and ‘friendship’ needed to win the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwall 2006: East India Amnesia The 1806 Blackwall anniversary had no equivalent super-power patronage. However, that does not explain a silence about a key moment in a historical relationship between Britain and the Indian subcontinent in a borough where, according to the 2001 census, thirty three percent of the population have ancestral links with Bengal (OPCS 1993). Moreover, in 2006 twenty-one of the fifty elected borough councillors were British Bengalis and had their offices and debating chamber in the Town Hall within the East India Dock walls. Yet there was no parallel public acknowledgement of the significance of ‘East India’ ‘trade’ or ‘partnerships’ in the development of the City of London. Neither was there any attempt to use what Trouillot (1995) termed the ‘moment of retrospective significance’, the anniversary, to advance the sense of belonging experienced by local Bengali residents. The anniversary of the opening of the East India Docks passed almost unnoticed. The Museum in Docklands held meetings to talk about organising anniversary events, but rather than a big event, a series of lunch time public talks took place during the latter part of the year. These were each attended by between twenty-five and forty predominantly white people over fifty-five, who indicated by the questions they posed, that they had a largely uncritical view of the British Empire. The corruption and violence of the East India Company in Bengal and beyond was the subject in a talk given by Nick Robins, who had been actively involved in earlier meetings about how the museum should remember 1806 and other East India links.20 However questioners were more concerned, for example, about the exact size of tea chests than the experiences of the colonised. Other talks ignored the oppressions of the East India Company by focusing on accessing the archives of the East India Company, one white family’s involvement in the Company over time and how to trace relatives through the East India Company official records. Apart from Nick Robins’ contribution, the talks all focused on the relationships of white people to the East India Company. None of the talks addressed the four hundred year relationship between Britain and Bengal or the long presence of Bengalis in London. There was no evidence that anniversary publicity had been targeted specifically at the local Bengali population.

20  This talk was the launch event for Nick Robins’ book: The Corporation that changed the world: How the East India Company shaped the modern multinational. London: Pluto Press 2006.

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Neither can the silence surrounding the 1806 anniversary be explained by the arguments that a dock opening is not a marketable anniversary or that the East India trade is not of interest to the culture industry. In the previous chapter I discussed the dock anniversary remembered in 2000, when the Canary Wharf Group (owners of the Canary Wharf estate located within the old West India Docks) sponsored events and a monument to celebrate the opening of the West India Docks in 1802. Also, between 2000 and 2004 there were several events and exhibitions tied to the 400th anniversary of the charter granted to the East India Company.21 Why was the East India Docks’ opening not remembered in 2006 whilst only six years earlier the West India Docks had been celebrated? It is not because at their opening the docks were described by The Times as a ‘great work’ but ‘not of such magnificent dimensions as the West India Docks’ (The Times 15 August 1806: 3). White Memories, White Belonging The two events that took place in Blackwall two hundred years apart both form part of a ‘British Empire story’. Their anniversaries could have been mobilised to tell very many different stories: for example about genocide in North America, violence and dispossession in Bengal or about processes of global migration. However, in 2006, Blackwall was remembered primarily because it played a small bit-part in ‘America’s 400th Anniversary commemorations’ and a local museum received funds from the US government to run an exhibition that linked Blackwall to the birth of the super-power. The significance of that relationship to contemporary military and political partnerships was made explicit in the USA when the British Queen visited Jamestown in 2007 and was entertained in Washington DC by President Bush. 2007 was a year of many more potential ‘Empire’ anniversaries in Britain. Events that could somehow be remembered in a positive light were funded and remembered through exhibitions, books, TV and radio programmes whilst those that are negative, or more open to contestation were less noticed. Empire related events that allowed for ‘celebration’ to overshadow ‘commemoration’ dominated. For example, many of the 1807 British abolition of the slave trade events focused on Briton’s roles as Abolitionists rather than as slave traders or owners. Anniversaries of the 1947 independence of India and Pakistan celebrated the end of British rule and the subcontinents progress over the previous 60 years rather than the repressions of the period of colonisation. In contrast, anniversaries such as the 1757 Battle of Polashi in Bengal, the 1857 Indian Liberation War or ‘Mutiny’ that

21  For example, Trading Places at the British Library ( features/trading/exhibition1.html), Encounters at the V&A museum (http://www.vam., a conference ‘The Worlds of the East India Company’ at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.


The Invisible Empire

marked the beginnings and extensions of colonial rule and irrefutable oppression were less visible outside minority communities.22 The Invisible Empire, the silencing of specific histories in the mercantile discourse used by land developers, council planning officers, museum curators, the Jamestowne society and US government examined in the Blackwall regeneration and anniversary events contributes to the highly racialized politics of belonging in the East End of London. White belongingness reached beyond national boundaries through emphasizing the links between Blackwall and Jamestown. At Virginia Quay and through involvement in America’s 400th anniversary, white English people were able to claim a role in the creation of the ‘freedom and democracy’ of the modern USA.23 Similarly, through ancestral links and monetary donations (the Virginia Memorial, the Discovery ship replica, sponsorship of the Journey to the New World exhibition) white North Americans were able to stake a claim to belong to the England where these ideas and ‘settlers’ were said to have originated. This mutual white belonging was emphasized by President Bush and Ambassador Tuttle. In contrast, the same discourses worked to exclude the historical connections and experiences of people of African descent, British, Caribbean or American, in the development of the USA or Britain or in building ‘freedom and democracy’. There were no opportunities to make connections between Bengali and British histories or to foster belonging to a shared space at the anniversary of the opening of the East India Docks. The first two empirical chapters have provided a physical and theoretical framework for the developing argument of the book through identifying the Invisible Empire as a core element in the dominant white liberal discourse about Britishness and demonstrating how it works through time and across space. In Chapters 3 and 4, I examine the Invisible Empire in relation to other dependent elements of the dominant discourse discussed in the Introduction. In both Chapters 3 and 4 I identify processes of the construction of ‘white’ and ‘Bengali’ categories 22  A conference and associated events remembering the Battle of Polashi (Plassey) 250 years earlier were organised by the Brick Lane Circle in Tower Hamlets in June 2007 ( events_-_250_years_-_finals.pdf). 23  For example Martin Kettle referring in The Guardian to the Virginia colony: ‘Yet it is hard … them, not to be struck by two powerful thoughts: first, to wonder what it was that made the people who came all the way from Europe to these places get up in the morning and do such things; and, second, to acknowledge that, without knowing what they had started or where it would lead, these ancestors of ours initiated a historical process which has been to the net benefit of humankind rather to its net loss. Nevertheless, even the horror, shame and persistence of slavery itself can’t shake my view that the building of the 21st century Americas – and above all the building of the modern United States itself, a society that after much struggle was eventually a pioneer of law, democracy and freedom – has proved to be the single greatest collective human achievement of the past four centuries (Martin Kettle The Guardian 31 March, 2007: comment/story/0,,2046969,00.html#article_continue).

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during a period of political conflict in the early 1990s. I explore how people experienced and challenged the constraints imposed on them by these discursive constructions and the extent to which police, local authority and media discourses shifted in response to those challenges. I show how the historical absences in the dominant representations of the East End local media and government discourses contributed to these constructions.

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Part II

Introduction to Chapters 3 and 4 In Chapters 1 and 2 I used the examples of dock related marketing and commemorative events and associated discourses over a seventeen year period to identify and investigate the dominant white discourse about Britishness. I demonstrated the flexibility of the pivotal element of that discourse, what I name the Invisible Empire – the dominant white discursive references to the British Empire. I showed how in different contexts and at different periods that discourse works to venerate Britain’s colonial links at the same time as obscuring the violence of Empire. Central to my analysis is identifying the organisations or groups which are associated with that discourse as well as those which are associated with opposing discourses. In Chapters 3 and 4 I examine how the Invisible Empire works in conjunction with other dependent elements of the dominant discourse about Britishness described in the Introduction. The second element of the discourse that I identified is that it normalises and privileges the white subject whilst making the ‘ethnic other’ the subject of measurement and analysis, creating fixed and homogeneous categories ascribed with specific characteristics. The constructions of ‘East Ender’, ‘Islander’, ‘Cockney’, ‘English’, ‘working class’ and ‘British’, are all subcategories of whiteness, each superficially racially unmarked, yet all are sites of struggle over their racial meanings. Through the articulation with the Invisible Empire they became normalised as the natural and historically legitimated occupiers of the East End space. As the hub of Empire traffic and an arrival point for refugees and migrants from Europe, the population of the East End has been made up of people with roots in many different parts of the world for several hundred years. Thus, various groups in the East End have been categorised as the ‘ethnic other’ and have been the focus of measurement and description at different times and with different emphases. In Chapter 3 I focus on processes whereby the currently largest ‘ethnic minority’, people with family roots in Bengal were the subjects of social and cultural analysis and political debate and where a single identity, based on their presumed ethnicity, was been used to define and characterise a whole group of people. All the categories and subcategories that I investigate already exist in the dominant discourse and therefore are always open to challenge by discourses associated with competing groups. Through focusing on keywords in the dominant discourse used in relation to ‘white’ and ‘Bengali’ groups during a period of conflict, I am able to track the processes whereby these categories are challenged, recreated and consolidated. I investigate the struggles over meanings associated with both the constructed ‘white’ and ‘Bengali’ categories, I explore their shared


The Invisible Empire

embeddedness within the dominant white discourse and how they maintain and are sustained by the Invisible Empire. In Chapter 3 I focus on events that took place in an eight day period of intensive political activity during September 1993 and subsequent political, media and police discourse. In Chapter 4 I extend the analysis to examine events and discourses associated with local authority marketing strategy, during an eight month period from September 1993 to May 1994. In both chapters I demonstrate processes that work to exclude sections of the population from sense of local and national belonging – a theme picked up on in Chapter 5.

Chapter 3

Subjects of the Invisible Empire: ‘Outside Extremists’, ‘White East Enders’, ‘Passive Bengalis’ Categories constructed in dominant media discourses and used to describe the political struggles of people who are the objects or the perpetrators of racism are frequently contested by those whose complex lives such crude categorisations cannot adequately represent. However, since those challenges are most likely to take place outside the zone of interest of mainstream politics or media they do not impact on the dominant discourse so that vulgar racial categorisations and constructions of ‘otherness’ remain ‘common sense’ in political debate. Contextualized analysis of mainstream political and media discourses continues to be a useful tool in understanding how such categorisations work to define the subject positions of minority ethnic groups and minority political groups in ways that prevent them from successfully challenging their representation in the dominant discourse. However, to whatever degree the discourse analysis is contextualized, it cannot explain the full extent of the manipulation of the reports of events that can take place in building those constructions. To understand those processes of construction, the events on which those constructions are based themselves require deeper examination. In this chapter I use ethnographic research methods and discourse analysis of media reports over an eight day period of intense political activity, to explore how and in what circumstances racial and associated categories are constructed and/or mobilised in media discourses. I track processes of construction, mobilisation and contestation of specific categories as events unfold and are reported on. The events that I focus on took place in September 1993 in Tower Hamlets and were reported in the local English and Bangla language and national media. I examine how keywords including ‘outsider’, ‘extremist’ and ‘violence’ worked to construct and consolidate the apparently fixed ‘white’ and ‘Bengali’ categories in the dominant discourse in the context of challenges from subordinate discourses. A number of related questions run through the analyses of the events and discourses: First, how do the events represented in the dominant discourse in local and national media compare with the way that they were experienced by those who participated in them? Second, how were those dominant representations contested by subordinate discourses of minority media and other groups? Third, how were racial categories and constructions of ‘otherness’ mobilised to delimit the subject positions of white political minorities and minority ethnic groups? Finally, how these categories maintain and are sustained by the Invisible Empire.


The Invisible Empire

Eight Days in September 1993 On 8 September 1993 Quddus Ali, a seventeen-year-old Bengali east Londoner was attacked by a group of eight white people in Stepney, Tower Hamlets. He spent four months in a coma and was permanently brain damaged. Eight days later a British National Party (BNP) candidate was elected to Tower Hamlets Council at a by-election in Millwall ward on the Isle of Dogs. Both these events and others that took place during the intervening week were widely reported in national and local media. At the time of the attack on Quddus Ali, I had been living in Tower Hamlets for nine years, was working in the local college as a youth worker and lecturer and had embarked on a part-time D.Phil research project investigating cultural constructions of Britishness. Already immersed in the events described above, my methodological approach was to follow the flow of events and associated discourses over a nine month period from the time of the attack on Quddus Ali and the election of the BNP councillor to the forthcoming local elections in May 1994 when all councillors would have to stand for re-election. During that period I carried out participant observation of fifty political demonstrations, vigils, meetings and other ‘cultural’ events that had no obvious political link to the other events. I interviewed twenty-two other participants about those events and about how they were represented in media reports. I analysed local and national discourses of politicians, the police, local and national media about events in which either the interviewees or I had participated. I also examined material produced by groups who challenged the dominant discourse. In examining the texts I identified keywords and noted the meanings associated with them, how, by whom and in what contexts they were used. From this contextualized discourse analyses I was able to identify, locate and track dominant and subordinate discourses and to recognize how subordinate discourses challenged and/or were accommodated by dominant discourses.   The ethnographic research which recorded and analysed the events described below and which tracked and contextualized the specific discourses, from which this discussion has been drawn is detailed in Georgina Wemyss, ‘The Power to Tolerate: Contests over Britishness and Belonging in East London’, Unpublished D.Phil thesis, University of Sussex (2004).  Local media analysed were East End Advertiser (weekly) September 1993 to December 1994, East End Life (weekly) November 1993 (launch edition) to December 1994. National newspapers monitored and analysed from 9 September 1993 to 1 July 1994 were The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Observer, The Daily Express, The Sunday Express, The Times, The Mirror, The Evening Standard, Today, The Independent on Sunday. Bengali language newspapers monitored during same period were Notun Din and Surma. Also BBC R4 and LBC (1993–94). Assorted news, phone-in and discussion programmes and BBC, ITV and Channel 4 news and newsassociated programmes. Satellite TV was not widely available in Britain at that time.   The theoretical and methodological approaches that I employ parallel the calls for more emphases on grounded research, context, power, the identification of discursive struggles, history and agency that run through the critiques of discourse analysis published in Critique of Anthropology 21(1) and (2) (2001).

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The chapter begins with a brief description of two events, the Whitechapel vigil and the Millwall rally, in which I both participated and interviewed other participants and which received television and newspaper coverage. The description is followed by an analysis of local and national media reports of the key events referred to. Through contrasting participants’ observations of those events with their media representation, the content of the dominant discourse during that specific moment of September 1993 is identified and analysed. The analysis focuses on how selected keywords (‘outsiders’, ‘extremists’, ‘violence’) and absences (of multi-ethnic histories and white violence) work to construct and consolidate racial categories (‘Asians’, ‘Cockneys’, ‘Islanders’) central to the dominant discourse at that time. Through focusing on the dominant discourse the groups associated with it are identified and challenges to that discourse from alternative discourses associated with subordinate groups are recognised. Keywords, racial categories and the historical absences of the Invisible Empire are examined to demonstrate how they articulate together in the dominant discourse to obscure Bengali experiences of racial harassment and violence, and to construct Bengali people as politically passive subjects. The Whitechapel Vigil: Friday 10 September 1993 A vigil was called by Bengali activists and the Anti Nazi League (ANL) outside the hospital in Whitechapel where Quddus Ali lay in a coma. The steps, pavements and traffic island in front of the hospital were crowded with several hundred Bengali young men and boys, a few Bengali women as well as older Bengali veterans of the 1978 anti-racist struggles and the squatting movements of the 1970s. There were banners and black and white male and female supporters from the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA), the ANL and Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE). No more than ten uniformed police were visible on the pavement between the crowd milling around the hospital steps and the heavy rush hour traffic on Whitechapel Road. The speakers   The Whitechapel vigil, a subsequent demonstration and the representation of Bengali youth in anti-racist and mainstream media has been briefly discussed by Michael Keith (2000: 521–38).   1978 is often seen as a moment of change in discourses about the political organisation of Bengali people in East London. On 4 May, a young Bengali clothing worker, Altab Ali was stabbed to death in Whitechapel. This was the night that 41 National Front candidates stood in local elections. Ten days later 700 Bengalis marched behind his coffin to Downing Street (Leech 1978: 11). In the same year, Bengali and white people organised against the alleged GLC proposal to create racially segregated housing estates (the GLC ‘Ghetto Plan’ was a construct of The Sunday Times in an article on 6 June 1978. It was a misinterpretation of a complex history of requests for houses on racially safe estates by the Bengali Housing Action Group (Clare Murphy, Memo to author 11 September 2003).   From 1975 several hundred Bengali families and other residents had been involved in organised squatting movement in Spitalfields in response to the local authority housing policies (Forman 1989: 80–88).


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included a prominent Bengali Labour Party activist, Quddus Ali’s mother and cousin and a Bengali ANL activist whose father had come to Britain from Bangladesh as a merchant seaman in the 1940s. All lived and worked in Tower Hamlets. The crowd was asked to be silent in order for Quddus’ mother to speak. In Sylheti, She asked everyone to pray for her son and for her son’s attackers to be brought to justice. As she finished speaking there was movement between the police line and some Bengali young men who had started flicking ANL stickers at them. Very quickly cardboard and wood placards were thrown at the police and immediately large numbers of police in full riot gear, protected by shields, helmets and wielding truncheons appeared and moved towards the crowd. Under pressure, the crowd shifted to different parts of the road and some started fighting back. A Bengali young man smashed the windscreen and lights of an empty police car, ignoring a white male who told him to ‘vanish into the crowd’. Thirty Bengali boys aged between about ten and sixteen were trapped between the hospital entrance and the riot police, the hospital doors were locked ensuring that there was no escape for anyone who wanted to leave. Some of the boys started throwing chewing gum and cigarette packets at the police who responded by using their weapons to force everyone away from the hospital and into the road. Many older and younger Asian community workers implored people to go home. However, groups of mainly Bengali young men, chased by riot police with dogs, ran off south towards Cannon Street Road and west towards Brick Lane, where fighting continued for several hours. Nine Bengali young men were arrested and charged with the serious offence of riot. The Millwall Rally: Saturday 11 September 1993 The following day an anti-BNP rally was organised by the local ANL group, Islanders against the Nazis, in Millwall Park on the Isle of Dogs. Approximately 100 people, ninety-five per cent white, attended. Before the speeches began, an older white man strode across the field towards the rally shouting: Who gave you permission to come here? I’m a Cockney; I’ve lived on the Isle of Dogs all my life. What right have you to come and make trouble? The young people here are afraid to come and use the park because of you.

A white young woman, part of the rally, shouted back ‘I’m Cockney, but that doesn’t mean I have to be racist’. The man marched aggressively towards the young women shouting’ Are you calling me a racist?’ Two policemen talked quietly to him, and he backed off, as another young woman shouted ‘bastard’ at   The majority of British Bengalis speak Sylheti. Political struggles over whether it should be categorised as a ‘dialect’ of Bangla or a ‘language’ continue in Britain, Bangladesh and India (,,   The name of the group had been misreported in the ELA that week as ‘Island Against the Nazis’.

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him. A young man marched furiously towards her screaming ‘That’s my Granddad you’re shouting at!’ Two older white adults stood on either side of her and the man walked off. A middle-aged white woman with him then started shouting at the crowd. Another middle-aged white women on the demonstration shouted, ‘Nazi’ at her. The former woman then walked off shouting more abuse, whilst her accuser admitted to those around her that she was wrong to have shouted, ‘Nazi’. A policeman then walked with the young man and his presumed family to the far side of the park and stayed talking with them there. The first speaker was the Bengali Tower Hamlets ANL activist, who had spoken at the vigil the previous day. Amongst other things he announced ‘The police got a good hiding yesterday’. Many, but not all, of the crowd applauded. The next speaker was Leon Greenman who spoke about his personal experiences of the Holocaust. He was loudly applauded by everybody. The rally finished abruptly when gunshot was heard nearby and someone announced that the police had stopped a group of BNP supporters from entering the park. Later that evening a group of white men rampaged down Brick Lane smashing several restaurant and shop windows. In response, a spontaneous procession of 300-400 mainly Bengali young men marched from Brick Lane to nearby Cannon Street Road, in demonstration at their anger of the white violence and police inaction. Five days later the BNP candidate Derek Beackon was elected to Tower Hamlets council by a majority of seven votes. The Construction of Events of September 1993 in Media Reports and Competing Discourses: Keywords, Racial Categories and the Invisible Empire This section examines the ways the events described above were constructed in the dominant discourses of local and national media and were contested by the discourses of Bengali language press, anti-racist groups and individuals. Through focusing on keywords and ideas associated with the competing discourses, a dynamic process of construction of ‘otherness’ and of racial categories in the dominant discourse is identified and the processes whereby the subject positions of white political minorities and minority ethnic groups are defined are examined. Keywords: ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Extremists’ in Police and Media Discourses about the Stepney Attack, the Whitechapel Vigil and the Rally in Millwall Park Keywords are words central to the dominant discourse (Williams 1976). Such words often never have permanently fixed meanings and thus they are sites of  Leon Greenman was born in Whitechapel in 1910 and died in east London in 2008. He was living in the Netherlands in 1942 when he and his family were transported to Birkenau. His wife and child were murdered on arrival but Greenman survived Auschwitz and, whilst struggling to make a living in London, he campaigned against resurgent Nazism into his 90s.


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contest by discourses associated with competing groups. Shore and Wright described how several keywords can form ‘semantic clusters’, whose meanings shift and change, mobilized by a central keyword, which they call a ‘mobilising metaphor’ (1997: 20). The first cluster of keywords and associated ideas that I identified in the dominant discourse of politicians, the police and the media were those related to ‘outsiders’ and ‘extremists’ used to construct categories of people. I first noticed their significance through the frequency of their use in the dominant discourse when compared with their initial absence from the discourses of participants in events. Both national and local news media reported the attack on Quddus Ali. After the first Radio 4 Today (morning news) item about the racist attack in Stepney on 9th September, TV and radio news included reports on the event throughout that day. The BBC evening local news programme led with the attack and interviewed Quddus’ cousin and the white assistant principal from his college. The ITV local news included it as a smaller item, showing police searching the area and Bengali passers-by being asked for their reactions to the attack. On the day of the Whitechapel vigil, TV news reported that fighting continued into the night. The following day, 11 September, the ITV local early evening news magazine, London Tonight carried a report on the attack on Quddus Ali and the violence at the vigil. Friends were shown visiting Quddus Ali in hospital and his mother was interviewed. The report used pictures of the ANL rally in Millwall Park with the voiceover ‘Police and community leaders said that outsiders were inflaming the situation’ whilst people with ANL badges and placards were shown arguing with police and the local Bengali Tower Hamlets ANL activist was pictured saying ‘the police got a good hiding yesterday’. The 6.00pm BBC news reported the police saying that those responsible for yesterday’s violence in Whitechapel were ‘politically motivated outsiders’. The accompanying film footage was of local Bengali young men throwing cardboard placards at the police. The 10.30 pm local news also reported the police as saying that those responsible for the violence were ‘Asian youth from outside the area’. In this discourse, people closely associated with the victim were called ‘local’ and those involved in the protests were labelled ‘outsiders’. Yet the pictures of those they labelled ‘outsiders’ were of local men. The construction of the Tower Hamlets ANL activist and the ANL as ‘outsiders inflaming the situation’, of other local ‘Asian men’ as ‘outsiders’, and of ‘politically motivated’ initiators of violence, is the start of a discourse which appears to have originated from the police in describing the fighting that had taken place outside the hospital. In these examples of this discourse, there was no mention of the reason behind the rally – that local people were opposing a BNP candidate in the by-election – (and that the BNP might therefore be considered as inflaming the situation), or that gunshot was heard in Millwall Park, forcing the rally to finish early. Nor was Leon Greenman’s linking of the current re-emergence of Nazism with his own experiences of Nazi death camps reported. On the day of the by-election, 16 September, separate reports on the BNP and the racial attacks appeared on the pages of the local newspaper, the East London

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Advertiser (ELA). However, the ELA was not reporting the protests as linked to opposition to BNP activism. Instead, the newspaper also represented the local Bengali youth as ‘outsiders’. The ELA, used the voices of police, councillors and an ‘Asian youth’ to build on the construction of ‘outside’ troublemakers as ‘extremists’. On the front page: Town hall bosses and police chiefs have blamed Friday night’s riot by mainly Asian youths in front of the Royal London hospital on “outside extremists”. (ELA 16 September 1993)

On page five, under the headline ‘Outside extremists blame for riots’ they reported: A top cop at Leman Street police station has claimed outside extremists were responsible for the weekend’s race riots. Supt Insp [J… S…] said youths unknown to the police started to agitate the crowds and beat up his colleague chief Insp [R… C…]. [S…] said: “They were not local people. They were doing nothing other than being aggravating and when [R. C…] went in to stop them he was knocked to the ground, dragged through the crowds and stamped on.” (ELA 16 September 1993)

The Superintendent constructed he assertion that ‘outside extremists’ were involved on the basis that the police did not recognise each individual Bengali young man in a borough where at least 23 per cent of the population were Bengali and 26 per cent under 15. It went on: Another Asian Youth blamed the Anti Nazi League for last Friday’s riot outside the Royal London Hospital. Sociology student [O…] 21, of Stepney said: “The Anti Nazi League provoked the thing. They were shouting for war. They are using the attack to promote their ideas. They rely on local boys for promoting their views” he claimed. (ELA 16 September 1993 original emphasis)

Page seven reported the views of the Liberal Democrat Mayor of Tower Hamlets: the racial attack on Quddus Ali had made him very angry and he criticised ‘extremist elements’ for ‘exploiting the situation’ during the past week. He said that they have ‘tried to tie down the police in maintaining law and order when they would be better served in catching the perpetrators of the crime’. (ELA 16 September 1993)

The Liberal Democrat council leader was also quoted as condemning ‘the cynical manipulation of the situation by extreme groups coming from outside the borough


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since the attack on Quddus Ali’ (ELA 16 September 1993). All of these examples were printed prominently on the front page or inside right-hand pages. In this discourse, the word ‘outsiders’ was repetitively paired with ‘extremist’, and the Anti Nazi League were again identified as the ‘outsiders’, this time explicitly using ‘local boys’ for their own purposes. A less prominent, single column, left hand page news report that did not include councillor or police quotations contradicted the construction of the agitators of the Whitechapel ‘riot’ as ‘outsiders’. On page six on 16 September, the ELA carried a report on the court appearance of nine Bengali men arrested the previous Friday. It listed, without comment, their names, ages (15, 16, 18, 20, 20, 20, 22, 23, 25) and places of residence. Seven of them were from addresses in Tower Hamlets and one was ‘a degree student from Slough’. The report did not discuss the fact that eight out of nine were ‘local’ men. Neither was their localness referred to in any other news report in that edition of the ELA, which continued in other articles to refer to the activists as ‘outside extremists’. In the quotes from the Mayor and council leader, no ‘extremist’ groups were named. However, the previous week the political group labelled as ‘extremist’ (but not as ‘outsiders’ or as instigators of ‘violence’) in the ELA, had been the British National Party: The British National Party is said to have sent out twenty to thirty supporters each night to campaign on the Isle of Dogs … the right-wing extremist party gained its best ever election result when it polled over 20 per cent of the vote in a Millwall by-election last October. (ELA 9 September 1993)

This contrasted with the report on the day of the by-election, when the BNP’s election prospects were reported with no reference to their policies, where they came from, or their campaigning strategies: National media pundits descended on Millwall after the Advertiser’s story that the BNP could win today’s council by-election … the BNP has campaigned hard for the by-election which takes place today, Thursday. It is hoping its first ever councillor will be elected at Millwall. (ELA 16 September 1993)

The use of the words ‘campaigning hard’ and ‘hoping’ contributed towards the construction of the BNP as a ‘mainstream’ political party. After events following the attack on Quddus Ali, the labels ‘outsiders and ‘extremist’ in the ELA were most often applied to those involved in anti-racist activities. The rare exceptions were when direct quotes were taken from people who opposed the BNP. The BNP as ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Extremists’ On 9 September, the ELA reported that an ‘Island Against the Nazis’ meeting would go ahead at Millwall Park on 11 September despite having been refused

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permission by the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Committee. The report did not mention that ‘Island Against the Nazis’ was a local initiative of the national Anti Nazi League. The ANL consistently called the BNP ‘Nazi’ to identify it as ‘extremist’ and used the term ‘Islander’ to establish the ‘insider’ status of antiracists and legitimate their activities on the Isle of Dogs. These labels entered the news reports of the ELA but were not commented on. ‘Island’ and ‘Islanders’ are the locally recognised terms for the Isle of Dogs peninsula and its inhabitants. They carry meanings of being white, working class and geographically isolated (Cohen 1996: 180; Ware 1997: 302). ‘Nazi’ has only negative meanings in the dominant discourse, which are compounded in local historical narratives of the heavy bombing of the Isle of Dogs and surrounding areas by the German Luftwaffe between 1940-5 (Palmer, 2000: 139-149). In an exploration of cultural complexities associated with fascism, Paul Gilroy has argued that although there is an enduring appeal of Nazi and fascist styles, Hitler’s Nazis discredited ‘fascism as a political model’ (2000: 148). Thus, in its name, the anti-racist group was using the word Nazi as it is understood in the dominant discourse to discredit the British National Party, through connecting it to Hitler’s fascists. At the same time the ANL was also establishing its right to protest against the Nazism of the BNP. As an anti-racist group, the ANL was challenging the dominant discourse in asserting an ‘Island’ identity that did not have to be exclusively white. A short report on page seven on the day of the by-election quoted the local MP who used references to wartime bombing raids to identify the BNP as Nazis and as coming from outside the East End: MP Mildred Gordon has called for East Enders to fight the ‘Nazi poison’ seeping into the area following the attack on Quddus Ali … she said “If we fail to do this we will be dishonouring the memory of all the East Enders who valiantly fought the fascists at home and the Nazis in Europe and all those who carried on during the Blitz.” (ELA 16 September 1993).

On the front page the voices of anti-racist campaigners linked race tension and the BNP with ‘Many anti-racist campaigners blame the BNP for increasing the race tension in the East End (ELA 16 September 1993). Apart from these reports of anti-racists using the word ‘Nazi’, it was rarely used in the ELA reports.10 The discursive constructions of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ continued to be central to the dominant discourses over the following six months. In the week

10  The identification of the BNP as ‘Nazi’ was contested on by-election day in The Daily Telegraph. A man who claimed to be a BNP voter and ‘lifelong Isle of Dogs’ resident was quoted: I fought against Hitler, but these are not fascists as we knew it then. They’re nationalists who stand for the rights of English people in this country (The Daily Telegraph 16 September 1993).


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following the Beackon victory, the Bishop of Stepney was quoted using the same discourse with a biblical tone: Church is dismayed by election result Bishop of Stepney … warned at a meeting on Sunday, the East End is “going to be plagued by outside agitators on every side of the conflict”. (ELA 23 September 1993)

In this case, the ‘outsider agitators’ are assumed to be both those who campaign for the BNP and those who demonstrate against them. Again, there is an implication that agitation is external to the ‘East End’, and that the ‘conflict’ occupies a middle ground with the BNP and anti-racist activists equally bothersome in their activities. In this discourse, ‘locals’ are assumed to be passive and not involved in contesting the spaces that they occupy. In this section, I have demonstrated how the police, BBC and ITV news reports and the ELA constructed the young men who fought against police at the Whitechapel vigil as ‘outsiders’ and extremists’. I have also shown that the ELA predominantly did not represent the BNP as ‘outsiders’ or ‘extreme’. These constructions contrast strongly with the representation of ‘outsiders’ and ‘extremists’ in the discourse of a Bengali language newspaper discussed below. Bengali Language Discourses on ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Extremists’ Links between the violence at the vigil, experiences of racism of Bengali protestors or between the BNP political campaign in Millwall and the racial attack on Quddus Ali, which were absent from the discourses discussed above, were central to the discourses of the Bengali language media. Notun Din, a Bengali language weekly paper reported on the attack and vigil in detail: As the fascist BNP attacked Brick Lane last week and the police failed to respond, Bengali youth united to protect themselves and their community. Their slogan was ‘We must fight against racism’. This move of the youth astonished the traditional and older leadership of the community. Not only in Brick Lane, but across London the Bengali youths are trying to organise themselves to fight against racism. They are preparing to weigh themselves against the neo-Nazi fascist force. They say ‘It is now war’. Observers in the Bengali community and the Bengali press agreed that the attack [on Quddus Ali] last week was politically motivated. The BNP resorted to their historical technique, racism, in Docklands, in order to gain popularity amongst white voters. This is a conspiracy designed to gain popularity amongst white voters in the by-election to be held next week in Millwall ward. Poor Quddus Ali is the unfortunate victim of their racist political activities.

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Quddus Ali who has been brutally attacked by the racist thugs in east London, is now struggling for life in Royal London Hospital. This attack caused caused trouble, riots, protests and damage in east London. (Notun Din 17–23 September 1993)

In this report, the attack on Quddus Ali itself is understood as having been politically motivated by the BNP. It is not seen as an isolated event, but understood in the historical context of racist violence as an election strategy. Unlike the ELA, Notun Din report labelled the BNP as ‘fascist’. Notun Din did not set up a dichotomy between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. It reported, with somewhat pleased surprise, on how Bengali youths from across London were organising themselves to fight racism and the BNP. Moreover, the Anti Nazi League was represented, along with other unidentified observers as a legitimate part of the vigil: Representatives of Anti Nazi League said to this reporter that the police caused the riot. People were joining a peaceful demonstration calling anti racist slogans. A demonstrator added ‘We came here to demand justice and protest against racist attacks, not to break the peace. The police caused the riot by pushing us. They arrested our brothers, we want justice for this. An observer said that the police used truncheons to disrupt the demonstration, which caused injuries. (Notun Din 17–23 September 1993)

Three separate voices were used to identify the police as the cause of the riot: Anti Nazi League representatives, a demonstrator and an observer. The demonstrator referred to those arrested as ‘brothers’ which in this Bengali discourse implies that those demonstrating and being arrested were all Bengali. Whether or not they were from the local area was not the significant issue that it had been made in the English media discourses discussed above. The reports of events described in section one above, indicate that there is an existing dichotomy in the dominant discourse between those constructed as ‘outsiders’ and those considered ‘insiders’. The keywords ‘outsiders’ and ‘extremist’ are negative constructions used to delegitimize the actions of those involved in the Whitechapel vigil and Millwall rally. They also work to construct the ‘local’ Bengali population as homogeneous and passive – unwilling to take action unless instigated by others. The keywords ‘Nazi’, ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ are used by the Bengali language discourse and discourses associated with anti-racist groups and individuals to delegitimize the activities of the BNP. The analysis of the events and discourses demonstrates that the meanings associated with these terms in the dominant discourse are dynamic and struggled over. I demonstrated above that Bengali language reports established a link between the violence at Whitechapel and Bengali people’s experiences of racism – a relationship that was often absent in the English language media discourses. I examine the word ‘violence’ as a keyword in order to understand how it is used to construct racial categories and how it is contested in the dominant discourse.

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Keyword: ‘violence’ Shock about the violence of the racist attack on Quddus Ali propelled it onto the TV news headlines on 9 September. From 10 September the dominant discourse on violence had the police as the victims and ‘outside extremists’ as instigators of violence against the police. The shift in the discourse is most obvious when contrasted with the experiences of those involved in the events described. Bengali college students who discussed the attack on Quddus Ali the following morning, Bengali people who spoke at meetings, who were interviewed and who wrote in the press and leaflets were not surprised by the attack on Quddus. For many, the fear of such an attack was a daily concern, together with the belief that the police were more likely to see them as perpetrators of crime than as victims. The absence from the dominant discourse of Bengali experiences of racism or of their grievances against the police worked towards the construction of local Bengali young men as both irrationally violent against the police and as passive subjects, easily manipulated by ‘outsiders’. On 16 September, the day of the by-election the frontpage headline of the East London Advertiser was: SECURITY BLITZ

The accompanying picture was of two white policemen, one in a helmet and with a shield restraining an apparently Bengali young man, whose eyes are blacked out to prevent identification. Underneath it read ‘Clash between police and demonstrators following the savage attack on Ali’. Prominently on page five, there was a half page report on the vigil: The riot developed outside the Royal London Hospital where 17-year-old Quddus Ali was fighting for his life after last Thursday’s attack on him in Stepney. Twentyfive police officers were injured, and nine took sick leave as a result. One officer had an ear partly torn off. A WPC had nine stitches in her mouth and others suffered head, neck and knee injuries. (ELA 16 September 1993 original emphasis)

There was no mention of the number of people attending the vigil and bystanders treated at the hospital the next day. The front page report was concerned with violence between organised groups, the BNP and anti-racist campaigners. Police are mounting a major operation on the Isle of Dogs tonight to prevent any outbreak of violence at a crucial by-election vote. They will aim to prevent any trouble between anti-racist campaigners and the British National Party which could win its first ever council seat. (ELA 16 September 1993)

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Apart from the report on the attack on Quddus, the paper did not report on the local experiences of racism of Bengali people, or how the violence started. There were no reasons given for the fury against the police by large numbers of Bengali young men from the area. This was exemplified by the action of a Bengali young man who continued to smash a police car and refused to hide in the crowd, as had been suggested to him by a white participant. The example above demonstrates how the discourse of the East London Advertiser treated the perpetration of violence by the BNP and anti-racist organisations as equivalent. Also unreported in the dominant discourse of the English language media was how the vigil started and the speed at which the vigil became violent, as a female Bengali participant explained ‘when violence broke out it was just like, God everyone was running everywhere. The media did a dirty game there, they just showed the police and that’s it (AB: 17). Neither was there any report of the actions of the police towards young boys who suddenly found themselves unarmed and trapped in front of the hospital by police in riot gear, and whose response was to throw anything at hand at the police. In contrast the Bengali language press suggested that the police had a role in starting the ‘riot’, and Bengali ‘community leaders’ in stopping it: More than a thousand people joined this demonstration. At 7pm, when the police pushed the demonstration away from the pavement, a riot started which left 28 people including demonstrators and police injured. Police arrested 9 people from the demonstration, which caused further aggravation. The demonstrators started throwing stones at the police demanding the release of those arrested. This damaged a few vehicles including police vehicles. During the demonstration, two cars and a shop were damaged. At 8.30pm the march, escorted by police, moved towards Vallance Road. The demonstration ended in a park nearby, when the crowd was surrounded by the riot police and their dogs. A number of community leaders tried to control the tension within the crowd and the situation came under control by 9.30pm. (Notun Din 17–23 September 1993)

Accompanying photos in Notun Din and another Bengali Language paper Surma, showed injured demonstrators as well as police, and the police using riot shields and dogs against protestors. The Notun Din editorial headlined ‘Police Racism’ read: Once again, the racist attack by fascist neo-Nazi BNP in east London questioned the role of the British police. The series of incidents last week highlighted the fact that part of the British police force consciously and unconsciously supports and allows racism. From events like the peaceful demonstration in front of the Whitechapel Hospital to events like the attack in Brick Lane, including smashing and damaging properties, the instigating role of the police has been uncovered. (Notun Din 17–23 September 1993)


The Invisible Empire

A similar discourse was evident in English language anti-racist information bulletins and at meetings around the borough.11 An example was a chronology of events printed in the Tower Hamlets Anti-Racist Committee (THARC) Bulletin. THARC was a group of predominantly Tower Hamlets Labour Party Activists from Bengali and non-Bengali backgrounds: 1000 people attend a peaceful vigil organised by the Bangladeshi community to show support for Quddus and his family. Police strong arm tactics and unwarranted arrests of young Bengalis provoke a reaction from the crowd. The vigil is then pushed and beaten by riot police using shields, truncheons and dogs. The vigil is forced off the High Street. and down various side streets whilst police await Tactical Support Group. (THARC Bulletin 5 December 1993)

Six weeks after the attack on Quddus Ali, a meeting of twenty-six Tower Hamlets youth workers was set up to discuss the events described above. It was attended by eleven Bengali and two Pakistani youth workers who all worked with Bengali and African-Caribbean young people. They discussed police violence against young men they worked with: There were reports from people who had actually seen how the police treated the young black people. When this was raised with senior [police] officers, it was reported that these officers were from outside the area. A large number of police were around and they were intimidating people on the streets. A number of people refuted the claim that it was outside police officers who carried out the harassment and beatings and arrests. It was reported that some of the officers were from Tower Hamlets (Record of ‘Tension within the Community’ meeting called by Wapping Neighbourhood 18 October 1993).

In this last example of a subordinate discourse, it was not disputed that after the attack on Quddus Ali, the police were harassing and beating local young black people.12 The dispute was over whether or not the police who did that were ‘outsiders’ or Tower Hamlets police. The keyword ‘outsider’ used in the dominant discourse to categorise the assumed instigators of violence at the Whitechapel vigil was also struggled over in this subordinate discourse to categorise the police who intimidated local young people. In the dominant discourse of the local media and BBC news examined above, the perpetrators of violence were those demonstrating against the BNP and violence was instigated by ‘outsiders’ and ‘extremists’, whilst the victims 11 Other examples of this discourse include the Nirmul Committee Bulletin,Iissue 6, November 1993; Tower Hamlets Nine Defence Campaign Leaflet; THARC Meeting 5 December 1993; WUAR meeting 19 october 1993. 12  At this meeting, at which I was present, the term ‘black’ [sic] was used to include Bengali people.

Subjects of the Invisible Empire


of violence were the police. The BNP were not represented as directly involved in violence. This construction was strongly contested in the discourses of the Bengali language press and anti-racist groups, all of which identified the police and the BNP as the perpetrators of violence, and the young Bengali men as the victims. The contests over the meanings associated with the keyword ‘violence’ in the dominant discourse can be better understood in the context of the historical absence of violence experienced by Bengali people in the dominant discourse. White Violence as an Absence in the Dominant White Liberal Discourse The mainstream media did not cover Bengali experiences of violent racism and harassment. This absence meant that the media advanced no reasons for local Bengalis to take part in fighting at the Whitechapel vigil. Hence the dominant discourse constructed local people as having no reason to be violent and to presume that they were therefore being manipulated by ‘outsiders’ and ‘extremists’. Before the election of Derek Beackon, the day-to-day violence and harassment experienced by Bengali people in east London was not represented in the dominant discourse of the local or national media or of politicians and the police. This was absence was noted by the subsequent Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence (The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 1999).13 The report demonstrated that such experiences are so numerous and so common place that only the most extreme cases, such as the attacks on of Quddus Ali and Stephen Lawrence, were ever detailed in the media. The racist violence was referred to, but not described in detail in the subordinate discourses of Bengali language press and of anti-racist groups. However, experiences of racism were central to oral discourses in both Sylheti and English amongst those interviewed. The interviews demonstrated that the experience of physical and verbal abuse and police racism or inaction was common to those interviewed, their friends and families. None of the English language news reports of the attack on Quddus Ali, the vigil or the election of Derek Beackon, constructed the police as perpetrators of racism, or described the constant threat of violence experienced by many Bengali residents in Tower Hamlets. The analysis of contests over the meanings of the keywords ‘outsiders’, ‘extremists’ and ‘violence’ demonstrates how the dominant discourse worked to construct those behind the violence at the Whitechapel vigil as ‘outside extremists’. The absence of the experiences of racist violence in that discourse worked to 13  The Inquiry into the police investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993, carried out in 1997–98 by Sir William Macpherson highlighted the differences between the positive descriptions of policing from the police, and the negative experiences of policing from the minority ethnic communities. My collection of evidence of the experiences of 22 individuals in Tower Hamlets during 1993–94 is supported by the massive quantity of documentation collected during the Inquiry, including the transcriptions of evidence given at a public hearing in Tower Hamlets in October/November 1998 (The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 1999).


The Invisible Empire

construct the Bengali subjects as having been manipulated by those ‘outsiders’. At the same time, the violence of the police and the political programmes of the BNP were absent from the dominant media discourse. The comparison of Bengali people’s experiences of police racism with the absence of the representation of those experiences in the dominant discourse demonstrates that the ‘common sense’ of the dominant discourse is contested by those whom the dominant alliance dominates or does violence to. The Emergence of Fixed Categories in the Dominant Discourse Contests over keywords in the dominant discourse worked together with other discursive practices to create the apparently fixed territorial categories of ‘Islanders’, ‘East Enders’ and ‘Cockneys’ and the racial category ‘Asian’. In this section I compare the events of September 1993 described above with media representations of those events in order to demonstrate how the heterogeneous populations of east London was constructed in the dominant discourse. White Fixed Categories: ‘Islanders’, ‘East Enders’, ‘Cockneys’ The use of words ‘we’ and ‘they’ in the dominant discourse reinforces the dominant status of white people through categorising ‘others’ as outsiders. The ‘we’ in dominant discourse assumes that those it is communicating with are those who share the same category. In the same discourse, the subcategories ‘Islander’, ‘East Ender’ and ‘Cockney’ are represented as fixed. They all carry meanings of being white, homogeneous and unchanging working class groups. However, as the events in Millwall Park demonstrated, they are terms whose meanings were contested and struggled over outside of media discourses. In Millwall Park, the older man constructed the demonstrators as ‘outsiders’ and himself as an ‘insider’ by stating that he was a ‘Cockney’ who had lived on the Isle of Dogs all his life and had rights to the use of the playing field, whilst the demonstrators were bringing trouble from outside. The young woman’s response assumed that his objection was based on his racism, even though he had said nothing directly related to the subject. By stating that she was a ‘Cockney’, she had asserted her right to be there and to challenge the meaning of ‘Cockney’ as being ‘racist’. The man rapidly rejected the negative label ‘racist’, even though she had not called him that. The shouting of ‘Nazi’ by the older woman demonstrator at the woman who had shouted inaudible abuse at the crowd was the most direct insult in the argument. Her subsequent withdrawal of the slur indicates that she considered that ‘Nazi’ was too extreme a label for a woman she knew little about. ‘East Enders’, ‘Islanders’ and ‘Cockneys’ are different legitimating categories of ‘locals’ and are keywords whose definitions are struggled over by those supporting and those opposing the BNP. In the discourses of local and national media, their construction as ‘fixed categories’ works to delegitimize the claims

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of belonging made in the discourses of subordinate groups. The pages of the East London Advertiser in the week following the by-election included several references to these white subcategories. White voices dominated the eleven pages of by-election coverage in the ELA of 23 September, the first edition after the BNP victory. The front page was filled with a picture of Derek Beackon looking straight at the camera, titled ‘Derek Beackon: What does the BNP victory mean for the East End?’ In his victory speech he was quoted as saying ‘This is a great victory for the people of the Island. The British people are no longer prepared to be treated like second class citizens. We are going to take our country back’. This was followed up on page twelve with: Derek Beackon said Asians could stay on the Island ‘for the time being’ but he would prioritise people whose families have lived there for generations. He told the Advertiser “ I intend to work for better housing and law and order. And when we get into government we will stop immigration and start repatriation of immigrants.”

The front page introduced a phone vote of readers with the headline: The big question East Enders must ask themselves … Would YOU vote for the BNP? And this week the Advertiser is giving you the chance to say yes or no

On pages eight and nine there was a double page spread: BNP opinion ‘We’re not racists …’ [N… L…] talks to Millwall voters about the issues surrounding the by-election Islanders have shocked the nation by electing neo-nazi Derek Beackon as a town hall councillor … they claim it was a vote of protest against housing policies that are allegedly putting Asians before whites.

In these examples, the discourse of the ELA builds on the construction of ‘East Enders’, ‘Islanders’ and ‘Millwall voters’ as white, in opposition to the category ‘Asian’ (which I discuss below). Derek Beackon’s contribution shares the same assumptions, but goes further in excluding ‘Asians’ from the category of ‘British people’. Four ‘Millwall voters’, were photographed on page eight and nine – two smiling women and two unsmiling men, all looking white in the photographs, although their ethnicity was not referred to directly. Both women admitted that they had voted BNP. One of the women denied being racist, saying: It’s not a racial thing, it’s resentment. You are getting Bengalis getting 8 bed houses. Of course we are going to be resentful. I’m not in full agreement with all the BNP stands for but ‘Rights for Whites’, yes”.


The Invisible Empire

Referring to housing and schools, the other woman said: They say it’s for anybody but mainly it’s for Asian families. All this housing with five or six bedrooms is being built. Most probably I will vote for them again in May but I will see how it goes.

One man, who it stated did not vote BNP, said: It’s not because of racism. It’s because of lack of housing … Islanders are very hard people. They keep themselves to themselves. The Asians could help themselves better by trying to mingle and joining in with the local community.

A male ‘Ex-army lance corporal and non-voter’ said: People have just had enough. It’s not just a question of colour. I think the BNP will hold onto the seat. The reds have been burning the Union Jack, showing their true colours, and that’s not going to curry any favours … if you start looking at the evidence for Nazi genocide of Jews there is very little. There was no intention to exterminate them. Hitler just wanted to get them out of the country.

These white voices in the ELA used the categories ‘Asian’ and ‘Bengali’ and ‘Islanders’ to explain the reasons behind the BNP vote. In the last example, the use of the term ‘people’ to describe those who voted BNP supported the ‘common sense’ notion that those who legitimately lived on the Isle of Dogs were ‘white’, and always have been. The report began by blaming ‘Asians’ for being allocated housing and not mixing with a closed community, and finished with a defence of a history that claimed that Hitler wanted to expel rather than exterminate Jews. The latter view not only reflected the version of history presented by the BNP, but also paralleled the quoted plans that Derek Beackon had for the repatriation of ‘immigrants’. With minimal use of the word ‘white’, the discourses of the East London Advertiser clearly assumed that those categorised as ‘East Enders’ (invited to take part in the phone vote on voting for the BNP), ‘Islanders’ and ‘Millwall voters’ were white. The only references to ‘whites’ were in the voice of one of the voters who repeated the BNP political slogan of ‘Rights for Whites’ and as an ethnic category in opposition to the other fixed category of ‘Asians’ in the neighbourhood housing policies. ‘Asians’ as a Fixed Category in the Dominant Discourse The term ‘Asians’ was most often used in the discourses about the events of September 1993 in the ELA, although there was occasional mention of ‘Bengalis’ or ‘Bangladeshis’. In 1993 the category ‘Muslim’ was very rarely used in dominant discourses about the Bengali population of east London but was associated with

Subjects of the Invisible Empire


the contesting discourses of mosques or related organisations such as the Young Muslim Organisation (YMO). As the example above illustrates, the category ‘Asians’ was often used in opposition to the common sense white ‘us’ of the dominant discourse. Apart from references to ‘outside extremists’, the English language media representations of the Whitechapel vigil portrayed the participants as a homogeneous group of ‘Asians’. Later reports referred to ‘community leaders’ and the ‘Asian’ or ‘Bengali’ ‘community’ as if all people in that category had a shared understanding of who ‘their’ leaders were, and one political position. The predominantly male, yet politically heterogeneous nature of the vigil, noticed by those who participated, including the vocal presence of young Bengali men from the East London Mosque, older men who had been involved in anti-racist and squatter movements in the 1970s, or the other political affiliations of Bengali people involved, were not reported in local or national media. The media construction of an ‘Asian community’ denied the heterogeneity of the population in many ways. The most obvious homogenisation was in the use of the word ‘Asian’ which categorises all people with ancestors in the South Asian subcontinent together. Whether the all encompassing ‘Asian’ or more specific ‘Bangladeshi’ categories were used, political differences between Bengali people were ignored. For example, Bengali individuals, including those at the Whitechapel vigil, were involved in different and competing Tower Hamlets anti-racist groups (THARE, THARC, Youth Connection), national anti-racist groups (ANL, ARA, YRE) and in different British and Bangladesh-based political parties. People from all these groups were often involved in the same demonstrations against racism, yet had often very different views on other political issues. Fascism was identified by some Bengali groups as a political position within Bangladeshi as well as British politics. For example the Nirmul Committee, a pressure group based in both Britain and Bangladesh, linked the politics of the British National Party with those of the Jamaat-i-Islam (Party of Islam) in Bangladesh. There are many parallels between the BNP and the fascist Jamaat Party in Bangladesh. Commonly they both use emotive issues like race and religion. They inflict violence on ordinary people … For Bengalis the fight is twofold. We have to oppose Bengali fascists and fight the BNP giving no more or less priority to any of them. (Public Informer Issue 6, November 1993)

The Nirmul Committee identified the Young Muslim Organisation, whose members had been involved at the Whitechapel vigil and in the anti-racist group, Youth Connection as connected to the Jamaat-i-Islam in Bangladesh.14

14  Another British Bengali group who linked the policies of the Jamaat-i-Islam with the fascism of the BNP in 1993 was the Bam (Left) Front, which supported Communist and Socialist parties in Bangladesh. A more recent discussion of the politics of the Jamaat-iIslam, YMO and Nirmul Committee by Sarah Glynn (2002: 969–88).


The Invisible Empire

The homogenisation of diverse and contesting groups of Bengalis into the single and fixed category ‘Asian’ contributed to their construction as passive victims in the dominant discourse. I have already demonstrated that a corollary of the construction of ‘outside agitators’ at the Whitechapel vigil was that Bengalis were usually represented as passive. This construction was built on in local and national media discourses which excluded Bengali voices from analysing the reasons for the BNP victory. For example, the evening after Derek Beackon was elected Newsnight had a discussion on the events in Tower Hamlets. The discussion included a British Indian lawyer, the white Chief Executive of the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood and three white MPs (none of whom represented east London constituencies), a white father and daughter who had voted BNP in Millwall and a lone Bengali person whom I knew to be a Labour Party member, anti-racist activist and had a partnership in a Brick Lane restaurant. The white people and lawyer were asked about the reasons for the BNP victory, whilst the single Bengali was asked about the racist attack on his restaurant. He later told me that he had wanted to talk about the BNP activities in Tower Hamlets, but was asked only to talk about the restaurant incident (SA: 74). He was constructed as a passive victim of racism rather than as someone who could influence or have any analysis of housing, economics or historical struggles against racism. Another example is the East London Advertiser a week after the by-election. It included twelve pages of reports relating to the BNP election victory and related events, including the letters page. The editor published five anti-BNP letters, some linking the BNP with Nazism, two pro-BNP letters, and eight letters from writers who understood why ‘people’ would vote BNP, for reasons of housing allocation for example. None of the letters were from people with Bengali names. The only direct quote from a Bengali in the newspaper concerned their having been intimidated from voting or being scared to venture out after the election. There was no indication that Bengalis had been politically active, no reporting of their views of the British National Party or why they thought that ‘people’ voted for them: If you walk around Manchester Road, Millwall or Island Gardens, you will see few if any Bengalis walking about. They are frightened. They only venture out if it is absolutely necessary. (Bengali male quoted in ELA 23 September 1993)

In all of the above examples, the absence of Bengali voices contributes towards the construction of ‘Asians/Bengalis’ as passive. The white ‘Islanders’ were asked their role and their views on the election, the Bengali residents were asked about their role as victims. White politicians contributed their views on the political and economic context of the election results, whilst a male Bengali activist was discouraged from doing so. Bengali women were not represented as being part of the protests against the attack on Quddus Ali or election of Derek Beackon in any of the reports examined. However, on the day of the Whitechapel vigil, TV news film footage included a Bengali woman, standing with her arms outstretched in the middle of the road,

Subjects of the Invisible Empire


cardboard placards littering the street and young men moving around behind her. Her gesture appeared to indicate helplessness and despair; her position, standing in the centre of apparent mayhem, seemed to indicate to the viewing public her powerless in the face of the violence. The woman, who was a teacher and antiracist activist, recounted later: Well I didn’t really like that image. I suppose it was a contrast to what was happening, but it did seem something that was really out of control, and I was really shocked by that. I just felt this was not the way we should respond. It’s playing into the hands of the police, its playing into the hands of racist people saying: ‘Look what happens when they get together in large groups’, and I think it is the wrong way for me. I felt really anti what was happening. It looked really ineffectual, I think, what they showed, and I didn’t like that … and I think it was done on purpose. I wasn’t the only person who was trying to stop what was going on. You know there were people from the community trying to keep that from happening. But I think they just wanted to choose that image because, I don’t know, it was something unusual and they just wanted to show that on the television to show: ‘Look at all those crazy young men, out of control’. (JB: 12–13)

The TV news image had made the woman look both helpless and isolated amid the mayhem. It did not show that she was attempting, with others, to stop the fighting by actively interacting with the young Bengali men to try to influence the situation. I too had observed male community workers from the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) and a Stepney housing estate as well as female and male youth workers trying to persuade young Bengali men to leave the area. Notun Din, quoted above, had also reported on the negotiations of ‘community leaders’. However, it was this image of a Bengali woman as isolated and bereft, that was shown and repeated in future news reports relating to events in Tower Hamlets. This process of constructing the ‘Asian’ population as a homogeneous and fixed category parallels the construction of other fixed categories of people in the dominant media discourse. Although the dominant discourse was challenged by alternative discourses of Bengali and other anti-racist groups, those challenges were not evident in the national or local media. However, whilst the dominant discourse constructed fixed racial categories, it did also include references to complex histories that contradicted the implication of unchanging populations. Fixed Categories, Missing Histories and the Invisible Empire The election results had come too late for the national newspapers on the day after the election. However on 18 September, it was covered in detail. For example the national broadsheet newspaper The Guardian had five reports, one analytical article and four letters on the subject of the BNP victory. In the discourse of this and later editions of national newspapers, fixed categories were used as ‘common

The Invisible Empire


sense’ descriptors of the Tower Hamlets population. In The Guardian Derek Beackon’s description of the area forty years earlier was unchallenged. He was quoted as saying: When I was a child the East End was almost totally white. You could walk down the street unmolested. All that has changed now. I blame the Government and the Establishment for letting the Asians and blacks in. I do not want them here. (The Guardian 18 September 1993)

Elsewhere, references to twentieth-century clashes between immigrants and fascists hinted at a more complex population: The East End has traditionally been popular with immigrants and with fascist organisations, which have flourished there particularly in recession … Attacks on Jews culminated in the battle of Cable Street in 1936. (The Guardian 18 September 1993) Before Brick Lane became a Bangladeshi community it was dominated by Jewish families. Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts marched through these streets in the Thirties. (Today 24 September 1993)

There were also references to ‘mixed-race’ relationships and friendships. For example, a ‘Pakistani born’ resident of Brick lane was quoted in another national daily newspaper: ‘The more segregated people are, the more trouble there will be. It breeds bad feeling.’ [N …’s] wife [A…’s] maiden name is [Mc…] She was born a Catholic and became a Moslem when she married. (Today 24 September 1993)

And on the Isle of Dogs: [F…] has one black parent, one white; she has lived on the Island 18 months with her two small children. She and her friend, … , whose two children are black, spent Thursday night locked in their flats terrified at the sounds of skinheads chanting “Wogs out!”… Residents say that –contrary to media reports that it is a hotbed of white racism – until now Afro-Caribbean and whites got along, but resentment against the Bangladeshis is spilling over into a confrontation between black and white…Teenagers [L …] and his best friend [A…] grew up on the Island together. One is black and one is white. [L…] said: “People who have been friends for years say that they have got nothing against me and that they are just trying to get the Pakis out”. (The Guardian 18 September 1993)

The Guardian also published a letter from a Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrat member who wrote that he had an English mother and a Bengali father (18

Subjects of the Invisible Empire


September 1993). Contrary to the evidence of ‘mixed race’ backgrounds in the population of Tower Hamlets, in all the examples of dominant discourse, the racial constructions ‘white’, black’, ‘Afro-Caribbean’, ‘Asian’ and ‘Bangladeshi’ were presented as fixed categories. These constructions were consolidated in the news reports that gave the racial breakdown of the borough. The Guardian used pie charts to show the percentages of ‘Black’, ‘Asian’ and ‘White’ populations in Tower Hamlets and Millwall wards (18 September 1993). The East London Advertiser used the same ethnic breakdown in its reports (23 September 1993). These categories compressed the already condensed ethnic categories of the 1991 OPCS census. The 1991 national census was the first to include a question on ‘ethnic origin’. Previously the category used to define ‘ethnic minorities’ was ‘Households headed by someone born in the Commonwealth and Pakistan’. The 1991 census used nine categories, based on nationality in the case of South Asians, and colour, geography or ethnicity for others.15 The complexity of the responses to the census question was debated in census analyses. However, the crude figures and charts used in the newspapers demonstrate that the statistically insignificant categories such as the 22,437 people who classified themselves as of Asian/White mixed origin in Greater London did not impact on the dominant discourse. Derek Beackon’s construction of the East End of his childhood as ‘almost totally white’ was not contested in The Guardian or elsewhere in the discourses of the media. The East London Advertiser’s construction of ‘Islanders’ as ‘white’ supported his view of a ‘traditional’ white East End. The pie chart showing Tower Hamlets as ‘66.67 per cent White’ and ‘26.89 per cent Asian’ uses the same fixed categories to describe the population. The discourse includes uncommented on references to the area having a history of immigration and of hostility to immigrants. It also includes separate references to modern ‘mixed race’ relationships. However, there was no historical perspective in this discourse that would have introduced the area’s past as a hub of the British Empire. Therefore histories of immigration, heterogeneity and specifically, four centuries of trade, migrations, temporary and permanent settlement in east London by people from Bengal, other parts of South and South East Asia and Africa were absent and could not be related to the East End’s established contemporary ‘mixed’ populations. This process of historical omission works to occlude the connections between London, the metropole and the colonies that it dominated. It is a manifestation of the Invisible Empire’ the pivotal element of dominant white liberal discourses about Britishness. The absence of East 15  The census respondents had the choice of nine categories: White, Black Caribbean, Black Other, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Other Ethnic Group. Responses to the Black Other and Other Ethnic Group questions category led to a total of thirty four categories being produced. However, these responses were only used for the OPCS report on ethnic group and country of birth. For all other tables produced by OPCS relating to information on ethnic groups, the thirty four categories were condensed into ten, the Ethnic Other category being broken down into Other groups Asian and Other groups Other (Storkey 1994).


The Invisible Empire

London’s Empire histories is not only observed through the denial of past Bengali settlement in the area. It is also manifested through the invisibility of colonial genealogies in the construction of the categories used to classify people from Bengal and in the meanings associated with and the mobilisations of the keywords of ‘violence’. In Chapter 6, I examine the genealogies of the racial categorisations that Bengali people have been pushed into and the keyword ‘violence’ which has intruded into different aspects of Bengali lives. Through examining their usage in colonial India as well as their construction and usage in relation to Indian seamen employed on British ships, on board and in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain, I am able to explore the very tangible connection between processes of exclusion in the different but related contexts of nineteenth-century India and ‘postcolonial’ London. I am also able to show how these dominant discourses have been and continue to be contested. Like the Empire building concept of terra nullius referred to in Chapter 1 they have been repatriated back to the hub of Empire. Conclusion In this chapter I have shown processes whereby dominant media discourses worked to construct and selectively mobilise keywords and fixed racial categories and to omit histories of racism, colonialism and immigration. It also demonstrates that those dominant representations of events were contested by the minority press, anti-racist organisations and other participants. However, the increasing mobilisation of racial categories and constructions of ‘otherness’ worked to ensure that the challenges by white political minorities and minority ethnic groups could not impact on the dominant discourse. The shared discourse of the police, national and local media, Church of England and council leaders articulated these processes together to obscure Bengali experiences of racial harassment and violence, including by the police, and to construct Bengali people as politically passive subjects manipulated by ‘outside extremists’. The passivity was consolidated in that the experiences and voices of Bengali people, past and present, were largely absent from the pages of the national and local English language newspapers. In Chapter 4 I explore some of these issues further through examining parallel events and discourses about Tower Hamlets associated with a less overtly but equally ‘political’ context – ‘The East End’ Marketing strategy.

Part III

Introduction to Chapters 5 and 6 ‘Belonging’ is the theme running through the final chapters exposing and interrogating the Invisible Empire. Part II showed how fixed, racialized and exclusionary categories of people are consolidated, challenged and re-created in the dominant discourse about Britishness. The following chapters explore these processes further through tracing the colonial genealogies of racialized classifications and of the powerful keywords that work to construct those categories and give them meaning. They examine how, and by whom, these categories and keywords have been actively created and are contested in the struggles to achieve national belonging. Chapter 5 builds on the ethnographic and discourse analyses of the previous two chapters to address how the Invisible Empire combines with other elements of that discourse to maintain a flexible ‘hierarchy of belonging’ where different categories of people are constructed as having greater or lesser rights to belong. ‘Tolerance’ is examined as a keyword that is central to white liberal discourse about Britishness and its pivotal element, the Invisible Empire. Chapter 6 makes the Invisible Empire visible through drawing on recent historical research to investigate nineteenth and twentieth century categorisations and connections of people from South Asia and to demonstrate how the dominant discourse and the British state have worked historically through to the present to subjectify, classify and exclude people from the Indian subcontinent from fully belonging. I demonstrate the connections between racial categorisations and statutory processes of exclusion of Indian seafarers since the seventeenth century. In developing new understandings about Britishness and belonging, the final part of this book demonstrates the value of mobilizing ‘connected histories’ (Subrahmanyam 1997) that focus on global connections rather than constructions of difference. The Conclusion considers how the Invisible Empire and simplistic ‘communitarian-culturalist’ categorisations of Bengali people as ‘Muslims’ in recent discourses about ‘multicultural Britain’ combine to work against ‘genuine metropolitan belonging’ (Bhatt 2006).

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Chapter 4

‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy and the Consolidation of the White East End As soon as the BNP councillor, Derek Beackon was elected on 16 September 1993 hundreds of people became involved in working to ensure that he would not get re-elected and other British National Party candidates would not get elected to seats in Tower Hamlets Council in the local government elections the following May. Under the decentralised administrative and political system introduced by the Liberal Democrat controlled council, Tower Hamlets had been divided into seven Neighbourhoods. Each Neighbourhood had between five and eleven council seats. Each Neighbourhood Committee, constituted by the local ward councillors, made decisions about how their budget was spent and other local policy issues. The Labour Party controlled Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood was made up of two wards, Millwall with three seats and Blackwall with two seats. In order to control a budget of over twenty million pounds, the British National Party needed to win three seats out of the five in the Neighbourhood. In Millwall, the BNP vote had more than doubled between October 1992 when a BNP by-election candidate had received 657 votes, to the 1,480 that Beackon received 11 months later. The BNP therefore concentrated their resources on trying to win the three Millwall seats in May 1994. The BNP also targeted Globe Town Neighbourhood in the north of the borough. Like the Isle of Dogs, it had only five seats in two wards (Holy Trinity and St James), which meant that if the BNP won three seats they would control the Neighbourhood budget. The BNP had stood one candidate in each of these wards in the 1990 local government election, winning 290 and 93 votes respectively. Unlike the Isle of Dogs, Globe Town Neighbourhood had been controlled by the Liberal Democrats. Those working to ensure that the British National Party candidates did not get elected included people involved in political parties, national anti-racist campaigning groups- some with close links to political parties, local anti-racist groups, trade unions and religious groups. The local and national Labour Party organised to contest the local elections and regain control of the council from the Liberal Democrats. The local Liberal Democrats, organised under the ‘Liberal Focus’ banner were campaigning   Focus leaflets were a national strategy of the Liberal Party. Focus leaflets were concerned with local issues and were delivered regularly to each house. The Liberal Party activists who first became involved in Tower Hamlets from the mid-1970s used ‘Liberal


The Invisible Empire

to retain control of the borough, but were under investigation by the national Liberal Democrat Party after the local Party had been accused of racism (Liberal Democrats Tower Hamlets Inquiry 1993). During the period between September 1993 when Quddus Ali was attacked and a British National Party councillor was elected to Tower Hamlets Council and the local elections in May 1994, the Liberal Democrat local authority was engaged in a process of marketing the borough as ‘The East End’. The marketing strategy asserted definitions of ‘The East End’ and ‘East Enders’ which challenged the apparently fixed meanings of those terms in the dominant discourses of the local and national media discussed in Chapter 3. In the first section of this chapter I take a chronological approach to present discourses associated with the Liberal Democrat run local authority’s marketing strategy, ‘The East End’. I introduce examples of the local authority’s discourses in its own free newspaper, East End Life and in reports in the local paid-for weekly newspaper the East London Advertiser. An important element of the council strategy was ‘The East End Carnival’ that took place in April 1994. I conclude the first section with an ethnographic description of this council-initiated celebration. In the second section, I analyse the discourses of the Liberal Democrat leadership in the local newspapers and as embodied in The East End Carnival to investigate ways that the dominant white liberal discourse works, introduced in the Introduction. As in Chapter 3, I focus on the privileging, naturalising and normalising of the white experience through making the white subject invisible at the same time as subjectifying the ‘non-white’ others and the asserting of particular historical narratives whilst suppressing alternative histories that would expose the Invisible Empire. I begin by showing how these discursive practices combined to construct ‘East Enders’ as a white fixed category who are the natural and privileged occupiers of east London spaces, entitled to define ‘outsiders’. I then analyse the Liberal Democrat leadership’s attempt, through its marketing strategy, to extend the meaning of ‘East Enders’ to include a more ‘diverse’ population in the context of the re-construction of ‘The East End’ as ‘multicultural’ and ‘cosmopolitan’. I show how the Liberal Democrat discourse worked to assert selected historical narratives and exclude other histories so as to reinforce the notion of ‘real East Focus’ as their organising title (Burns et al. 1994: 67). They continued to use this title after the merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.   The Inquiry was co-chaired by Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Lester, between September and December 1993. Its terms of reference were: “ To investigate whether the publication of election literature of all the parties involved in recent campaigns in Tower Hamlets and/or the activities of the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democratic Party as they affect race relations in the Borough are, or may be, seriously detrimental to the Party and/or have involved conduct by members of the Party which has brought, or is likely to bring, the Party into disrepute, or demonstrates material disagreement with the fundamental values and objectives of the Party.” The inquiry concluded that the conduct of three Liberal Democrat members was found to have brought the Party into disrepute (Liberal Democrats Tower Hamlets Inquiry 1993).

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Enders’ being white. In the third section, I use criticisms of The East End Carnival by Bengali, black and white participants, who may have expected to be included in a more ‘multicultural’ definition of ‘East Enders’, to explore challenges to that discourse. Section One: Chronology of the Re-construction of ‘The East End’ from September 1993 to May 1994 September 1993: ‘The East End’ as a Contested Space Two weeks after the election of Derek Beackon to the Millwall ward on the Isle of Dogs, the meaning of ‘East End’ was contested in the local newspaper, the East London Advertiser. The article was concerned with violence associated with weekly protests organised by anti-fascist and anti-racist groups that aimed to force British National Party supporters to stop selling their newspaper, Spearhead, at the north end of Brick Lane during the Sunday Market. The residents quoted in the article questioned the geographical definitions of the ‘East End’ that included both Millwall and Brick Lane within its boundaries: Keep your protests to Millwall and leave us alone … Ugly scenes in Brick Lane this month have sparked claims that Millwall is not part of the true East End … Estate leaders Terry Milson and Kay Caulfield said: The BNP got in and that’s their problem. We don’t feel we should suffer the indignity of people protesting in Brick Lane or any part of Bethnal Green … Millwall is not part of the East End. By moving the goal posts and incorporating it into Tower Hamlets it’s become so, but we and the residents around here don’t class it as that. (ELA 30 September 1993)

Terry Milson and Kay Caulfield were both activists within the Liberal Democrat Focus Team at the time, yet their definition of the ‘East End’ was different from   The article was not specific about exactly whose definitions of the ‘East End’ Milson and Caulfield were referring to. Much of the media, including the ELA, was representing the Millwall election as an ‘East End’ issue. The previous week the ELA front page headline had been ‘The big question East Enders must ask themselves … would you vote for the BNP? And the letters page, containing letters from all over Tower Hamlets had been headed ‘the East End speaks’ (ELA 23 September 1993).   Under the Neighbourhood system in Bethnal Green, part of the consultative structure was through representatives of each local authority housing estate. Caulfield and Milson were estate leaders who went on to stand as Independent Liberal Focus Team (ILFT) candidates in Bethnal Green wards in the May 1994 local elections. The ILFT was formed after the Liberal Democrat inquiry into the conduct of the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats in publishing allegedly racist literature between 1990 and 1993. The Inquiry


The Invisible Empire

that evident in the emerging discourses of the leaders of the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats. October 1993: The Launch of ‘The East End’ The Liberal Democrat administration used the East London Advertiser to launch a municipal marketing strategy that aimed to drop ‘Tower Hamlets’ and re-name the borough ‘The East End’. The council leader was quoted as saying ‘We want to return to the true East End’. The report included an explanation for the name change: East Enders could soon be using a new handle for their old manor. For the name Tower Hamlets could be dropped with the borough becoming known as The East End. The name change could come about as part of a new marketing strategy designed by Tower Hamlets Council to boost the area’s image. Town hall leader Cllr Peter Hughes said: “We want to reclaim the name East End. No-one else can dare proclaim to be the East End … [I am] sick and tired of hearing Tower Hamlets portrayed as a run down murky borough … And it’s time that we stood up proud to be living in the East End with its rich culture, diversity and the friendly area which it is … In the East End despite some recent concerning incidents – we do have relatively safe streets full of very friendly people, but how often are we portrayed as this? We must work together to develop a partnership of neighbourhoods, businesses, voluntary groups and other organisations committed to put the East End on the map and to working together to help.”… And the council also wants to claim “the public leadership of the East End”. The strategy is based on the town hall bosses’ belief that the true East End is located in the seven neighbourhoods Bethnal Green, Bow, Wapping, Stepney, Globe Town, Isle of Dogs and Poplar.

recommended that three members, including councillor Jeremy Shaw, should have their membership revoked (Liberal Democrats’ Tower Hamlets Inquiry December 1993: 59). The ILFT candidates, including Jeremy Shaw, stood against their erstwhile Liberal Democrat colleagues in two wards in Bethnal Green, splitting the vote. The Labour Party candidates won all the six seats in those wards. Caulfield was also been involved in a successful campaign to prevent a disused pub (Flamingos) being converted into a community centre and Muslim prayer room in Bethnal Green. She handed in a petition of 2000 signatures to a Neighbourhood meeting that rejected the application for planning permission (ELA 5 May 1993, Unison and NUT meeting leaflet March 1993).   A report ‘Re-Launching Tower Hamlets News – Developing a Marketing Strategy’ (PRC 068/394) was discussed at a meeting of the Tower Hamlets Performance Review Committee on 21 September 1993. Under Section 100 A of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and press were excluded from that part of the meeting. The report and the minutes were therefore not in the public domain.

‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy


The project also includes the relaunch of the council’s own newspaper Tower Hamlets News which will be called East End Life. (ELA 28 October 1993 original emphasis)

The report gave no indication of how the name change would help ‘market’ the borough, or to whom, or how it needed to be ‘marketed’. However, the article did clarify the point that local authority leadership defined ‘The East End’ as being exactly the seven neighbourhoods created by the Liberal Democrats in 1986, including Millwall, which had been disputed by the residents of Bethnal Green quoted the previous month. The newspaper report and the remainder of that edition of the East London Advertiser included no criticism or further comment about the proposed name change. However, in the following six months until the local government elections and the defeat of the Liberal Democrat administered council, the notion of Tower Hamlets as ‘The East End’ was asserted and contested in a range of contexts and by different categories of people. Within the debates that took place, the notion of the borough as a product that required ‘marketing’ was peripheral. Of far greater concern to many was the issue of what was ‘The East End’ and who was an ‘East Ender’. These were debated in the pages of the East London Advertiser during November in the weeks before the launch of East End Life and ‘The East End’. November 1993: The Launch of East End Life and Challenges to the Reconstruction of ‘The East End’ in the Letters Pages of the East London Advertiser (ELA) The announcement of the possible re-naming of the borough generated debate in the letters page of the ELA throughout November. The most frequent criticism was that a name change could do nothing for the ‘real problems’ faced by the borough: When the name has been changed all the blocks of slum flats on the Ocean Estate will vanish and it will be like the Garden of Eden … it’s not a new name we need, it’s a new Town Hall leader and new councillors. (J.Miller ELA 4 November 1993) I am proud to be an East Ender (even though just like 36 of our 50 councillors and many other residents I was not born here) … [but] you can’t solve the problems of the East End by just changing its name. (Cllr John Biggs, Labour Leader ELA 4 November 1993)   The Neighbourhood system, dividing the borough into seven administrative and political units introduced by the Liberal Democrats in 1986 were abolished by the Labour administration following the 1994 local election.   Councillor Biggs had been present at the Performance Review meeting on 21 September 1993 when the marketing strategy was discussed.


The Invisible Empire

The longest and most prominent letter on this subject in the letters page of the ELA, referred to both the definitions of the ‘East End’ and ‘East Enders’: Revealed at last! The real East End ... the East End has a specific geographic location … defined by Henry Mayhew, the Victorian sociologist as being an area bounded on the south by the River Thames, in the East by the River Lea, in the north by the Hackney borough border and in the west by the City of London and the Shoreditch borough borders .. It is perhaps a coincidence that this location is to some extent that of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets … those of us who were born and bred in the East End will remember with affection the community spirit that existed where families were united by marriage … This situation prevailed up until the end of the last war when the traditional Victorian houses were demolished and high rise blocks were erected … those East Enders who were decanted from the houses were moved to new town areas in Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey and Berkshire where they were still recognised as East Enders … the vacancies were filled by people from all over Britain who … lost no time in imposing their political ideals and ways of life upon the community at the expense of the traditional East End way of life … the proposal to rename the borough would be inappropriate as the title East End, without an East End community, is meaningless. (AW Sharpe, ELA 25 November 1993)

On the same day the new local authority newspaper, East End Life (EEL), which was an integral part of the marketing strategy, was launched. The first issue led on ‘The East End’. The front, back and centre pages were printed in colour. The headline on the front of the paper proclaimed: It’s our East End! The launch of a bright, new, colourful newspaper this week is part of the Council’s plan to bring back a positive image and identity to East London. The move to return to The East End as a name for the area is based on the Council’s idea that the true East End is covered within the seven neighbourhoods … East End Life aims to tap into the rich culture, diversity and friendliness of the borough. (EEL 25 November 1993)

A picture of Mayor Snooks in gold chain, standing in front of the new glass and polished granite town hall was captioned: A Message from the Mayor I welcome East End Life as the official voice of this area and all its Neighbourhoods. It is our East End – a wonderful place to work and live and we want to reclaim it for all our people. The East End is the multi-cultural homeland of friends and neighbours, everyone knows that, but we have a rich history too that is worth telling. We’ve

‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy


had more pages of copy written about us than the complete works of Dickens. We have more artists in the East End than in any other part of Europe. We are home to missionaries, millionaires, market traders, the media and a few wouldbe politicians. We have inspired poets, cartoonists, filmmakers, and novelists. We are proud of our traditions of loyalty, good humour and courage. We are a caring community with diversity and tolerance and we are determined to tell the world about it. So … enjoy your own paper and rest assured that your East End – the real East End, will be found in its pages.

The back page was covered by an announcement of ‘The East End Carnival’. A copy of the carnival poster took up two thirds of the page. The picture was of bright lights, fireworks and multicultural images. The Mayor was quoted as saying ‘We hear too many negative things about the East End. We have a lot to be proud about, with a rich multi-cultural and multi-ethnic heritage. We should be celebrating this diversity’ December 1993: The Consolidation of ‘The East End’ The idea of Tower Hamlets as ‘The East End’ and its residents as ‘East Enders’ was consolidated in the first few issues of East End Life. The second issue on 16 December launched the ‘East End Life Granny Award’ with a picture of a smiling elderly white woman and the invitation to nominate a ‘Gran’ to win a bottle of Champagne. A colour centre spread looked at ‘Christmas in the East End a hundred years ago’, illustrated with a picture of a white family in 1906 and a mixed race family (white father, African mother) in 1993. A double page spread, titled ‘Neighbourhood News’ reported on news from each of the seven Neighbourhoods, symbolically linking the separate Neighbourhoods together. The report from Stepney Neighbourhood focused on the celebration of Chanukah at a local Jewish community centre ‘As most of us are getting ready for Christmas the Jewish community is getting ready to celebrate another festival’ (EEL 16 December 1993). January 1994: The ‘Vision’ of ‘The East End’ During January 1994, the council publicised the ‘vision’ of the marketing strategy: To raise the profile of the Borough and place it on the map. To move the Authority away from the name Tower Hamlets and to declare that we are THE EAST END, THE REAL LONDON. A cosmopolitan community full of history and tradition that is ready to face the 21st Century through business and growth. (Welcome to The East End: Publicity material 1994)


The Invisible Empire

The leader of the council, sent out an open letter to all staff: The East End a Marketing Strategy By now many of you will have heard that the Borough is about to launch a marketing strategy which will focus on promoting the East End. By focusing on the East End we are not inventing anything new. The area has always been the East End. The aim is to reclaim the name for the cosmopolitan community of the Borough. The Borough has received much publicity over the past few months. The marketing strategy is our opportunity to boast about what we have achieved – to tell the world about the potential of the East End and encourage investment in the area. (Open letter from Leader of Tower Hamlets Council 24 January 1994)

February 1994: Organising the Carnival and Asserting the Name On 11 February 1994, there was a mass mailing of ‘The East End Carnival’ information packs from the council offices in Mulberry Place, to community organisations and youth groups in Tower Hamlets. The packs were sent to existing and defunct groups who had not requested them as well as those who had. The packs provided an indication of how the local authority saw the carnival. The first page of the pack was a letter from the Mayor reiterating the point that ‘The idea of the carnival is to include the widest possible range of East End people, activities and organisations’ and distancing the carnival from the party politics of the borough ‘Floats will not be permitted to show any political bias and political parties will not be allowed to participate’. New signs, welcoming drivers to ‘The East End’, were put up on all major routes into the borough. Callers who phoned the Town Hall, were answered by the switchboard operators with the words ‘Tower Hamlets, The East End’. March 1994: Consolidation and Dissent The council paper continued to promote ‘The East End’ and ‘East Enders’ at every opportunity. For example, issue ten announced the winners of the ‘Granny Awards’ launched by the newspaper in issue number two. Photographs of the winner, four runners up and four other entries, were spread over the page. The photographs suggested that eight grannies, including the winner, were white and one was African-Caribbean. Five of the entries were submitted by children at a single Catholic Primary school. Two were from other Catholic schools. In the same issue a Bengali boy, resembling the familiar image of a Victorian street urchin, was pictured directing a pearly king to a pie and mash shop. A double page pull out centrefold advertising the Carnival appeared in East End Life three days before the event. Again it stressed that it aimed to show the world that there are positive things coming out of our community’ and that ‘Residents

‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy


and businesses along the route will be decorating their premises and the streets’ (East End Life 31 March 1994).The East End Advertiser also carried a short report quoting the Mayor ‘ It’s a carnival for the community to celebrate its achievements – and for Tower Hamlets to recognise the groups in the borough. This is an East End do …’ (ELA 31 March 1994). April 1994: The East End Carnival and the Local Press Reports The starting point of the carnival was Port East. In 1994 it was an area of derelict land on the northern side of West India Dock in the shadow of the fifty-storey tower and associated building sites of Canary Wharf. Local authority employees issued badges and red balloons printed with the words ‘The East End’ and the motif of a heart made up of dots resembling the pearl buttons stitched on the clothes of the pearly kings and queens. Each float was given a red, white and blue rosette with ‘Carnival 94’ written in the middle. The rosette was similar to those worn by the BNP campaigners in the local election. Soon after midday the front of the procession crossed the A13 East India Dock Road. There was a bitter wind and rain that soon turned to hailstones. A few old white women stranded on a crossing-island watched as the procession passed by. Between conversations and reading newspapers, small groups of people waiting at bus stops and in doorways along Burdett Road looked at the line of vehicles travelling northwards. The procession was led by two carts and horses from Spitalfields Farm carrying the Pearly Kings and Queens of Upminster, Stepney, Harrow, Poplar and the Isle of Dogs. They were elderly white men and women in black suits and hats decorated with hundreds of pearl buttons. They were followed by a horse drawn carriage carrying the Liberal Democrat Mayor, Councillor Snooks, in a smart wool coat and gold chain, with his wife. Next marched the Griffettes Majorettes, young white girls shivering in blue military style hats, braided jackets and red mini skirts. They were followed by the Tower Hamlets College float, a lorry disguised as a steamship, carrying six white students and one black student dressed up in academic gowns and mortar boards. Then came the red balloon-decorated vintage style van of Augustus Martin advertising a screen printing business, followed by a minibus with ‘Christians Awake’ written on a banner on the side and a group of about fifteen white Methodists dressed in pyjamas and dressing gowns. A red open-top double-decker bus of the Poplar Rotary Club was next, decorated with yellow balloons and carrying another fifteen people. The Shadwell Basin Youth Project and Weavers Adventure Playground minibuses followed, each decorated with balloons and carrying mainly white children. The latter’s banner was in Bengali as well as English. Some Shadwell Basin children with canoes around their waists demonstrated the activities of the organisation.   Today it is the area outside the Museum in Docklands discussed in Chapter 1.


The Invisible Empire

Poplar Neighbourhood was represented by six municipal vehicles painted in the standard Poplar Neighbourhood colour, lime green. Three lime green school buses carrying small groups of children and one Bengali woman, represented Poplar Neighbourhood Schools. A lime green dustcart and two more lime green cleaning services vehicles followed. The only decoration on any of the Poplar vehicles was two, three centimetre long Union Jack flags on sticks, stuck in the middle of one truck. Each cleaning vehicle contained two white men. Stepney Neighbourhood Transport was represented by a school bus painted the Neighbourhood colour, purple. It was driven by a black man in African dress and had a few children and balloons inside. It was followed by the multi-coloured Tower Hamlets Playbus which had a few balloons tied to the roof. The Breakthrough Trust minibus, advertising its ‘free advice on deafness’, carried a small group of white people dressed as clowns. These smaller vehicles were followed by a line of larger lorry based floats. The Sharks swimming club, which was mainly white children displaying their silver cups and trophies, was followed by the Royal Mail float with red letter boxes and giant letters but no participants save a model of Postman Pat the children’s cartoon character, stuck on the side along with six balloons. Next came St John Ambulance which had a few uniformed, mainly white children on a lorry base. A small openback truck – ‘London Docklands Development Corporation Tunnel Operations’followed, bedecked in yellow and red bunting and balloons with LDDC logo and with people in fluorescent jackets and hard hats sitting in the back. Next, number thirty-five in the official order of floats, came the only float representing a Bengali organisation – the Bangladesh Welfare Association (BWA) Youth Wing. It was decorated with some Bangladesh flags and the BWA banner. It did not have any music system. It was followed by the Daneford Youth Centre, which had a lorry base, empty except for a huge sound system, a couple of bunches of balloons and a group of black, Asian and white young people. It was followed by a parent and toddlers group, the St Barts One O’clock Club, whose float was decorated with balloons and paper flowers and had white mothers and children sharing a ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ on board. The next float represented Stepney Neighbourhood. Its theme was The Ragged School, a locally based Victorian school for the poor, currently preserved as a museum. The float depicted a Victorian street scene of pillar box, streetlamp, blond child in bonnet and shawl selling oranges, a flower seller, a policeman, cotton bloomers drying on a line and separate boys and girls entrances to the school. Inside the school, more Victorian-style children (black and white) were seated on benches as a teacher gave them a maths class on the blackboard. Around the lorry base were swathes of Stepney Neighbourhood colour purple cloth and replicas of bells (the logo of Stepney Neighbourhood, representing the centuries old Whitechapel Bell Foundry which was located within its boundaries). Victorian Stepney was followed by a float carrying representatives of the Tower Hamlets Gymnastics Squad, mainly white girls dressed in a uniform of Union Jack waistcoats. Next came the Burdett Massive, a lorry with loud music,

‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy


a Bangladesh flag and about twenty black, white and Bengali young men. A lorry and digger from a roadwork company brought up the rear of the procession. The procession crossed Mile End Road and went up Grove Road. There were still no more people on the pavements. Small groups sheltered from the rain in pub doorways, bus stops and under the railway-bridge. From a block of forty-two flats, mainly white residents looked out from eight of the balconies. A few Bengali men, women and children looked on from the balconies of a more distant building. About fifty people hung about on the corner of Grove Road and Roman Road. I assumed that many were on their way to Roman Road market, but had found their route blocked by the procession. The vehicles continued at walking pace along Roman Road. Again it did not appear as though groups of people had come out to watch the procession. It just happened to be passing through as they got on with their usual Saturday routines. A few men looked out of pub doorways. Globe Town Market Square had only about ten stalls, with fifty or sixty people milling about them. The on-lookers were predominantly white, apart from the workers in the Turkish, Bengali and Chinese run shops and restaurants and a few people at bus stops. About a hundred people were gathered around the three bus shelters and three entrances to Bethnal Green Tube station. Bethnal Green Road, a busier shopping street, was more crowded. Here a few children waved plastic union jack flags as the floats went past. The final section of the route skirted Spitalfields, one of the main areas of Bengali settlement in Tower Hamlets. The western end of Bethnal Green Road was empty. Most of the businesses were shuttered. The point where Brick Lane meets Bethnal Green Road was deserted except for two white skinheads. The final stretch of the route down Commercial Street to Spitalfields Market was empty of people. The procession arrived at Spitalfields Market at 1.20pm. The floats were all parked, as instructed, around the outside edge of the covered market area. The Mayor circulated shaking hands with people on floats. The sun shone for a short while, and then another, heavier hailstorm started. Inside the covered market was grim, cold and dark. A few craft stalls, a few stalls for local organisations – Whitechapel Hospital Radio, The Globe Centre, Tower Hamlets College and a childen’s project, were set up. There were permanent stalls selling kebabs, Thai and other foods and small children’s funfair. Some white musicians played chamber music for a short while. However, the weather was freezing and the atmosphere bleak. Most of the floats left and the market emptied by 2.30pm. The Mayor stayed until 3.00pm, chatting to groups of people who had been involved in organising the event. I estimated that approximately three hundred people had taken part in the parade of twenty-eight floats and that approximately fifteen hundred bystanders had viewed the procession along the three mile route. Less than 2 per cent of the borough’s population therefore saw the carnival. In the first East End Life published following the carnival, the front page had a colour photograph of three blond and two black children children in nineteenth century style costumes and a black man in West African dress. The caption was:

The Invisible Empire


Staff from Stepney Neighbourhood and their families were decked out in Victorian costume to celebrate the East End Carnival last week. The show was a spectacular success with 50 floats and 2000 spectators. (EEL 14 April 1994)

The following week the inside front page of the paper had five monochrome pictures of the Daneford Youth Centre banner, the Augustus Martin vintage van, three white ‘Victorian’ children, three white and black boys, a white woman and a figure in a Mickey Mouse outfit and collecting bucket. A fifth picture showed a group of six pearly kings and queens. The text read: Didn’t we have a lovely time … the day we went to the East End Carnival The first East End Carnival proved to be a great success. Nearly fifty floats and 500 volunteers took part and another 2000 turned out to watch the spectacular show … The weather was wet, but did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the people who cheered the carnival home. And the festivities continued into the evening at the Brick Lane Music Hall … A great day was had by all demonstrating to the world that all East Enders can get together and celebrate in harmony. (EEL 21 April 1994)

The East London Advertiser covered the Carnival with half a page on page twentyfour. It included two monochrome photographs of the side of a bus with same three white and black boys, a white woman and the same figure in a Mickey Mouse outfit and collecting bucket pictured in East End Life. A third picture showed young men with painted faces on the Shadwell Basin Project float. The text read: Carnival time hits the East End The return of Tower Hamlets Carnival was no mickey mouse operation as thousands of folk lined the streets to cheer the procession on. About 50 colourful floats trundled along … the carnival was the first one in the borough for almost 20 years. Up to 500 people took part in the procession. They represented different community groups and neighbourhoods … There were also parades by majorettes, gymnasts, and pearly kings and queens. Tower Hamlets Mayor Cllr John Snooks said: ‘The carnival was a great success. We hope it gets bigger each year’. (ELA 7 April 1994)

May 1994 On Thursday, 5 May the Liberal Democrats were defeated in the local election. The new council was made up of forty-three Labour Party and seven Liberal Democrat councillors. The new administration immediately began the process of dismantling the neighbourhood system. ‘The East End’ marketing strategy was dropped. There has been no East End Carnival since. East End Life continued as

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the local authority newspaper, but the double-page spread ‘Neighbourhood News’ was replaced by ‘News from Tower Hamlets’ on 19 May. Section Two: Dominant White Discourse and ‘The East End’ Marketing Strategy In this section I investigate two of the dominant white discursive practices that I identified in the Introduction: the naturalising of the white experience through making the white subject invisible and the assertion of particular historical narratives whilst suppressing alternative histories. Following Williams (1976) and Shore and Wright (1997) I identify ‘East Enders’ as a keyword central to the dominant discourse about east London, that is a site of struggle as its meanings, and those of related ‘semantic clusters’ are contested by competing groups. I begin by demonstrating how these two discursive practices work to construct ‘East Enders’ in the dominant discourse. I then analyse the attempt by the Liberal Democrat administration to shift the meaning of ‘East Enders’ as part of their strategy of attracting business and government investment through marketing Tower Hamlets as ‘The East End’. In the third section I examine challenges to the Liberal Democrat discourse about ‘The East End’ and carnival from those who the stretched meaning of ‘East Ender’ appeared to include. ‘East Enders’ as a Fixed Category in the Dominant Discourse Local and national media reports and analyses of events of September 1993 often referred to the ‘East End’ as the location of the events, and to ‘East Enders’ as the local population, many of whom had voted for Derek Beackon. In Chapter 3, I examined how the dominant discourse blamed ‘outside extremists’, not ‘East Enders’ for the violence at the Whitechapel vigil and Brick Lane demonstrations. I also demonstrated that in the dominant discourses associated with the police, national and local media, the meanings of the categories ‘Cockneys’ and ‘East Enders’ were usually assumed to be fixed. Both terms were used to refer to an unchanging, homogenous, white, working class community, whilst those who did not fit within that definition were classed as, for example ‘outsiders’ or ‘Asians’. I argued that although the dominant discourse represented the categories as fixed, their meanings were contested in alternative discourses, such as that of the young woman participating in an antiracist demonstration who claimed to be a ‘Cockney’ as opposed to an ‘outsider’. Letters to the East London Advertiser, before and after the launch of ‘The East End’ marketing strategy, such as that of Caulfield and Milson in September 1993 (above), demonstrated that the definition of the East End space was also disputed.   It is beyond the scope of this study to examine the economic and political context of the ‘marketing strategy’. It was very short lived and ceased immediately after the election in May 1994.


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The authoritatively toned letter of AW Sharpe to the East End Advertiser, soon after the launch of the marketing strategy, is an example of how the dominant discourse worked to naturalise the claim that the real ‘East Enders’ are white and at the same time ‘invisibilize’ their whiteness through asserting a particular historical narrative. His letter thus consolidated the dominant notion of the ‘East End’ and ‘East Enders’ as historic white fixed categories that were not open to challenge. A.W. Sharpe asserted that the labels used by Mayhew more than a century earlier were the authentic ones. The people who lived within these ‘genuine’ borders of the ‘East End’ up until the Second World War remained the ‘real East Enders’ wherever they now lived. Although the letter-writer took care to focus criticism on incomers from elsewhere in Britain, and did not mention ‘race’, implicit in the discourse was an attack on all incomers who had a different ‘ways of life’ to that of the ‘traditional East End’. When Sharpe regretted the passing of a time when a ‘community spirit existed where families were united by marriage’, he was obviously not referring to the great many Bengali families in Tower Hamlets who were united by marriage. Sharpe’s view of the fixed category of ‘East Enders’ was supported by other contributors to the ELA during 1993–94, many of whom referred to themselves as ‘born and bred East Enders’. Similar meanings were attached to ‘East Enders’ in past political leaflets produced by the Liberal Democrats and in the discourses of the BNP, whose local campaigning slogans included ‘Island homes for Island People’ and ‘Rights for Whites’ respectively (Hewett and Adams 1994: 3.25 and 6.1). The dominant meanings associated with ‘East Enders’ also impacted on long term or ‘born and bred’ residents of Tower Hamlets whom I interviewed, who often did not identify themselves as ‘East Enders’ because they were not white: I see myself as an international person rather than an East Ender. I think East Ender is a very narrow term (CF: 2). When you say real East Ender, it doesn’t really apply to Bengali people. ’cos East Enders are … white East End people. (SC: 2)

Some Bengali and mixed-race people who claimed that they were ‘East Enders’ were conscious of the pressures from others to exclude them from that category: Of course I would call myself an East Ender … a number of people, particularly white people would disagree. (SA: 3) I sometimes feel a bit pressurized, a bit like I shouldn’t be calling myself an East Ender because I’m black. (AD: 2)

Or, even if they were born in Tower Hamlets, they were constructed as a lesser status ‘East Ender’:

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White East Enders, to some extent they do see me as one [an East Ender], but I don’t have the same rights as they do, in terms of belonging, because they have been here for generations, I don’t have the same sort of status as other East Enders. A recent arrival like my parents I suppose. (JB: 8)

These quotes illustrate the power of the dominant discourse to impose the meanings of ‘East Enders’ as a fixed category of white people. All of the above people are the ‘them’ in the dominant discourse about the East End. They are not constructed as having the right to speak as ‘us’ or ‘we’ in debates about ‘East Enders’. Liberal Democrat Attempt to Re-construct the Category ‘East Enders’ in the Context of their Strategy for ‘The East End’ The Liberal Democrat leadership’s discourses about ‘The East End’ reported in East End Life and the East London Advertiser were constructed around the ‘vision’ which was central to ‘The East End’ marketing strategy. The ‘vision’ included three pairs of words relating to the present populations and to the past. The first pair of words were ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘community’ and the second pair of words were ‘tradition’ and ‘history’. Each of these words were also constituents of semantic clusters of related words. A further assertion in the ‘vision’ that ‘THE EAST END’ is ‘THE REAL LONDON’ added authenticity to the Liberal Democrat definition of ‘The East End’. The final word pair of the ‘vision’ were ‘business’ and ‘growth’. Both these words related to the marketing strategy’s aim to attract business and government investment to the borough. Combinations of these word-pairs and associated words emerged frequently in the discourses of the Liberal Democrat leadership between October 1993 and May 1994. An analysis of the meanings of ‘business’ and ‘growth’ is beyond the scope of the study. However, an awareness of the broad political and economic context to which they relate informs the discussion. In this section I focus on the significance of the first two pairs of words to the definition of ‘East Enders’. From the initial announcement by the council leader in the ELA (28 October 1993), it was clear that the leadership was attempting to add more inclusive meanings to ‘The East End’ and ‘East Enders’ in the dominant discourse. The council leader introduced a cluster of words that included ‘diversity’, ‘rich culture’ and ‘friendly’. Four weeks later in the launch edition of East End Life (25 November 1993), which the Mayor referred to as the ‘official voice of the area’, the Mayor used the words ‘diversity’, ‘multiculture’, ‘friends and neighbours’ and ‘tolerance’ to describe ‘The East End’ and ‘East Enders’. Some of the same words were repeated, and related words such as ‘rich culture’ and ‘multi-ethnic heritage’ were added in the report of the launch and the announcement of The East End Carnival in the same edition. ‘Cosmopolitan’ was used in the leader’s open letter in January. All the words have positive meanings associated with including people from different backgrounds. The repeated use of these words indicate that the Liberal Democrat leadership was attempting to shift the meaning of ‘East Ender’ away from the stereotype of


The Invisible Empire

a white, working class community of extended families, who had lived locally for several generations to include the ‘multicultural’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ populations of ‘The East End’. I begin by focusing on the pairing of ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘community’ and clusters of related words which were repeated in the discourse of the ruling administration. I then focus on words associated with the second pairing of ‘history’ and ‘tradition’. I then discuss how this discourse was embodied in ‘The East End Carnival’. ‘Cosmopolitan’ or ‘Multicultural’? The Mayor promoted ‘The East End’ to its residents as the ‘multi-cultural homeland of friends and neighbours’, as having a ‘rich multi-cultural and multiethnic heritage’ and announced a carnival to ‘celebrate’ this ‘diversity’ whilst the council leader wrote that the ‘East End’ was a ‘cosmopolitan community’. Why was ‘cosmopolitan’ used in the ‘vision’ and in the open letter to staff, whilst ‘multicultural’ was used in communicating to the borough population? They are both words which can be paired with ‘diversity’, but have subtly different meanings from each other: ‘Cosmopolitan’ communicates outwards to global and national investors, and national and international media, whilst ‘multicultural’ communicates inwards to those who live in the borough.10 That ‘cosmopolitan’ includes meanings different from ‘multicultural’ is exemplified in an analysis of the word by the anthropologist Ulf Hannerz (1996: 102–11). Hannerz argued that cosmopolitans are opposite to locals. In their travels around the globe, they choose to embrace other cultures, but know when to exit from them. Refugees are not cosmopolitans because they do not choose to travel and absorb ‘other cultures’. The experience of ‘other cultures’ is forced on them. Neither are migrant labourers and their families cosmopolitans, since in travelling in pursuit of a higher income they endeavour to re-create their home cultures in the new context. Wealthy ex-patriates eager to sample different ways of life around the globe more easily fit the category. This last group were a target group for the marketing strategy of the local authority, and were included in the ‘vision’ through the word ‘cosmopolitan’. A ‘multicultural’ community would not have attracted them in the same way. Cosmopolitans taste the fruits of multicultural policies (the festivals, the ‘ethnic’ foods, the clothes) but are not ever considered ‘local’. What was the ‘diversity’ and ‘multi-culture’ and ‘multi-ethnic heritage’ in the discourses of the Liberal Democrat leadership? The Mayor referred to ‘The East 10  The cosmopolitan referred to here refers to a constructed category of people. It is not the social theory developed by Robert Fine (Cosmopolitanism 2007 Routledge) that aims to disrupt national realities and to challenge the dominant nationalist narrative of the world being divided into separate and competing nations. On how discourses and practices about ‘multiculturalism’ work to construct difference, heterogeneity and ‘real Canadians’ in local and national contexts see Eva Mackey 1996 and 1999.

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End’ as home to artists, missionaries, market traders, the media and politicians, and as having inspired poets, cartoonists, filmmakers and novelists. The ‘East Enders’ of the letter writer AW Sharpe could be recognised in the Mayor’s list as street-market traders and as the subjects of writers. He also acknowledged newcomers to the ‘East End’ in references to media, art and politics. These uses emphasised local aspects of national cultural activities. They did not refer to cultural activities associated with people of different ethnicities usually associated with the term ‘multicultural’. Significantly, specific details about those with roots in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean were absent. In contrast, missionaries, who both worked in the area and embarked on Christian projects across the British Empire, were included (although direct reference to Empire was avoided). Although the word ‘multicultural’ was used as a general term, in the specific detail there was no indication of different cultures. The artistic and media newcomers fitted more comfortably in the category of ‘cosmopolitans’, whilst the settled population resembled the dominant meanings of ‘East Enders’ being white, long-term residents, rather than representing any ‘multi-ethnic heritage’. Similar assumptions about ‘East Enders’ were evident in the discourses of subsequent editions of East End Life. For example, the use of ‘us’ in the second issue of the paper spoke to those who celebrated Christmas and Chanuka and marginalised the quarter of the borough’s population who were not Christian or Jewish. Another example of the attempt to extend the meaning of ‘East Ender’ in the discourses of the Liberal Democrat administration was in the black and white photograph of the Stepney pearly king being directed by the Bengali boy in issue number ten. The boy is supposedly saying: ‘This way to the pie and mash, guv.’ The Bengali boy was transformed into an ‘East Ender’ in a mould understood by the pearly king. He spoke the language of the pearly king, and shared the cultural knowledge of the ‘traditional East End nosh-up’. The boy even appeared to know where the shop was, whereas the pearly king needed directions. The king stood close to the camera, and the reader could recognise the pearl button decorations on his jacket and hat. At a slight distance the embroidered prayer hat of the boy reflected the decoration of the pearly king, complementing it, rather than looking like a symbol of difference. In this example, the existence of the Bengali community is acknowledged in the inclusion of the boy in the photograph. However, he is part of a representation of a fixed, unchanging, essential East End culture. He speaks the local language, he knows about pie and mash and even looks like an image of a Victorian street urchin. He is not an example of cultural diversity. The picture seems to be saying that Bengali people can become part of ‘The East End’, by adopting that notion of East End culture, where the white pearly king remains at the top of the social hierarchy as the ‘guv’ner’. Assertion of White East End Past In the launch edition of East End Life the Mayor detailed the positive meanings of ‘The East End’ as including the ‘rich history’. However, references to the


The Invisible Empire

past in East End Life between November 1993 and May 1994 were almost exclusively white histories. The centre page spread of issue two on 16 December demonstrated an attempt at shifting the meanings of modern ‘East Enders’ to include black Christians. It showed family portraits of a white family from 1906 and a mixed race family (white father, black mother, two children) of 1993. It built on the assumption that the white, Christian, extended family roots were within the borough and that the black, Christian family members were the new ‘multicultural East Enders’. A similar assumption, that ‘East End’ roots were white, was implicit in the ‘Granny Awards’ announced in the same of East End Life and awarded in issue ten on 10 March 1994. Not only was the photograph used to advertise the competition of a white granny, but also the prize of champagne seemed to guarantee that a Muslim granny would not be nominated. The photos of the entries and the three Roman Catholic school addresses of their grand children, indicated that the competition reached only a small section of the borough’s population.11 The fact that the 1991 census analysis showed that less than five per cent of the borough’s pensioners were Bengali did not mean that there were fewer Bengali grandparents. Because of the recent patterns of immigration, most Bengali children would have had at least one set of grandparents living in Bangladesh. However, implicit in the discourse was an assumption that young ‘East Enders’ had several generations of their extended families living in close proximity in The East End. The roots of their families were not assumed to spread across continents. The one photo of a black granny did not include an address, whereas all the other grannies had Tower Hamlets or Newham post codes. Either the address was not sent or it was too distant to include. These examples demonstrate how the Liberal Democrat administration attempted, but failed, to extend the meanings of ‘East Enders’ to include members of the modern ‘diverse’ population. Although the ‘multi-ethnic heritage’ of ‘The East End’ was referred to in the discourse, the exclusion of the specific histories of that ‘diverse’ population consolidated the dominance of the notion that the ‘real East Enders’ were white. The East End Carnival My analysis of the discourse of The East End Carnival, and challenges to it, follows studies of carnivals which have analysed them as sites of struggle between competing groups (Cohen 1980 and 1982, Jackson 1988, Smith 1993, Wright 1993). The dynamics of struggle around The East End Carnival, however, were significantly different from the contests that created the Caribbean carnivals studied by Cohen and Jackson. Caribbean carnivals, after the abolition of slavery, 11 Schools in Tower Hamlets were divided along religious lines. The voluntary aided church schools prioritised entry for children of their own religious denomination. Bengali Muslim children were in a small minority, if at all, in those schools. Many non-church schools had 90–100 per cent Bengali pupils. It appeared that some Catholic schools had encouraged their pupils to apply for the competition.

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and the Notting Hill Carnival from 1976, flourished as ‘symbols of resistance’ to dominant social and political classes. The East End Carnival was initiated by the ruling political administration and asserted an existing exclusive East End identity whilst appearing to be more inclusive. The East End Carnival was launched at the same time as the proposed name change, and was an integral part of the overall strategy of marketing ‘The East End’. The carnival itself embodied the discourse of the Liberal Democrat leadership, discussed above, and carried it through the streets of Tower Hamlets. The images of the carnival on the poster printed at the back of East End Life in November 1993 were of people from assumedly ‘diverse’ backgrounds, enjoying themselves. Like the poster, the information pack sent out to groups about the carnival claimed that it wanted to include ‘the widest range of East End people’. However, like the apparently inclusive discourse of the council leaders, it was clear that some groups were invited to represent ‘The East End’ whilst others were ignored. The emphasis was on a version of the past – decorated, traditional wooden wheeled market stalls, vintage cars and motorbikes, horse drawn traps and polished ‘sign-written’ delivery vehicles. The activities of the groups included were diverse – sea scouts, sailing clubs and a band on top of a bus, but not inclusive of Bengali or many other local populations. The wide range of different youth clubs, community and cultural organisations were not represented. The information sent out just before the carnival had stated that there would be ‘quiet entertainment’ in Spitalfields Market when the procession finished. There was no further indication of the type of music or decibels that would be allowed. The only direct marketing of The East End in the carnival were the hundreds of red balloons and black badges decorated with a pearly heart and the words ‘The East End’. The balloons were tied onto vehicles and badges were pinned onto people. The marketing symbols therefore used the ‘traditional’ image of the pearly kings and queens rather than any images of cultural ‘diversity’ to market The East End directly. The indirect marketing of The East End through the carnival procession itself, also used images of a ‘traditional’, white East End. The floats that processed through the Liberal Democrat strongholds of the borough, predominantly reproduced the dominant discourse of The East End. Right at the front of the procession were the carts and horses carrying pearly royalty, symbolising the ‘traditional’ East Enders as constructed by AW Sharpe and others. They were all white, three of them were from Tower Hamlets, whilst two were from the outer London boroughs of Harrow and Upminster. The latter were ‘true East Enders’ despite living elsewhere, and were given due prominence. Also near the front of the procession was the Mayor. The event was ‘non-political’ and therefore he was fulfilling a ceremonial role in a horse drawn trap. He was also known as one of the few councillors who asserted that he had been ‘born and bred’ in the ‘East End’, contributing to definition of ‘real East Enders’ in the dominant discourse. Also near the front were other white, assumed ‘East Enders’. The marching majorettes in military uniforms, the uniformed St. John Ambulance and the gymnastics troupe


The Invisible Empire

in Union Jack waistcoats resonated with the ‘traditional East End’ characteristics of ‘loyalty’ and ‘courage’ shown in the war fifty years earlier – words used by the Mayor in his launch of ‘The East End’. Some Liberal Democrat controlled neighbourhoods were visible in the municipal refuse trucks and school buses, marketing the idea of the Neighbourhoods to the watching public. Those with commercial interests in the borough included commercial vehicles. The only past that was represented was of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when east London was the hub of the British Empire. It was represented by a vintage van, the prize winning Stepney float of a recreated Victorian schoolroom and VR post box and by the Tower Hamlets College float advertising a modern education, but with the participants dressed up as nineteenth century teachers with mortarboards and canes. The white Methodists in their pyjamas and ‘Christians awake’ message kept alive the missionary spirit. The youth projects, made up of Bengali, black and white young people and youth workers, some with loud music, were all near the back of the procession. Although the carnival was advertised as celebrating the ‘diversity’ of the borough, the procession demonstrated an obvious hierarchy in that ‘diversity’. Groups that represented the dominant meanings of the keywords ‘East Ender’ and ‘East End’ were at the front, whilst those who might be included in new meanings of ‘East Ender’ were relegated to the back of the queue. The planned and conscious order of procession (the order of floats had been sent out well in advance) was signalling the political tensions of the ruling Liberal Democrats. In holding a carnival and including ‘diverse’ groups, the organisers attempted to stretch the meaning of ‘East Ender’. At the same time they were attempting to appeal to voters who actively asserted the dominant meanings associated with ‘East Enders’, whilst distancing themselves from the discourses of the BNP. In appealing to voters, it was important that the dominant notions of a ‘traditional East End’ were obvious, hence the type of floats that were at the front. The participation of multicultural youth groups was needed to show the voters and business investors (the latter through publicity material and the involvement of the Rotary Club) that there were broader meanings to ‘The East End’ and ‘East Enders’. In the next section, I examine how the criticisms by participants of The East End Carnival expose how ‘East Enders’ remained a fixed white category in the discourses of the Liberal Democrats. Despite the discursive ‘vision’ of a ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘multicultural’ ‘community’, the dominant meanings of ‘East Enders’ had not changed. Section Three: Criticisms of the Carnival as Challenges to the Dominant Discourse The attempt by the Liberal Democrat leadership to change the name of the borough was challenged by people who recognised themselves as ‘East Enders’, such as

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the Globe Town Advisory Committee and correspondents to the ELA.12 However, in this section, I am interested in how the people whom the discourse constructed as ‘multicultural subjects’ contested the dominant constructions of The East End and ‘East Enders’ in the discourses and practices associated with The East End Carnival. I interviewed four adults who had been involved in four different floats. The four participants all worked with young people in Tower Hamlets. Two were African Caribbean, one was Bengali and one white. They had similar criticisms of the event. Their first criticism was that it was not a carnival: What I thought was going to happen was it was going to be a proper carnival, like we have in Notting Hill or Finsbury Park, that local people could come out with floats, mostly music and dancing, not dustbin vans and Ragged School Museum … it wasn’t really a carnival atmosphere (CF: 31). There was nothing further away from a carnival than the carnival … there was a chance for Councillor Snooks … to sit in his open air carriage and be drawn along by a few horses with a lot of people behind him … there was all the lovely cheerful Cockney refuse department vehicles, totally undecorated (LR: 9&10). … I mean when we say ‘Carnival’ in the Caribbean, we mean Carnival … all different people, lots of music, its going right on through ‘til the next morning, or at least ‘til dusk, you know, it didn’t happen that way, it was a damp squib. (CF: 33)

The participants’ second criticism was that it was a ‘white event’: [We were] Right near enough to the end … I noticed quite obviously that there were only three of us who were from the black community, out of thirty … it was shoddy. (ND: 32&33) … it was only us two (CF and ND) that had sounds and ours was better than theirs! … what I’m saying is that those two groups were the real Carnival types … multi-ethnic, multicultural, they were at the back and we didn’t win anything. I felt they were the only people I could really identify with, the others were just – it was just too white. (CF: 38) 12 On the 23 March the Globe Town Advisory Committee, a consultative forum consisting of representatives nominated by local tenants’ associations and from youth and pensioners’ forums (Burns et al. 1994: 204–6), voted nine to one abstention against the use of the name “The East End” and in favour of (if the changing of the name was to be pursued) “the Royal Borough of Tower Hamlets” (Globe Town SNC 23 March 1994).The word ‘Royal’ added to the title is associated with the cluster of keywords in the local Liberal Democrat discourses which included ‘loyalty’, ‘tradition’ and ‘history’.


The Invisible Empire

They also felt that that it communicated to ‘East Enders’, constructed as white, homogenous and long-settled, along a ‘white route’: It was basically talking to the areas that were seen as ‘traditional’. Again, there’s this illusion of ‘traditional East Enders’ … Bethnal Green has a lot of BNP activity … it went through Globe Town which had one of the highest BNP votes in the recent elections … I think the BNP and the Carnival went to those areas because of the sort of people who live there … It was a white route. (LR: 12–17) It only went through certain areas like Burdett Road, Mile End which we know is quite a white dominated community… if you went to somewhere like maybe Brick Lane, you would have probably seen much more of the cultural diversity and the real image of what Tower Hamlets represents (ND: 29). [It] was a racist route … it didn’t go to any areas where [there are] high concentrations of Bengalis or African-Caribbeans, it went through Roman Road … it could have gone down Ben Johnson Road [in Stepney, an area of high Bengali population] … we didn’t see the real people … it took the roads where shoppers are. (CF: 32) I was a bit worried about it going through Bethnal Green … being a Bengali float, how the white crowd would react, but then I thought that if we had music, we would be OK. Dance music was OK … I was worried before the whole thing took place … A Bangladesh flag and no music through a white area doesn’t make sense, that kind of thing would only provoke … the white crowd. (PC: 17)

The fear of racial violence and the naming of support for the BNP, which were absent from the dominant discourse, were integral to the participants’ construction of The East End Carnival. All of these perceptions of the route challenged the local authority leadership’s discourse of ‘The East End’ having ‘safe streets’ and ‘friendly people’. The third criticism was that East End Life had represented the carnival as a successful community event, when my interviewees had experienced it having been enforced from ‘above’. Adult participants represented as ‘volunteers’ in the newspaper had been paid to take part. Nicola and Carl had both been asked by their employers to work with young people on the carnival as part of their employment. Although they did not like the top-down approach to the young people’s involvement in the carnival, both decided to use the event as an opportunity for the young people to have fun and participate in something different. Les had also been paid to work with students to decorate a float advertising Tower Hamlets College. However the Bengali students whom he first met with, linked the carnival with the Liberal Democrat campaign in the forthcoming local elections and refused to take part. Eventually Les and white colleagues from his acting group (some of

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whom were also students) were all employed by the College to decorate themselves and the float. The unsolicited information packs sent out to existing and defunct organisations only seven weeks before the event and the absence of most black and Bengali community groups suggest that local people had consciously decided not to participate. The fact that only twenty-eight out of fifty registered floats turned up on the day also indicates low enthusiasm – and seven of those were municipal vehicles. Both local papers had reported that there were fifty floats. The participants also objected to the impression in East End Life that that the route was lined with two thousand spectators who had especially gathered for the carnival: They were people who were just out for a Saturday and they suddenly found that they couldn’t catch a bus because here were no buses going along the route (LR: 18). A lot of people live in flats … so they heard the noise … very few people … went to see that. They just happened to be in that particular part of the neighbourhood, and they just so happened to stop and watch (ND: 38).

The participants’ fourth criticism was that they had been misled into taking part in an event that was part of the political campaign of the ruling Liberal Democrats. The information pack sent out to groups stated that no political bias was allowed and no political parties were allowed to take part. However, after the event the participants who I interviewed made the same link as the Bengali students who refused to participate: My first impression was where were the black people? But then I looked at the area and the Neighbourhood we were processing through … the only thing I could really think about is, this is a campaign to get support for voters for the local elections. It was another one of them little exercises to do that. So really … the people that they targeted, they targeted very well … I’m quite confident that was their campaign … use the carnival to campaign. (ND: 37). And the Mayor was coming along shaking everybody’s hands who was on the float … he came over and said: ‘Yes, thanks a lot, thanks a lot,’ so obviously it was an event to promote him and promote the Party, make it look good for the election the following month. I didn’t realise what happened until after the event – I do feel I was duped (CF: 24). [The aims of the carnival ] were purely political. The Liberals wanted to say ‘Look we have united the East End after having divided it into seven absurd neighbourhoods’ (LR: 7&8). I feel that the East End Carnival was used as a pawn to … encourage votes for the local election, gain support and campaign at the same time as well as

The Invisible Empire


reinforce the idea of what an East Ender is, white, male dominated … and then ignore … different cultural diversity within the community. (CD: 25)

The discourses and practices associated with this carnival were opposite to those associated with the Notting Hill Carnival analysed by Jackson citing Bakhtin’s notion of the ‘carnivalisation of society’ in medieval times (Bakhtin 1986 in Jackson 1988: 225). Unlike Notting Hill or medieval carnivals, The East End Carnival did not ‘dissolve the distinction between participants and observers’, was not ‘lived by the people’ and was not ‘organised in their own way’. It discursively reinforced ‘existing forms of coercive socio-economic and political organisation’ rather than suspending them. It was an assertion of the dominant discourse not a symbol of resistance to it. In his discussion of the Notting Hill Carnival as political resistance to oppression, Peter Jackson concluded that ‘Carnival is, like rioting and war, the continuation of politics by other means (Jackson 1988: 226). The East End Carnival was no less a political event. It represented the political negotiations of a dominant group with competing groups in an attempt to retain its position. Conclusion The Liberal Democrat leadership used the pages of the local authority and commercial newspapers, and the carnival as part of their strategy to ‘market’ the borough to business, tourism, government and the resident population. Central to this strategy was the re-naming of the borough as The East End. In the process, The East End and ‘East Enders’ had to be given new meanings. The Liberal Democrat leadership had to fix the discursively contested boundaries of The East End to make it an administrative unit, at the same time as they initially tried to unfix the category of ‘East Enders’ in order to include everybody who lived there. At the same time this discourse appeared contradictory in repeating that the leadership was ‘returning’ to and ‘reclaiming’ The East End. The suggestion that the council planned to return to The East End as a name for the area is significant: National media, politicians and local people had never stopped referring to (parts of) the area as ‘the (not ‘The’) East End’, but no local authority had ever been called ‘The East End’ before. The use of the idea of ‘return’ and ‘reclaim’ was partly a response to negative meanings being associated with the East End and the local Liberal Democrats in national media discourses following the attack Quddus Ali, the election of a BNP councillor and the Inquiry into the activities of local Liberal Democrats by the national Party.13 In the run up to the local government elections in May 1994, the local Liberal Democrat leadership drew on the nostalgia of its white constituents in returning to a construction of the East End that was positive for those voters in the light of the negative publicity. 13 See footnote 2 above.

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In its publicity about The East End and ‘East Enders’, the local Liberal Democrat leadership used keywords of the dominant white liberal discourse – ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘multicultural’, ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ – that had positive meanings for the national Liberal Democrat Party and national media. However, the inclusion of specific details about individual or subcategories of ‘East Enders’ put some categories of people higher up the scale of ‘East Enders’ whilst excluding others. Although the carnival was promoted and reported on as a ‘multicultural event’ the experiences of its ‘multicultural’ subjects challenged that construction. In the organisational material and the procession, the dominant notion of ‘East Enders’ remained an unmarked white category, unchanging and homogenous. The dominant white liberal discourse therefore appeared to shift to include more diverse categories of people as ‘East Enders’, whilst the detail used to picture or describe who the essential ‘East Enders’ were, remained the same and continued to exclude non-white residents, whether they had been there long term or were recent immigrants. The assertion of specific white histories and the suppression of other historical narratives contributed towards the naturalisation of ‘East Enders’ as white. Other histories were not mentioned in the Liberal Democrat’s discourse on The East End: there were no references to the East End as the hub of the British Empire or to past fascist activism. The Liberal Democrat discourse carefully omitted any direct references to more recent racial attacks and harassment or the election of a fascist councillor. At a time of intense discussion about British identity and belonging, the historical glue, the Empire, that linked contests in the past with contests in the present was consistently absent from the dominant discourse. In the following chapter I focus on a single keyword ‘tolerance’, demonstrated in this chapter as central to the Liberal Democrat discourse about the ‘multicultural’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ East End. I build on the evidence above to demonstrate how tolerance’ works in the discourse to consolidate racial categories, to define white ‘East Enders’ as the having the power to ‘tolerate’ and the various ‘multicultural’ populations as being the subjects as that ‘tolerance’. I show how ‘tolerance’ works with the Invisible Empire to construct a ‘hierarchy of belonging’.

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Chapter 5

Tolerance, the Invisible Empire and the Hierarchy of Belonging In this chapter, I focus on how a keyword, ‘tolerance’ works in combination with other discursive elements to give what I have defined as ‘the dominant white liberal discourse’ about Britishness, the flexibility necessary to maintain dominance in the face of challenges from discourses associated with subordinate groups. I argue that the power to tolerate is contingent on the pivotal element of the dominant discourse, the Invisible Empire. Together they work to construct a flexible and unstable ‘hierarchy of belonging’. Those high up that ‘hierarchy of belonging’ have the power to grant or withhold tolerance from those at the bottom. I combine ethnographic research in east London employed in the previous chapters, with evidence from seventeenth-century English politics and contextualised discourse analysis to demonstrate how the dominant discourse about Britishness is flexible in determining both who has the power to grant or withdraw ‘tolerance’ and who is the subject of that ‘tolerance’. In the previous two chapters I examined events and discourses relating to events in September 1993 when a seventeen-year-old Bengali student, Quddus Ali, was permanently brain damaged in a violent racist attack. In the following week a British National Party (BNP) councillor, Derek Beackon, was elected in a local council byelection. His seven-vote victory came after a BNP campaign that accused Bengali families of having been given preferential treatment over white families in the allocation of new council housing. There were also widespread reports of intimidation of non white voters at polling stations. In the following seven months there were several more violent racist attacks (including those on Mukhtar Ahmed and Shah Alam in February 1994) and increased reports of racial harassment of Bengali, African and African-Caribbean people in the borough. In May 1994 Councillor Beackon was defeated in the local elections after political mobilisations by a wide range of local and national organisations and groups. During these eight months   The concept of a ‘hierarchy of belonging’ is used in two ways in the academic and general literature: it is used to describe how people rank their multiple identities and to describe the ranking of different ethnic/racial/religious communities in a specific space. For the former, see, for example, Peter Wilkinson, ‘Multiple or core belonging’, Open Source Theology, 13 March 2005, at node/568 (viewed 30 March 2006); for the latter, see, for example, Dirk Moses, ‘Pogrom talk’, On Line Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, 11 January 2006, at: www.onlineopinion. (viewed 30 March 2006). I am using it in the latter sense.


The Invisible Empire

the ‘race politics’ of Tower Hamlets and its implications for Britishness were the subject of national and local political and media discourses. Throughout this period I analysed the discourses of local and national politicians, the police and media which referred to events in Tower Hamlets and the constructions of Britishness. I also examined material produced by groups which challenged that dominant discourse. ‘Tolerance’ emerged as a keyword central to dominant discourses about British culture and was frequently contested in competing discourses. ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Toleration’ ‘Tolerance’ and ‘toleration’ have been the subjects of wide-ranging and critical literature in philosophy, political theory and sociology. Most often this literature has been concerned with the principle or doctrine of ‘tolerance’ and has focused on defining its meanings, critiquing the practices and discourses of toleration by the state or theorising about how toleration may work for particular groups of people. Much of the literature has been concerned with theorising how the ‘practice of toleration’ might work for particular groups of people. In his study On Toleration, the political theorist Michael Walzer examined five ‘regimes of toleration’. His main focus was on the different possible institutional and legal arrangements of ‘toleration’ as a ‘practice’ (Walzer1997: ix). The discussion in this study differs from the approach of Walzer and his predecessors in that I am primarily concerned with ‘tolerance’, which he defined as an ‘attitude’, but which I investigate as a contested keyword in the dominant discourse about national culture. I am concerned with how, and by whom ‘tolerance’ is used: firstly, to construct the categories of ‘tolerators’ – those who grant ‘tolerance’ and their subjects, the ‘tolerated’; and secondly to maintain a racialised ‘hierarchy of belonging’. My analysis of tolerance is therefore closer to that of the political scientist Wendy Brown (2006) who asked why, since the 1980s, tolerance has been uncritically understood in dominant discourses as a positive attribute of European, North American and Australian cultures. She examined tolerance as a political discourse of governmentality (Foucault 1991) and investigated its changing meanings and continuous remaking in a wide range of locations and at several moments. She showed how tolerance works as a discourse of power to naturalise those tolerated as essentially different and inferior from the tolerating subject. My ethnographic exploration of tolerance as a keyword builds on Brown’s work through identifying both the operation of microprocesses of power through the dominant discourse of   This study cannot do justice to the vast literature on toleration and tolerance, which includes that sponsored by the Morrell Trust at the University of York. Other critical examples include, inter alia the collection by Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, Jr and Herbert Marcuse (1969); Preston King (1976). On the anti-Semitism of tolerance see Bill Williams (1985). Recent critical discussions of tolerance and intolerance include Rainer Forst (2007), Catriona McKinnon (2006) and Derek McGhee (2005).

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tolerance and the challenges to that discourse. My study also differs from that of others in that I make the connections between the mobilisation of tolerance and the Invisible Empire explicit. I show how discourses of tolerance are both structured by the historical bundles of silences (Trouillot 1995) about the violence of the British Empire and also that those silences structure the hierarchy of belonging. In this chapter I begin with an analysis of how ‘tolerance’ was used and challenged in discourses during 1993–94. I then examine the historical context of the institutionalisation of the practice of toleration in England and show how it works to obscure relations of power. In the following section I explore aspects of belonging and use evidence from my ethnographic research to show how ‘tolerance’ works with the Invisible Empire to sustain a racialised ‘hierarchy of belonging’ I am Tolerant and they are Racist: The Self-categorisation of Tolerance To explore how ‘tolerance’ works in dominant discourses of Britishness, I focus on two opinion polls in the local and national press together with letters to a local newspaper. I then relate the discourse of tolerance to a ‘hierarchy of belonging’ through an analysis of representations of East End history in two weekly local newspapers published during the period of the study. The local newspapers are the paid-for East London Advertiser (ELA) and the local authority free paper, East End Life (EEL). As well as references to the past embedded throughout both papers, the ELA contained a local history page entitled ‘Down Memory Lane’ and the EEL included a column entitled ‘East End History’. Two weeks after the attack on Quddus Ali, the Sunday Express published a report headlined ‘Nation Divided by Race’ and illustrated by a victorious Councillor Beackon holding the national flag. The paper had commissioned an opinion poll in which adults from ‘around the country’ were asked three ‘blunt questions’: 1. Do you think people are right or wrong to be concerned about the number of immigrants in the country? 2. Are you in favour or against the forcible repatriation of immigrants to the UK? 3. Some people say that the attitudes of the main political parties favour ethnic minorities and that this encourages people to vote for extremist parties like the British National Party. Do you agree or disagree?

 See Chapter 4 for how it was used as part of ‘The East End’ marketing strategy.   Together the two papers had a weekly distribution of 90,000, covering the whole of Tower Hamlets. During the early 1990s the ELA’s circulation was approximately 25,000. The target area was Tower Hamlets, but it was also read further afield. It claimed that it covered ‘hard news’, and the mainstay of the editorial column was ‘caring and campaigning’ about the ‘community it serves’ (ELA Special Supplement, July 1992). I analysed the ELA from September 1993 to May 1994 and the EEL from November 1993 to May 1994.


The Invisible Empire

The article used the opinion poll results to assess the relative ‘racism’ and ‘tolerance’, constructed as opposites, of different categories of people: We still have to live with the reality of racism despite Britain’s good reputation for race tolerance ... . There is more tolerance of immigrants among the young than the old, with nearly half of over 65s in favour of repatriation ... northerners tend to be more racist than southerners, with 40 per cent in favour of enforced repatriation compared with 31 per cent in the South. This appears to reflect the fact that outside the larger towns and cities in northern England and Scotland there is less exposure to immigration, and consequently a less tolerant attitude. ... Although southern voters appear to be more tolerant, the size of the sample was not large enough to draw any conclusions about the level of racism in London, where the BNP are hoping to make further gains. Again, tolerance of immigrants is greater among the higher social classes ... Tory voters are the least tolerant among the three main parties, followed by the Liberal Democrats, who are slightly less tolerant than Labour voters. (Mike Porter, ‘Nation divided by race’, Sunday Express, 26 September 1993 [my emphasis added])

The problem posed by the Sunday Express concerned the ‘reality of racism’ in a country with ‘a good reputation for race tolerance’. A continuum was constructed with ‘tolerance’ at the positive end and ‘racism’ at the opposite, negative extreme. Interviewees’ responses were used to demonstrate that different categories of people were either more ‘tolerant’ or more ‘racist’. The poll results were used to suggest that, as in the case of rural Scotland and northern England, there was ‘less tolerance’ where there were fewer ‘immigrants’. However, the equation of fewer immigrants with less ‘tolerance’ did not tally with the later claim about London being more tolerant, as it is in the South, when it had elected one BNP councillor and was expected to elect more. How did tolerant Britons admit to being racist? An examination of the supposedly ‘blunt’ questions of the poll reveals a difference in their directness. The first question did not ask the respondents directly about their views on ‘the number of immigrants’ in Britain. Instead, they were asked their opinion of other people’s views on immigration. The result showed that 81 per cent of respondents thought other people were right to be concerned. The other two questions directly asked respondents their own views on ‘forcible repatriation’ and whether they agreed that the main political parties favoured ‘ethnic minorities’. Thirty-six per cent approved of ‘forcible repatriation’, and 42 per cent of respondents agreed that ‘ethnic minorities’ were favoured. The indirect question indicated twice the level of dissatisfaction with immigration than did the two specific direct questions. Indirect questioning that distanced opinion poll respondents from being labelled ‘racist’ was in evidence four days later in the ELA, when it published the results of a phone poll into support for the BNP that it had conducted during the preceding week. The headline was: ‘More than 81 Per Cent Support the BNP’. However, the report of the phone vote suggested less directness in the question asked:

Tolerance, the Invisible Empire and the Hierarchy of Belonging


East Enders voted massively after the Advertiser’s phone vote last week asking: ‘Do you think it is right or wrong that a BNP candidate has been elected to Tower Hamlets Council?’ And the result of the vote is a resounding victory for the BNP – the second time they have triumphed in the poll in two weeks. (ELA 30 September 1993)

Why had the newspaper not asked a direct question such as ‘Would you vote for the BNP?’ instead of ‘Do you think it is right or wrong that a BNP candidate has been elected to Tower Hamlets Council?’ It was an undeniable fact that the BNP candidate had been elected. In that sense, it was ‘right’. The question in the ELA phone poll gave voters the opportunity to distance themselves from direct support for the BNP by demonstrating that they understood why people would vote for the BNP without labelling themselves as ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’. The Sunday Express opinion poll respondents were able to distance themselves from ‘being concerned about the number of immigrants’ by giving their opinions of other people’s views. In both newspapers, the unspecific or indirect nature of the questions allowed respondents to continue to show themselves as ‘tolerant’ while at the same time supporting the right of others to vote for the BNP or to ‘be concerned about immigrants’. The keyword ‘tolerance’ was used in the letters page of the same edition of the ELA (30 September 1993). None of the twenty-four letters relating to the election of the BNP candidate directly supported the policies of the BNP. However, ten letters supported people who had voted for the BNP or condemned their opponents. For example: The people of East London have always been known for their tolerance and easygoing temperament. Recently some of them, and there are many more, have got fed up with being undermined and they voted for the one who had the guts to speak on their behalf ... . The BNP has been condemned while the vicious face of the Anti Nazi League and their burning of our Union Jack flag has been played down. Now THAT IS a frightening aspect. (Mrs F, Canning Town) I oppose mob violence against any person whether they are black, white or otherwise, but I tend to agree with Mr Beackon on some issues. For instance, when I walk through the local market I feel like I don’t belong there, I feel that I am a foreigner. (T. S., Stepney) (ELA, 30 September 1993)   Five years later the Guardian journalist Gary Younge offered an explanation for the indirect style of questioning about ‘race’: ‘So few people in Britain will admit to being prejudiced that British Social Attitudes has added to its survey the question, ‘‘do you think your neighbours are prejudiced?” to eke out more realism. It found out that while three per cent of people admit to being ‘‘very prejudiced’’ themselves, the numbers who think their neighbours are ‘‘very prejudiced’’ is double that’; Gary Younge, ‘White lies’, The Guardian, 10 September 1998.


The Invisible Empire

In the discourse of Mrs F’s letter, Derek Beackon was elected because the ‘tolerance’ of the ‘people of East London’ had been undermined. The letter did not directly say what East Londoners were ‘tolerant’ of, nor by whom or what they were ‘undermined’. However, in defending those who voted for Derek Beackon, the readers would know that Mrs F meant that the people of ‘East London’ were the established white population who were being undermined by the Bengali population and their supporters. The only named adversary was the ‘vicious’ Anti Nazi League (ANL) which burned ‘our’ flag, the use of ‘their’ burning ‘our’ flag establishing the ANL as ‘outsiders’ and Mrs F as a genuine ‘East Ender’. Mrs F was using the dominant discourse to assert the ‘tolerance’ of East End British people in the face of those who test that ‘tolerance’. Without actually using the keyword ‘tolerance’, T.S.’s letter fits within the same discourse about tolerance. T.S. did not indicate why s/he felt like a ‘foreigner’ when s/he walked through the market, although, since s/he said that s/he agreed with ‘Mr Beackon’, the newspaper readers would know that s/he meant s/he felt outnumbered by Bengali and other black residents. By saying that s/he opposed ‘mob’ violence s/he was distancing her/ himself from those who carried out racist attacks as well as from the fights that had taken place between Bengali young men and the police outside the London Hospital after the attack on Quddus Ali three weeks previously. T.S. was demonstrating that s/he disliked the presence of people who made her/ him feel foreign, but would not support violence. Neither Mrs F nor T.S. mentioned any categories of people directly, yet by understanding the contexts of their letters, it is clear that the Bengali population is the main target of their concerns. Applying the analytical measures of the Sunday Express, would they be more ‘racist’ or more ‘tolerant’? Mrs F viewed ‘tolerance’ as a positive characteristic of East Londoners. Both letter writers demonstrated that they were being tolerant of something that they did not like, and that their tolerance was being challenged by those they tolerated. Challenges to the Notion of British Tolerance In his monograph A Tolerant Country?, Colin Holmes charted the gulf between official and popular discourses on tolerance and the lived experiences of hostility, discrimination and violence endured by generations of immigrants to Britain since the mid-nineteenth century (Holmes 1991). He cited many examples of official and other discourses that worked to naturalise the idea of Britain as a ‘tolerant’ nation. Like the examples discussed above, Holmes assumed that ‘tolerance’ was a positive notion. His argument was that, although the dominant discourse asserts that Britain is tolerant, in reality it is not. Holmes’s conclusion about British tolerance was supported by several of the people I interviewed during the study. In separate conversations the notion of British tolerance was discussed by two male Bengali respondents who both appeared to reach the same conclusion as Holmes did:

Tolerance, the Invisible Empire and the Hierarchy of Belonging


Tolerance of what? Crime? Black people? They are not tolerant at all. I don’t know if that is a good word to use ... ‘We accept Black people. We accept Asian people. Do you f***! This country is not tolerant. Listen, if this country was tolerant we wouldn’t get this harassment. (SM) I don’t think the tolerance is going to work unless you put in positive action. You can’t just talk about it. You can’t just let people say what they like, it doesn’t mean tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean that you can deny somebody else’s rights, you can kill somebody, you can abuse somebody. This is not tolerance. It should be fair and everybody should have a fair right to do the things they want to do. They shouldn’t be victimized by other people for the sake of tolerance. You know, we are tolerating all the racism. (MR)

The normative cultural processes of the dominant discourse are visible most clearly to those it dominates or violates. Having experienced verbal racism, police harassment and violent racist attacks, both SM and MR challenged the dominant construction of a ‘tolerant Britain’. They both also raised questions about what exactly was being tolerated. SM asked whether it was crime or black people. MR saw his community tolerating the racism that they endured. In each case, their discourses expose the meaning of ‘tolerance’ as putting up with something unpleasant: racism, crime and black people. However, neither Holmes nor MR and SM questioned the dominant discourse of ‘tolerance of ethnic minorities’ being a positive national aspiration. How does ‘tolerance’ as a positive national quality escape significant challenge in discourses of Britishness? A Short History of British Tolerance To understand how ‘tolerance’ is used in discourses about contemporary Britain, it is useful to understand some of the context surrounding the first institutionalisation of the practice of toleration in the English state, the Toleration Act of 1689. ‘Toleration’ was important in national debates throughout Christian Europe during

  It might be argued that an earlier example of English tolerance was the 1656 readmission of the Jews to England following a verbal promise given by Oliver Cromwell. However, this verbal promise was not supported by any legislation. Eliane Glaser has recently argued that Cromwell did not ‘readmit’ the Jews but that the idea that he had done so became important at the end of the nineteenth century as a response to the rise in antisemitism that followed the mass immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe. The existing Jewish community mobilised a history of readmission to emphasise the positive aspects of immigration, holding the first Resettlement Day in 1894. Jews had lived in England, enduring verbal and violent antisemitism before and after 1656. Glaser concludes that the readmission story contributes to Britain’s current self-image as ‘an exceptionally tolerant country’; Eliane Glaser, ‘Oliver Cromwell and The Jews: a correction’, The Guardian, 9 December 2005.


The Invisible Empire

the seventeenth century. These discussions were in response to the Reformation, which had brought to the fore the issue of ‘religious pluralism within the State and within Christendom’ (Lecler 1960: x). Could two or more religions be ‘permitted’ or ‘tolerated’ within a Christian state? In the national contexts of these discourses, it was assumed there would be one dominant church. The principal arguments were about whether other Christian ‘sects’ should be allowed to exist at all. In England during the seventeenth-century debates on ‘tolerance’ were embedded in the secular politics of the day. The majority in Parliament wanted the Anglican religion to be compulsory for all, but there was conflict about which other Christians should be allowed to exist alongside Anglicans. King Charles II supported religious toleration of Catholics while the Whig leader, the Earl of Shaftesbury, advocated religious toleration of the many sects of Protestant dissenters. The hostility between the King and Shaftesbury led to the latter requesting the Anglican philosopher John Locke to ‘draw up a theoretical argument in support of religious toleration as he understood it’ (Cranston 1987: 103). Locke wrote his famous Latin Epistola de Tolerantia (Letter of Toleration) while in exile in Holland in 1685 during a period of near civil war in England, linked to disputes around whether the Catholic James could inherit the throne from his brother Charles (Locke 1968). Locke’s Epistola was widely circulated in England and influenced the 1689 Toleration Act passed by the parliament of the Protestant monarchs William and Mary.10 Locke argued for one dominant national church that all ‘Englishmen’ would belong to and that would bind the population together through shared beliefs and practices. Minor denominations would exist on the side, ‘tolerated as dissenting sects’ as long as they did not undermine the core beliefs and practices that held the nation together (Cranston (1987: 112–13). Although the head of state would tolerate non-Anglican Protestant dissenters, he would not grant them absolute liberty.11 Heretics, atheists and Catholics would not be tolerated, a decision that   Ghassan Hage has examined the notion of tolerance in Islam well before the European Enlightenment. Under sharia Christians and Jews were to be tolerated as ‘people of the book’. In the same way that the 1689 English Toleration Act maintained the superiority of Anglicanism, Islamic toleration legitimised discriminatory measures that worked to maintain the superiority of Islam ( Hage 1994) For an overview of the practice of an ‘imperial regime of toleration’ in the context of the Ottoman millet system, see Walzer (1997).   It was clear in the writings of theologians defending the Edict of Amboise in 1563 that ‘permission is not the same as approval’ (Lecler 1960: x).  Recent scholarship about the Reformation demonstrates that the context of these debates was wider than the Protestant v. Catholic model suggests. It included, significantly, the events and discourses relating to the conflicts between Christian states and the Ottoman Empire, and the position of Jews in Europe; see, for example, Andrew Hadfield (2004). 10  William had deposed the Catholic James the Second. 11 Locke drew a clear separation between the church, which was concerned with spiritual matters, and the state, which was concerned with ‘civil interests’: life, health and the possession of property. The head of state was referred to by Locke as the ‘civil magistrate’.

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was justified by their potential threat to the state. Atheists were objected to because they could not be bound by oaths made to God, and Catholics because they owed allegiance to the Pope. The 1689 Toleration Act followed Locke in drawing a distinction between toleration and ‘absolute liberty’ (Cranston 1987: 110–14). It did not repeal any of the old laws against liberty. Dissenters, including Quakers and Baptists, were merely exempted from punishment under certain laws, and they continued to suffer discrimination, such as exclusion from public office. However, penal laws were held to be in force against Catholics (Kamen 1967: 211–12). The notion of tolerance has always been far removed from notions of liberty and equality. Tolerance was something granted or denied by those more powerful to those less powerful. Embedded in the dominant discourse was the notion that the Anglican church was superior and more righteous than the churches of those being tolerated. Since the sixteenth century, struggles have taken place over the meaning of tolerance as those who have granted tolerance have been able to select its subjects. In seventeenth-century England, non-Anglican Protestants became its subjects, while Catholics did not. A similar notion of tolerance is evident in contemporary discourses. Those granted tolerance have changed from Protestant dissenters to ethnic minorities, while the notion of tolerance has remained the same. In 1992 the philosopher John Gray wrote that ‘the subjects of toleration are what we judge as evils ... it is in the area of multiculturalism that a policy of toleration is most needed’ (Gray1992: 34). Gray argued that a stable society depends on an underlying ‘common culture’ that is no longer dependent on a shared religion or ethnicity, but requires acceptance of certain norms, behaviours and a shared sense of British nationality. The latter Gray identified as ‘vague but powerful notions of fair play and give and take, of the necessity of compromise and of not imposing private convictions on other[s]’ (ibid: 40). Tolerance remains something to be granted or denied to those who do or do not comply with the dominant norms of that culture. An examination of how tolerance has been in used in earlier contexts demonstrates the flexibility of the notion. Different commentators may choose different things to disapprove of, but the discourses in which ‘tolerance’ is used always include the idea of ‘our’ superiority, ‘our’ rightness, as opposed to the wrongness of others whom ‘we’ nevertheless are sometimes prepared to put up with. Tolerance and Power Tolerance is understood as a positive notion in the dominant discourse about Britishness, yet its meanings have been questioned by people who have been its subjects. How is it that the power relations between those who tolerate and those who are tolerated are obscured in the dominant discourse? In his analysis of the discourse of tolerance in the context of the ideology of multiculturalism in Australia, Ghassan Hage suggested that the ‘power dimension’ has been consistently mystified in writings by Locke and other liberal theorists through an


The Invisible Empire

emphasis on the abstract relations between religions rather than a grounding in the power relationships between religious groupings (Hage 1994: 21). Hage argued that liberal theory has continued to ‘treat tolerance in complete abstraction from the relations of power it presupposes and embodies’ and that when the ‘power dimension’ is made explicit, tolerance can be understood as a strategy aimed at maintaining hegemony through consent rather than coercion (ibid: 22). In Gramsci’s analysis of power, a ‘historic bloc’ (an alliance of groups and forces in society held together by key ideas) becomes hegemonic by making alliances outside the class interests of the dominant group (Simon 1982). In order to remain hegemonic in the face of challenges from subordinate groups, new alliances are sought through ideas that are attractive to sections of the middle and working classes. Advocating tolerance, withholding violence and repression, of specific, less powerful groups is an example of such alliance-building. Locke included Protestant dissenters in the category of the tolerated because if they were not tolerated they would have continued to emigrate along with their wealth and experience (Cranston 1987: 104). The advocacy of toleration in seventeenth-century England can be understood as an attempt to build alliances between Protestant dissenters and the Anglican elite in order to maintain dominance over the Catholics and the political threats from Rome and Europe. ‘Intolerance’ occurs when the dominant class and its representatives exercise coercive power through violent suppression and legitimised discrimination against subordinate groups. By preaching ‘tolerance’, the dominant classes retain the power to be intolerant since ‘the advocacy of tolerance never challenged their capacity to exercise this power’ (Hage1994: 21) Tolerance is a strategy of domination presented as a form of egalitarianism in the dominant liberal discourse. The examples of the Sunday Express and the East London Advertiser demonstrate that a ‘commonsense’ understanding of tolerance in the dominant discourse is that it is the opposite of racism. However, my analysis of how the notion of tolerance is used supports Hage’s argument that tolerance and intolerance are ‘different modalities of racism’ and that there is ‘a continuity between intolerant and tolerant’ racism (Ibid). Tolerant racism exists because intolerant racism, supported by the coercive power of the British Empire, created the conditions for the dominant groups to either grant tolerance or take it away. Calling for tolerance rather than questioning the power of those who tolerate contributes to the further reproduction of those power relationships. This brief investigation into discourses of British tolerance in the seventeenth and late twentieth centuries reveals how ‘tolerance’ works as a commonsense positive national quality while constructing minority groups as undesirable subjects and obscuring the violence of racism for those who have no experience of it. It also demonstrates that both those who have the power to tolerate and those who are the subjects of their tolerance are not fixed, unchanging categories.12 Both tolerators 12  See Wendy Brown (2006) for a wider ranging discussion of the flexibility of tolerance discourses outside of European contexts.

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and tolerated can change over time and space. In order to identify who has the power to tolerate and who are the subjects of that tolerance or intolerance in Tower Hamlets in 1993-4, I examine how a ‘hierarchy of belonging’ was constructed in the discourses of the East London media during that period. Belonging The politics of belonging continues to be a significant and useful framework for analyses of contemporary British politics. Its distinctiveness lies in the opportunity it allows for the examination of both the formal institutional and emotional aspects of citizenship and for the understanding of ‘both sides of the inclusion/exclusion dynamic’ (Geddes and Favell, 1999: 11). Recent literature relating to the politics of belonging has examined political struggles between majority and minority groups over limited housing and health care, and issues relating to multicultural education or to political representation (see for example Geddes and Favell et al. 1999, Yuval Davis et al. 2006). Another approach has been to relate the politics of belonging to the construction of borders and boundaries (Yuval Davis 2004). In the context of this discussion, I am concerned with what Geddes and Favell described as ‘the informal symbolic, linguistic and cultural processes by which majority groups react to new groups and by which these newcomers organise and defend their interests’ (Geddes and Favell 1999: 11). I examine how the keyword ‘tolerance’ in the dominant discourse works to construct different, contested and changing layers of belonging.13 Constructing a ‘Hierarchy of Belonging’ Dominant media discourses make white subjects invisible by normalising them. One of the processes that makes ‘white’ invisible as a particular category is the inclusion of more specific subcategories of whiteness (Dyer 1988). ‘East Enders’ and ‘Islanders’ are such subcategories, superficially racially unmarked and yet sites of struggle over their racial meanings. In 1993-/4 Tower Hamlets, white, workingclass people were normalised as being the natural and historically legitimate occupiers of East End spaces in the discourses of the local and national media. They were at the top of the ‘hierarchy of belonging’. This is exemplified in the East London Advertiser by a front-page colour picture of the new BNP councillor Derek Beackon seated with a weeping white woman whom bailiffs had tried to evict from her home:

13  In focusing on discourse, I do not intend to ignore other aspects associated with the politics of belonging, including the formal status and rights associated with belonging to the national collectivity, or the economic and political struggles over welfare provision and housing.


The Invisible Empire Cllr Beackon told the Advertiser: ‘G’s family has lived on the Island for generations, but now the neighbourhood says it needs the place for a larger family whatever that means. Someone has tipped me off they want it for an Asian family’. But neighbourhood bosses say a white family with four kids already living on the Island has been offered the house … The family are next on the housing waiting list … A spokesman for Isle of Dogs neighbourhood said G, whose family have lived on the Island 150 years, was squatting as she did not have the tenancy to her uncle’s house. (ELA 7 October 1993)

In the report, ‘G’ was never referred to as ‘white’. However, the colour photo emphasised her whiteness while the report constructed her historical claim to local housing. The journalist’s statement that her family had lived on the Island for 150 years reinforced Beackon’s statement that her family ‘has lived on the Island for generations’. Beackon’s reference to a ‘tip off’ that ‘an Asian family’ was to be given the house was rebutted in a way that did not contest the notion that an ‘Asian’ family could have equal claim to an Island home. The council officers legitimised the claim of the family to whom they had allocated the property by saying that not only were they ‘next on the waiting list’, but also that they were white and ‘already living on the Island’. In this discourse, it is common sense that only a white person may claim multigenerational Island roots. The ‘Down Memory Lane’ and ‘East End History’ weekly local history articles also normalised the idea of the East End population as always having been white by not including any figures from history whom they could not fit into that category. Between September 1993 and May 1994 there were no references to people who may have been of African or Asian descent. In contrast, the description of a nineteenth-century emigrant from the East End, the father of American comedian W. C. Fields, further consolidated the construction of the East End as having always been white: ‘Being of East End stock he cut a dashing figure with long locks of blond hair and a flowing moustache’ (ELA 18 November 1993). Richard Dyer has argued that, by assuming that ‘white’ people are ‘just people’ and ‘just human’, their power to speak for all of humanity is asserted (Dyer 1997: 2–3). At the same time, other groups are categorised and investigated. The discourse makes the voices of those it sees as the ‘ethnic other’ passive, as they become the subjects of measurement, analysis and political debate, a process Hage defined as ‘a discourse of internal orientalism’ (Hage 1998: 17). The reporting of the two opinion polls also worked to render invisible and to normalise the whiteness of the subcategories ‘British’ and ‘East Ender’ at the same time as it objectified the ‘ethnic other’, making it passive. The position of white people at the top of the hierarchy of belonging was further consolidated through the use of the words ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. The Sunday Express opinion poll article rendered the white population invisible by not referring to the ‘ethnicity’ of those interviewed. The report broke down the poll results according to categories of age, geographical location, social class and support for political parties. ‘Ethnic background’ or ‘immigration status’

Tolerance, the Invisible Empire and the Hierarchy of Belonging


were not separate categories. Neither was the category ‘immigrant’ clearly defined. The questions that included the term ‘ethnic minorities’ made it clear that the respondents were assumed to be ‘white’, not ‘ethnic minorities’ or ‘immigrants’. Nor was there any suggestion that a large proportion of the category ‘immigrant’ had been born in Britain or defined themselves as ‘white’. The only reference to ‘white’ as a category was to the ‘unemployment among whites’ in deprived areas. Those at the bottom of the hierarchy of belonging, the passive subjects of the poll, ‘ethnic minorities’, were tolerated by or suffered the racism of the majority. The invisible white people were in a position of either being racist towards or tolerant of ‘immigrants’ and ‘ethnic minorities’. The East London Advertiser phone vote also normalised the idea of the white ‘East Ender’ by not analysing the ethnicity of voters. There was no analysis to compare the voting numbers with the population of the borough, the readership of the newspaper or the votes that may have been cast by people living elsewhere. In the 1991 national Census, 67 per cent of the population of Tower Hamlets defined themselves as ‘white’ while the paper’s headline was: ‘More than 81 per cent supported the BNP’ (ELA 30 September 1993). The meaning of the headline was that that 81 per cent of ‘East Enders’ supported the BNP, and ‘East Enders’ were ‘white’. However, as I demonstrated in Chapter 4, several Bengali and AfricanCaribbean people whom I interviewed who had been involved in the campaigns to defeat the BNP in 1993-/4 in Tower Hamlets, (SA: 3, AD: 2 JB: 8) claimed that they were ‘East Enders’ but were conscious of the pressures from white East Enders to either exclude them from that category or to construct them as a a lesser status ‘East Ender’ with less right to belong to the East End. These examples illustrate the power of the dominant discourse to impose the meaning of ‘East Enders’ as a fixed category of white people. All of the above people are the ‘them’ in the dominant discourse about the East End. They are not constructed as having the right to speak as ‘us’ or ‘we’ in discussions about ‘East Enders’. However, there was evidence in the discourses of the local press that the category of ‘East Enders’ was not always so fixed. Minorities who achieved fame or fortune could become ‘East Enders’. As subjects of the dominant discourse, outsiders who contest that discourse are forced to do so on its terms. The case of the boxer, Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, demonstrates that the category of ‘East Ender’ is more fluid than the discourse of ‘born and bred East Enders’ suggests. ‘Down Memory Lane’ reported that Lewis was the son of a ‘Russian cabinet maker’, mentioning his Russian but omitting his Jewish roots. There was no mention of why he changed his name from a recognisably foreign one, Gershon Mendeloff, to a common British one, Ted Lewis (ELA 28 October 1993). The hierarchy of belonging is not fixed. Success and a name change can contribute to a shift up the ladder of belonging. However, there was no comparable mention of integrating Asian or African people in the media discourse about the East End past despite the many references to the British Empire in the two newspapers. The newspapers use what I refer to as ‘mercantile discourse’ in which the British Empire is constructed as a source of


The Invisible Empire

wealth and profit while references to the people who produced those goods or the violence that compelled them to do so are edited out. For example, a report about the Tower Pageant in the ELA referred to the Thames as ‘the basis of London’s trade’ and to ‘huge wealth’ pouring into London through the docks (ELA 21 April 1994). An article about alterations made to a Hackney mansion by ‘a rich silk merchant’ in the seventeenth century reported that ‘tradesmen who had made their pile from the growing empire’ were settling in Hackney because of its proximity to the Thames (ELA 24 March 1994). In this discourse, the processes of wealth accumulation and the people whose labour made or transported the profitable merchandise were invisible while the long-term association between white ‘East Enders’, merchants and the goods and profits of Empire were ‘common sense’. When the Asian subjects of Empire were included in the mercantile discourse, they were constructed as passive and transient. Between September 1993 and May 1994 there were only two references to the past local histories of people from Africa and Asia in the ELA and EEL. Both were in short reports on ‘The Peopling of London’ exhibition running at the Museum of London. ‘East End History’ described the exhibition as charting: the evolution of London from its establishment as a Roman trading port in AD 50 through the invasions of Germanic tribes, the influx of Jewish settlers and Flemish Weavers ... immigration from Italy, Ireland, Germany and Holland and the development of the British Empire right up to the present (EEL 16 December 1993).

While the text listed the European countries from which immigrants had come to settle in London, it referred only to the ‘development of the British Empire’ with no indication of settlement by people from the British colonies before independence. The only direct reference to Africans or Asians in ‘East End History’ was to ‘lascar’ sailors in the accompanying photograph and the opening of the Strangers’ Home in 1857. However, there was no explanation of what either a ‘lascar’ or the ‘Strangers’ Home was.14 The ‘Down Memory Lane’ article about the same exhibition gave a little more information: 14  ‘Lascars’ was the term used to categorise men from Asia employed on European ships. Seamen from the Indian subcontinent (many from Bengal) were employed in increasing numbers on East India Company (EIC) ships travelling to England from at least 1685. Although the EIC obliged ‘lascars’ to return promptly,due to the trade imbalance (much more was imported from India than exported to the subcontinent), they were forced to remain in Britain for long periods before they found work on homebound ships (Visram 2002). The Strangers’Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders opened in Limehouse, East London in 1857. It served as a hostel, repatriation centre and evangelising mission for lascars (Visram 2002: 59–60). See Chapter 6 for wider ranging discussion of ‘lascars’.

Tolerance, the Invisible Empire and the Hierarchy of Belonging


For hundreds of years different nationalities had been invited to settle in London to help London develop a centre of business. Germans settled in Spitalfields in the late middle ages working as smiths, jewellers and sugar bakers. Indians, Chinese and Somalis first appeared in the area from the 1600s. These ‘lascars’ came as crew on ships returning from India and the Far East, but were often dumped as soon as they reached London … .(ELA 28 April 1994)

Whilst the article implied that migrants from Germany had been ‘invited’ for their skills, ‘lascars’ were referred to as having been ‘dumped’. The article went on to detail the religious persecution that forced Huguenots and Jews to migrate to England, constructing Jews and Huguenots as actively ‘fleeing’ persecution. When ‘lascars’ or Bengalis were referred to, there was no mention of why they left their land, their skills or the fact that they had settled in London before the Second World War. Both papers constructed the ‘lascars’ as passive passers-through. The suggestion was that, while others had emigrated to, and settled in, Britain for employment or after fleeing religious persecution, the ‘lascars’ had passed through between sea voyages. Their lives, and the goods and profits of Empire, were kept separate. The violence of Empire was completely absent. No link was made between the British Empire and the Bengali and other Asian and African populations of East London in the 1990s. Also absent from dominant discourses on the East End past were the attempts by successive British governments to repatriate and control African and Asian subjects of the British Empire who attempted to settle in Britain. By the 1850s between 5,000 and 6,000 ‘lascars’ were crewing ships to Britain every year and, by 1938, over 50,700 South Asian men crewed British merchant ships worldwide (Visram 2002: 225). The 1823 Lascar Act and the 1894 Merchant Shipping Act prevented the settlement of ‘lascars’ in the United Kingdom. Further attempts at repatriation were made by the Home and India Offices in 1919 and 1921. However, most of those targeted for repatriation refused to join the ships commissioned to ‘return’ them, and the government focus shifted to restricting the admission of ‘coloured seamen’.15 I investigate these exclusionary policies in more detail in Chapter 6. The discourses of the East London Advertiser and East End Life during 1993-4 exemplify how histories that legitimise the dominant group were included, while those that could legitimise the claims of subordinate groups to share local or national space were absent. The top of the ‘hierarchy of belonging’ was occupied by those categorised as white ‘Islanders’ and white ‘East Enders’, constructed as having had local (white) histories stretching back many generations. They were represented as having contributed to the area’s development through low-paid labour, building and working in the docks and associated industries. In contrast, 15  The 1925 Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order under the 1919 Aliens Act required all ‘coloured alien seamen’ to register with the police (Visram 2002: 205–6). This is examined further in Chapter 6


The Invisible Empire

Bengalis were constructed as having had no relationship with the area prior to the 1970s. They were recent incomers who benefitted from local authority housing and social security without having contributed anything. This put them low down the hierarchy of belonging. Challenges to the Hierarchy of Belonging While links between the goods, profits, violence and people of the Empire were consistently absent from the dominant discourse, they were explicit in the discourses of British Bengalis whom I interviewed. MR lived with his parents and sisters in Tower Hamlets and campaigned against the BNP councillor. His grandfather had been a merchant seaman and had later worked with MR’s father in textile factories in the north of England while MR was growing up in Bangladesh. Before DNA testing many dependents, like MR had been unable to come to England as children because the immigration authority doubted their paternity. In condemning the BNP policy of deportation of ‘immigrants’, MR contextualised his argument: They are ignoring the fact that what Britain is today, is a lot of blood and sweat from the people of Bangladesh, India, Africa and other countries, not only in this country, but in colonial times, in India and Africa. All the wealth was coming from all over the world … and then after the Second World War there was a crisis of labour and people were invited to rebuild this country and produce goods to sell to the Third World again … so they are making a double profit … Britain, what it is today, is due to hundreds of years of colonialism … .(MR)

Informed both by his family history and his readings, MR clearly viewed the colonial histories of Britain and Bangladesh within a single framework, making explicit the links between goods, violence and the people of Empire that are absent in the ‘mercantile discourse’. Abdul Wahab, an ex-‘lascar’, interviewed for an oral history project several years before MR, made a similar point based on his own experience:16 My home is Sylhet … I was born in 1914 … when I was young there were English people in Sylhet, in the tea gardens … I went to ship because I was very 16  In 1987, Caroline Adams, a Tower Hamlets youth and community worker, published oral life-histories of ten ‘lascars’, including that of Abdul Wahab, Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers: Life Stories of Pioneer Sylheti Settlers in Britain (London: THAP Books 1987). That collection, another collection edited by Yousuf Choudhury, The Roots and Tales of Bangladeshi Settlers (Birmingham: Sylheti Social History Group 1993), and a history of Asian settlement in Britain by Rozina Visram, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: Indians in Britain 1700–1947 (London: Pluto Press 1986), were available in local bookshops and libraries during the time of this study in 1993–94. Nonetheless, they were not referred to in the discourses of the local or national media at the time.

Tolerance, the Invisible Empire and the Hierarchy of Belonging


poor, no work, no money … I have been on many ships … All Sylheti people in engine room crew. Hamburg, New York, London. The work was terribly hard; many men died of heat. We had to fight for the British in the war because otherwise England would be finished ... I ran from the ship in London, we were seven men ... the police caught the others ... First job in London in restaurant ... . (Abdul Wahab quoted in Adams 1987: 209–10)

Both Abdul Wahab’s recollections and MR’s analysis link the British colony of India with the British metropole in a ‘commonsense’ way that asserts their right to belong in Britain. It seems obvious that Abdul Wahab should have looked for work in England; after all, the English were working in Sylhet. Moreover, the fact that Bengali migrants were motivated by the need to escape poverty is explicit. Despite government attempts to keep colonial subjects out of Britain, and contrary to the dominant construction of the East End as white, a survey in the 1930s estimated that there were up to 300 families with ‘African or West Indian heads’ and up to 3,000 ‘Indians’ living in Stepney and Canning Town (Visram 1999: 29–48).17 A 1944 report counted 400 ‘coloured people’ living in Stepney. Almost half were ‘Indians’, while most of the others were ‘West Africans’, ‘West Indians’ or from ‘Ceylon, Malaya and Aden’. Sixty-one of the 136 children classified as ‘half-caste’ had ‘Indian’ fathers (Visram 2002: 274).18 What became of the children in the reports? It cannot be assumed either that a ‘white’ family that claims to have lived in the East End for generations has not got Asian or African ancestors or that an ‘Asian’ family has not got long-term links with the area. The hierarchy of belonging is not as fixed as dominant discourses about East End history suggest. Conclusion: Tolerance and Belonging By introducing the dimension of power into the investigation of the keyword ‘tolerance’ and linking it with constructions of belonging in the context of violent events in East London in 1993–94, I have demonstrated how those who are at the top of a hierarchy of belonging have the power to grant or withhold tolerance from those at the bottom. The study has also revealed how the dominant discourse about Britishness can be flexible in determining both who has the power to grant or withdraw tolerance and who are the subjects of that tolerance. The mystification of the coercion that lies behind the notion of tolerance acts to ensure that the tolerance 17  The old borough of Stepney lies within the current boundaries of Tower Hamlets. Canning Town is in the borough of Newham, bordering Tower Hamlets. 18  The first report was commissioned by Methodists and carried out by Nancie Sharpe during the 1930s. The 1944 ‘Report on Investigation into the Conditions of the Coloured Population in a Stepney Area’ was written by a committee of Stepney residents, including a local Muslim, Shahibdad Khan. Cited in Visram (1999: 41 and 2002: 274).


The Invisible Empire

of the former group towards the latter is perceived as an act of benevolence, and that tolerance is accepted as a commonsense positive national quality in the dominant liberal discourse. The discourses of the East London Advertiser and East End Life exemplify how histories that legitimise the implicit right to belong of the dominant group and their allies are perpetuated, so that they remain at the top of the hierarchy of belonging. On the other hand, histories, such as those of the thousands of Indian seamen, which could legitimise the claims of subordinate groups to share local or national space, are excluded; they remain near the bottom of the hierarchy of belonging. Those at the top of the hierarchy have the power to grant or withdraw tolerance. Those at the bottom are the subjects of their tolerance or intolerance. Contrary to their representation as fixed categories in the dominant discourse, those included within the categories of tolerators and their subjects can change. In seventeenth-century England only Anglicans were able to grant tolerance. In Britain in the 1990s national and local politicians of different parties, in alliance with people who categorised themselves as ‘East Enders’ and ‘Islanders’, and the assumed white respondents of opinion polls tolerated or were intolerant of Asians, ethnic minorities or Bengalis. The granters and subjects of tolerance change while the notion of tolerance as a positive British national characteristic remains the same. The positive associations of tolerance in the dominant discourse works to obscure the violence of racism from those who have no experience of it. The racism experienced by Bengali and black residents of the East End rarely entered media discourses during 1993-4. Neither did historical experiences of racism appear in discourses examined during the same period. The mercantile discourse, exemplified in the histories of the goods and profits of Empire narrated in the local press, conceals the violence inherent in processes of British expansion and the uprooting of people in migrations. Euphemism and the passive voice, used to describe the arrival of Bengalis and people from across the colonies in the docks of East London, work to mask the contradiction between the facts of colonial domination and the continual dominant assertion of Britain as a tolerant country. The Invisible Empire has been a constant presence in this and previous chapters as I have argued its centrality, in different contexts, to the dominant discourse about Britishness. In the following chapter I shift the focus directly onto the historical threads that connect specific policies and practices of the British Empire with contemporary dominant discourses about Britishness and hierarchies of belonging.

Chapter 6

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories Introduction In previous chapters I have demonstrated that when the history of the East India Docks and the British Empire were narrated in the local newspapers, they excluded any mention of the East India Company, its military power, its colonisation of Bengal and its consequences for the Bengali population in Bengal and the Diaspora. When trade in tea or textiles was mentioned, it was in relation to the wealth it generated for merchants in the East End, and never in relation to the displacement or coercion of the labour of Bengalis and others. The forced cultivation of indigo and opium, the bonded labour of weavers and spinners, the repatriated tax revenues and the British role in creating the famines of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries were never referred to. The thousands of Indian seamen, including those from Bengal and the Punjab, who worked on ships that landed in London between 1650 and the Second World War (Fisher 2004, Visram 2002) were invisible even when the East India Docks were the subject of interest. An East End Life article on the development of part of the old East India Dock in 1994 demonstrates how the mercantile discourse defies challenge through ostensibly not being about the population of the East End. It is about flowers not people: Britain’s seafaring past has left an unlikely legacy … when the Beckton extension to the DLR [Docklands Light Railway] was built, it disrupted the soil bringing hundreds of seeds, buried for years, to the surface, where they found the perfect environment. The plants had stowed away on ships coming from all over the globe. 140 species were discovered in a survey. (EEL 9 September 1994)

The discourse gives life, body and legitimacy to the ‘unlikely legacy’ of plants. Yet the likely legacy of Britain’s seafaring past, the descendants of men whose lives were consumed by British colonialism, who travelled legally on board the same ships and who found a hostile environment onshore, is rendered invisible when the mercantile discourse is deployed. Fifteen years later, a part of the original   For investigations of different aspects of East India Company interventions in Bengal and Britain see Bowen (2006), Bolts (1772), Hossain (1988), Sen (1997), Davis (2002), Robins (2006).


The Invisible Empire

East India Dock complex has a new life as a nature reserve. In 2009 visitors can stroll along a path that skirts the lock which was the entrance to the basin through which ships passed to enter the import and export docks.  They can walk over huge stones that make up the sides of the docks. There are signs that alert visitors to the different species of birds that can be spotted, yet there is nothing to remind them of the history of the docks and the connections across the globe. The website of the authority that runs the nature reserve includes only one sentence about its history: East India Dock Basin is the last remaining section of the once grand East India Docks, famous for transporting spices from the Far East in the 1880s. Now the site is a nature reserve and attracts birds such as Black Redstart and Kingfishers …

It is seventy years out of date (the docks were opened in 1806) and ignores any trading or migration links with south Asia or the most significant China tea trade. What continues to be edited out of the discourse about East End histories, what the historian Catherine Hall refers to as ‘the amnesia of empire’ illustrative of what the anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot describes as ‘bundles of silences’ is as significant as the images and memories which were mobilised (Hall 2002: 5, Michel-Rolph Trouillot 1995). The foregrounding of the natural history of the East India Docks illustrates the insignificance of the histories of the people who worked on ships even in the context of the physical space of the docks themselves and of the local populations with roots in south Asia who might be a group targeted to take advantage of local leisure facilities. Throughout this book I have sought to locate and question the Invisible Empire. I have identified where and when negative references to the British Empire have been obscured in the dominant discourse about British culture and why, what may be perceived as positive histories, have been highlighted. At various junctures I have mobilised competing discourses about the past in order to expose the Invisible Empire. In doing so I have drawn on the research of historians whose work challenges those dominant discourses. In the introduction to Chapters 1 and 2 I argued that my use of work such as their’s is not an exercise in academic ‘pick and mix’ from ‘history’s sweetshop’ (Goldthorpe 1991: 225). Rather, it is an application of ‘connected histories’ (Subrahmanyam 1997) where interest lies in the possibilities of global connections rather than the disciplinary constructions of difference. This study develops new understandings about Britishness and   The nature reserve is in part of the East India Dock Basin which is directly east of the filled in export dock, now the Virginia Quay residential estate and south east of the filled in import dock which now houses an office complex, both discussed in Chapter 2.   This single sentence contrasts with the space given for histories of other parks and nature reserves on the same authority’s website. For example Dobbs Weir and Tottenham Marshes both have five sentences of history, whilst Rye House Gatehouse has eighteen. ( basin/dock_basin.aspx accessed 11 March 2009).

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


belonging through exposing hidden connected histories of the Invisible Empire in discourses of Britishness past and present. These connected histories continue to be obscured in dominant discourses about Britain because they are constitutive of Britain’s economy and dominant cultures and of its political and economic connections with the rest of the world. In this chapter I mobilise alternative, connected histories that are constituents of existing discourses associated with various subordinate groups that seek to challenge the dominant representations of Britain and the British Empire. In challenging those representations they are also challenging contemporary legislative and cultural practices as well as global economic arrangements that discriminate against people living in, or who have migrated from Britain’s ex-colonies. To understand these connections in different guises I use the example of Indian merchant seamen; men who in their thousands embodied the connections between Britain and South Asia, East London and Bengal over several centuries. Through focusing on aspects of their lives in the colonial era I am able to delve further into some of the threads of hidden connecting histories that I have already picked up on through this book. In Chapter 3 I demonstrated how media racial categorisations worked to construct British Bengali people as passive and easily manipulated by ‘outside extremists’ and that the violence in which they were actively involved during an antiracist demonstration was ‘irrational’. Through focusing on the lives of Indian seamen, I investigate both the absences that make the violence of Empire invisible and analyse colonial genealogies of the racial categories that continue to subjectify people from the Indian subcontinent. I demonstrate how the racial categorisations are intimately connected to historical statutory processes of exclusion since the seventeenth century. Through working with a single analytic framework of ‘postcolonial’ Britain and the Indian subcontinent tied for 400 years by the comings and goings of ships and their crews and regulated by Navigation legislation I am able to expose the historic connections, the discursive genealogies and the hidden memories that, through their suppression sustain the Invisible Empire and order contemporary hierarchies of belonging in the dominant discourse about Britishness. I begin by focusing on specific aspects and processes of colonial racialised classification in the Indian subcontinent and then demonstrate that these were part of dominant racial discourses in England through the mobility of Indian seamen and the creation and practices of the Navigation and Merchant Shipping Acts. I then explore a significant but hidden challenge to those discourses that occurred at the beginning of the Second World War. In the final section I briefly examine how ‘violence’ was used in colonial discourses and in reference to Indian seamen. In making connections I follow a thread that highlights the links between Bengal and east London. In doing so I am aware that the other multiple historical and cultural threads and intersectional identities are obscured. My intention is to   I am referring to the complex and changing identities of people moulded in to colonial categorisations and to the intricate webs of movement of peoples within and across continents.


The Invisible Empire

draw attention to those complexities through focusing on one aspect of previously elided connections. Colonial Racialised Classifications A British school textbook published before the First World War, in both Britain and India was explicit about the characteristics of Indian ‘races’: The story of our great conquest by small bands of Englishmen reads more like a fairy tale than plain history. The fact is, that the Bengalees, with whom we had first to do, were so slavish and timid that any bold soldier would be like a dog driving a flock of sheep. It was harder work when we came to fight the warlike troops of the Mahrattas and Mohammedans, who had long been used to oppress their peaceful neighbours. (The Illustrated Continental Geography Readers: Asia: 45)

The racialised discourse used in this imperialist history was rooted in and had been significantly created by the colonial rulers. There is an extensive literature on the racial categories invented and employed by the East India Company and British Raj in India (Metcalfe 1997, Sinha 1995). In the nineteenth century India was described as the ‘laboratory of mankind’ and ‘living museum of mankind’ as colonial anthropologists worked to sort the physical characteristics of people and to define and classify them into ‘castes’ and ‘types’. Colonial administrators used these classifications and the easily comprehensible hierarchy into which they were fitted to impose their order and to control the complexities of Indian societies. After the military rebellion against the British in 1857 the opposition between the peoples classified into the ‘martial races’ (many of whom had sided with the British) who could be safely recruited into the Indian Army and the untrustworthy, rebellious categories, including Bengalis, became stark. There has been considerable work on the classifications of the ‘martial races’ used in the recruiting of soldiers from specific areas and castes to extend the British Empire in India and elsewhere (Muzamdar 2003, Streets 2004). Recent work has looked beyond the descriptions and use of the classifications in organising the subjects of Empire to show how economic and exclusionary processes of recruitment into the military contributed towards the creation of the racial attributes that defined specific categories. In the case of Gurkhas in the late nineteenth century, Gavin Rand has shown that payments made by British military recruiters ensured that individuals who did not fit the   In his authoritative classificatory text The People of India published in 1915, the colonial administrator and anthropologist H. H. Risley classified the people of India into seven physiologically defined ‘types’. Endogamous ‘castes’ were ‘races’ with shared physical characteristics that marked cultural differences. Types were the result of strict marriage within castes (Pinney 1990).

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


martial stereotypes were not recruited (Rand 2008). Richard Fox demonstrated that the process of recruiting the largest ‘martial race’ into the Indian Army, the Sikhs, involved ensuring that only ‘pure’ and baptised Sikhs who conformed to an idealised version of monotheistic Sikhism, distinct from polytheistic Hinduism and its influences, were recruited. The British officers insisted that they strictly observed the customs of uncut hair, wearing a bangle, carrying a dagger and having the name Singh. It was thought that if they were influenced by Hindu customs that they would lose their martial abilities (Fox 1985). This dominant racialised discourse constructed an opposition between the sheep-like Bengalis and the warlike ‘martial races’ taught to nineteenth and twentieth-century British schoolchildren. The discursive categories contrasted with and gave meaning to each other. The late nineteenth-century discourse built on the well honed stereotypes of the middle class Bengali. In the 1830s the British colonial administrator and MP ‘Thomas Macaulay’ had used climatic determinism to explain the supposed ‘languor’, ‘indolence’ and feeble ‘effeminacy’ of the Bengali male. The heat and humidity of Bengal combined with a diet of easily cultivable and cheap rice and an English education to create the category of the ‘Bengali babu’. In parallel, in his famous ‘Minute on Education’ Macaulay had called for a class of Indians who would be educated in the English education system and who would therefore be able to manage the administration of colonial India in British interests (Metcalfe 1997: 105). After the 1857 rebellion and during the twentieth-century struggles for independence, the stereotype of the ‘babu’ was common amongst British colonial officials, as one described: Babu jokes based on the English language either wrongly or over-effusively applied, were a constant source of amusement for all Anglo-India. Coupled with the denigration of the Babu was a traditional distrust of the Bengali –’litigious, very fond of argument’ –who was frequently seen as a trouble maker: ‘He doesn’t appeal to many British people in the same way as the much more manly, direct type from upper India’. (Allen 1975: 37 quoted in Bose 2003: 147)

This absurd stereotype and assertion of power by the English-speaking colonialists through the belittling of the language used by their colonial subjects worked to make the activity of Bengalis in both the non-violent independence movement and the armed insurrections appear as signs of immaturity or irrationality. Purnima Bose has argued that the colonial caricature of the educated Bengali male as ‘effeminate’, ‘bookish’ and altogether ridiculous was used by colonial authorities to discredit nationalist aspirations (2003: 129). Peasants, tribal groups and Indian  Macaulay was secretary to the Board of Control that regulated the East India Company administration of India from 1832 until 1833. He was a member of the Supreme Council of India from 1834 to 1838 when he argued that English should be the medium of education. Macaulay was in India from 1834 to 1838. In reference to Bengalis, Macaulay concluded that there had never existed ‘a people so thoroughly fitted by habit for a foreign yoke’


The Invisible Empire

princes, were conceived of as childlike and naïve and therefore needing to benefit from British rule. Bose quotes a former colonial official as saying ‘British officers in colonial situations always … like the simple, unspoilt people’ (Bose 2003: 147 quoting Allen 1975). Such as, for example, those constructed in the discourses of the imperial school text book where old peasants were described as spending their evenings ‘exchanging gossip or listening to stories of which they are as fond of as children’ and British schooled princes who enjoyed their palaces and pageantry so long as they complied with the British rulers: If any of them, on coming to his inheritance should forget the lessons given him, not far from his splendid palace there is sure to be living an English Gentleman, who, with far less pomp has more real power. This is the British Resident, placed there quietly to keep an eye on the doings of the prince he has in charge: and he knows how and when to interfere if things go wrong. (The Illustrated Continental Geography Readers: Asia: 72–3)

As well as the racial ‘types’ that dominated the colonial discourse in the Indian subcontinent, racialised terms also described and defined different categories of labourers. The ‘coolie’ was the unskilled, mobile Indian labourer and the ‘lascar’ was the ‘coolie’ of the maritime labour force. Both terms had their origins in Indian languages (kuli) and Farsi (lashkar), however new and demeaning connotations became attached to them through the processes of recruitment of bonded and indentured labourers transported to work on plantations across India and Britain’s other colonies and of merchant seamen who were subjects of discriminatory British merchant shipping legislation. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries mass movements of Indian people took place due to the labour requirements of newly established British tea plantations in remote areas of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) rubber plantations in Malaya (Malaysia) and sugar plantations in Fiji. Following the abolition of slavery in British colonies in 1834 hundreds of thousands of Indian indentured labourers sailed to work in sugar plantations in Mauritius, Natal (South Africa) and the Caribbean. Indians also moved across India and to South Africa to work in mines and factories and as labourers and traders in East Africa. The term ‘coolie’ was used in a derogatory   The etymology the word ‘coolie’ is disputed. There are suggestions that it is derived from the name of a population group from western India (Kuli), the Tamil word for ‘wages’ (kuli) or the Turkish word for slave (qul) or the Farsi for back (kul), hence labourers who carry heavy loads are kuli. ‘Lascar’ is derived from the Farsi lashkar meaning a regiment. The lashkari were the group of men attached to a piece of artillery. In The Merchant Seamen’s War, Tony Lane asserts that the term ‘lascar’ was not pejorative (1990: 174). However, his account does not analyse how the category was used in practice to structure discrimination or strip individuality and agency from Indian seamen.   During the same time period, Indian soldiers also fought campaigns on behalf of the British Empire in Burma, China, Afghanistan, Persia (Iran), Mesopotamia (Iraq), East Africa and Palestine.

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


way across British colonies to label those workers who came from a range of diverse Indian, Chinese and Malay populations, who spoke different languages and had various religious and cultural beliefs and practices. ‘Coolie’ became a term of abuse for Asian populations in many parts of the world. As a subject category ‘coolie’ denied the multiple identities of the people it contained and placed them at the bottom of social and racial hierarchies. Gopal Balachandran has argued that the ‘lascar’ is the maritime equivalent of ‘coolie’ (Balachandran 2005). In British colonial discourse, the category of ‘lascar’ did not originally describe a racialised ‘type’ since Indian seamen, like indentured labourers, came from very diverse regional, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Rather it defined the terms of employment of maritime labourers contracted in gangs (Fisher 2004: 33). The classification of ‘lascar’ forced all Indian seamen into a sealed category that ensured that they remained at the base of British Merchant Navy hierarchies. The place of the ‘lascar’ in that hierarchy was secured through British parliamentary legislation and East India Company regulations and maintained through the racialized discourses and practices of white ship owners, white crews and seamen’s unions and dockside populations. It therefore became a racialized category. As well as denying ‘lascars’ employment rights granted to other seamen, the legislation worked to exclude the ‘lascars’, who were British subjects, from settlement in the United Kingdom over a period of three hundred years. ‘Lascars’ and Maritime Discrimination The classification of Indian seamen, including Bengalis and Punjabis, as ‘lascars’ and parallel processes of legislative exclusion from rights that others enjoyed cannot be understood outside of the metropole-colony framework. Events and associated discourses in Britain and south Asia impacted on each other throughout the colonial period but are nearly invisible in contemporary discussions of Britishness and belonging. In talking about immigration laws, it is usual for British policy makers and academics to begin with the Aliens Act of 1905. This piece of legislation was a response to migrations of Jews from Eastern Europe. Although the 1905 Aliens Act was the first Act with the primary aim of restricting immigration introduced in peacetime, it was not the first one to have that effect. Earlier legislation and practices worked to exclude specific categories of people. All of these and post 1905 legislation were the result of political struggles in the context of their time but should also be seen in the relation to each other. One of the reasons that histories of immigration to Britain have often started in 1905 is that the lives, backgrounds and concerns of Indian seamen have been marginal, if visible at all. In this section I use evidence about the migrations of Indian seamen gleaned from the recent groundbreaking work of historians Michael Fisher and Rozina Visram in order to show how successive legislation has intentionally or unintentionally worked to exclude working class men from the Indian subcontinent from rights to settlement in Britain since the 1600s.


The Invisible Empire

It is likely that Indian seamen have been travelling to London since the beginning of the seventeenth century. In 1600 Queen Elizabeth the First of England granted a Charter to the East India Company giving it a monopoly on the importation of goods to England from the East Indies. Because of the two year voyages and high value of goods transported, East India Company ships (East Indiamen), were larger and more heavily manned than ships conducting trade with other parts of the globe (Rediker 1987: 39). No ship sailing out of London would return with its original crew since many would have either perished or left the ship in order to seek more lucrative opportunities abroad. Indian, Chinese and African seamen were recruited from different ports at various historical moments. Recent historical research by Fisher (2004) and Visram (2002) has provided plentiful evidence of the steady and increasing numbers of Indian seamen who spent varying amounts of time in the dockside areas of London and elsewhere, some waiting months or years for a passage home, others attempting to establish a life in England. Their research is especially significant since it has challenged the dominant historical narratives that assert that the migration to and settlement of south Asian people in Britain is a post Second World War phenomena. Although their work has begun to be taken up by historians and social scientists in the academy, dominant political, media and social policy discourses have not shifted to accommodate these histories. In the concluding chapter I investigate the implications of this for contemporary discourses on Britishness and belonging. In this chapter I examine how parliamentary legislation was used over a period of four hundred years to exclude people classified as ‘lascars’ from obtaining equal rights to British seamen. This is significant to any contemporary discussion of belonging. Navigation and Merchant Shipping Acts, Racial Categorisation and Processes of Exclusion The Navigation Acts and Merchant Shipping Acts were significant not only for their obvious role of restricting the entry and settlement to Britain of people from the Indian subcontinent, but also for constructing legal categories of who could not be British. Those who were not categorised as British had no rights to settle in Britain. The 1660 Navigation Act (Section 7), introduced under the government of Oliver Cromwell, stipulated that the Master and three quarters of an English registered ship importing goods from Asia had to be English. The Act retained most of its force until it was repealed in 1849 (Davis 1962: 136; Fisher 2004: 37). A majority of Indian seamen could legally be employed east, but not west of the Cape of Good Hope. In practice, for many reasons, the legal requirements were not followed and ships arrived in Britain with more than twenty five percent Indian crews. In 1695 William Hodges wrote in ‘An Humble Representation of the Seamen’s Misery’ that an East Indiaman might lose between one quarter to half of its original crew (quoted in Davis 1962: 153). Edward Barlow an English seamen who sailed to the East Indies in 1690, wrote that most sailors had scurvy

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


by the time they were half way down the African coast. Barlow also remarked on the unhealthy condition of Indian ports (Rediker 1987: 40). Because of their relative scarcity, English sailors recruited in India cost up to 70 per cent more than those recruited in England. Moreover these regulations were suspended by the Government in wartime when British merchant sailors were pressed into service on Royal Navy ships. A 1704 Parliamentary Act allowed half and a 1708 Act allowed three quarters of the crew to be foreigners in wartime. Although it was unfeasible to control the employment of Indian seamen by ship owners and captains in India, their employment could be controlled in British ports. The Navigation Acts were enforced in Britain so that ships leaving Britain for Asia only employed up to 25 per cent of Indian crews and in some cases the East India Company required that its ships had all British crews (Fisher 2004: 38). This led to an obvious imbalance. Indian seamen who arrived in London on British ships found it hard to be employed on returning ships, thus becoming familiar figures in London. From the early 1700s the East India Company received reports about Indian seamen begging in the streets (ibid: 38). Some of those seamen were from present day Bangladesh. According to Visram (2002: 15) in 1765 ‘an Indian visitor to Britain noted that the English were not ‘unaquainted’ with ‘Chatgaon [Chittagong] and Juhangeer Nuggur [Dhaka] lascars’. In 1785 armed Indian and Chinese seamen fought each other in Stepney and in 1806 there was a riot between over two hundred Indian and Chinese sailors in Angel Gardens, Wapping (Visram 2002: 16; Fisher 2004: 146 and 160). By the early nineteenth century about one thousand Asian seamen were arriving annually in Britain (Fisher 2004: 66). Hostility to the presence of Indian seamen in Britain was a constant feature in East India Company, Parliamentary and philanthropic discourse throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Different arguments against allowing the settlement of ‘lascars’, with various reasons and justifications were mobilised at specific moments. However, their final aim was consistent throughout the period: Indian seamen should stay in Britain for as short a period as possible and during that time should be controlled and kept separate from the indigenous population. Justifications for repatriating Indian seamen from the East India Company were economic and political. They wanted to ensure that wage rates were kept at a minimal level and did not want to upset public opinion in Britain. Parliament forced them to pay for the upkeep of Indian seamen in Britain and to repatriate them as passengers on outgoing ships (Fisher 2004: 39). The Poor Laws which ensured that vagrant paupers were returned to their parishes could not apply to Indian seamen. The Company and Government were also wary of losing political prestige in India through negative reports reaching Asia from employees who had spent time in Britain. For example, in 1801, in seeking to prevent Indian seamen travelling to Britain, Scottish Tory MP and campaigner against the abolition of the slave trade, Henry Dundas, argued that:   Fisher puts the figure for those involved in the 1806 fight as 150 Indian and 300 Chinese seamen.


The Invisible Empire The contemptuous Reports which they disseminate on their Return cannot fail to have a very unfavourable influence on the Minds of our Asiatic subjects whose Reverence of our Character … will be gradually exchanged for the most degrading conception. (Letter from Henry Dundas to the Committee of the House of Commons, quoted in Visram 2002: 31)

Philanthropists were appalled by the wretched conditions of ‘lascars’ who were, at different times, homeless, underdressed and starving in the streets. ‘Asiatic Blacks’ constituted ten percent of the hundreds of ‘Black Poor’ assisted by the ‘Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor’ created in 1786, some of whom were shipped to settle in Sierra Leone (Fisher 2004: 67, Visram 2002: 21–5). Christian missionaries returned from India were afraid that the image of Christian England would suffer if returning seamen told tales of English prostitution, homelessness and public houses. The assumption that ‘lascars needed spiritual and moral welfare’ and to be controlled and kept separate from the indigenous British working class, led to the opening of the ‘Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders Home in Limehouse in 1857. As well as providing accommodation and a place for Christian evangelism, it acted as a Repatriation Centre, with the India Office donating £200 of Indian tax-payer’s money annually for the upkeep of ‘destitutes’ awaiting repatriation (Visram 2002: 59–60). Restrictions to travelling to Britain continued to be imposed throughout the nineteenth century by both the British government and the East India Company. In 1802 the British government forbade Indian seamen from being employed west of the Cape of Good Hope and in 1808 the East India Company resolved to employ neither Chinese nor Indian seamen (Visram 2002: 16, Fisher 2004: 139). Despite the resolve, Indians were employed by both the Royal Navy and the East India Company during the Napoleonic Wars. Between 1803 and 1813 a total of 10,050 ‘lascars’ were reported to have arrived in Britain on merchant navy ships. In 1814 the East India Company transported back to India over a hundred Indians who had worked on Royal Navy ships during the wars (Fisher 2004: 140). However, when the Napoleonic wars ended, new regulations were introduced that specifically excluded Indian seamen from being categorised as British for the purposes of the Navigation Acts. The aim was to ensure that ships registered on and sailing from India did not employ Indians including those who might have sought to rejoin in Britain as British crew members: no Asiatic sailors, Lascars or natives of any territories … within the limits of the Charter of the East India Company, although born in the territories … under the Government of His Majesty or the East India Company, shall at any time be deemed or taken to be British sailors. (1814 regulation quoted in Visram 2002: 16)

This legalised discrimination was only applied to Asian seamen. African and Caribbean sailors had the right to be classified as British (Fisher 2004: 171).

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


Nine years later, the 1823 Merchant Shipping Act (‘Lascar Act’) imposed further restrictions on Indian seamen and confirmed the legal category of ‘lascar’ as not being British citizens. ‘Lascar Articles’ stipulated that Indian seamen could only be discharged and paid off in India. Any Indian seamen convicted of vagrancy in Britain had to be repatriated by the East India Company. Captains who failed to report the arrival of Asian seamen in Britain faced a fine of £10. The informer whose information led to the capture of escaped seamen would receive a third of the fine. The rest would pay for the prosecution and maintenance of the illegal immigrant seaman (Fisher 2004: 176). In her detailed investigation into the conditions of Indian seamen since the 1600s, Rozina Visram, has demonstrated that the enshrining of the inferior racial category of ‘lascar’ into British law, ensured that ‘the legal minimum standard of accommodation for lascars on board ships, their contractual position and diet scales lagged far behind those of white seamen’ with no similar enactments being applied to African or Caribbean Seamen. The 1823 ‘Lascar Act’ was not repealed until 1963 which ensured that their inferior conditions continued. (Visram 2002: 30). The increase in imperial trade led to the British Parliament redefining ‘lascars’ as ‘British’ in 1849. However, their ‘lascar’ status ensured that they did not enjoy the full rights of other British subjects and laws were passed denying them settlement rights. The need for ‘lascar’ labour was stimulated by the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal and the introduction of steam ships which employed Indian seamen to stoke the furnaces. Many cargo and passenger shipping lines employed one hundred per cent ‘lascar’ crews. There was therefore an increase in the numbers of Indian seamen travelling to Britain. Their increased presence in the dockside localities continued to be a focus of racial hostilities and government and philanthropic anxieties, resulting in them being made the subjects of further exclusionary legislation. The 1854 Act forced ship owners to pay a fine of £30 if any ‘lascar’ was left behind in Britain and the 1894 Merchant Shipping Act bound ‘lascars’ to return to India by giving ship owners enhanced powers to place Indian seamen on ships from any British port heading back to India. Indian seamen who failed to do this could be prosecuted (Visram 2002: 56, Fisher 2004: 385). The pressure to return Indian seamen to India can be understood in the context of the Poor Laws whereby British vagrants would be forced to return to their original parish which would then be responsible for their welfare. Despite the demand for their labour, working conditions for Indian seamen remained worse than for their European counterparts. In 1914 they earned less than a quarter of that paid to white British seamen doing equivalent work. They were given lower quality food and were each entitled to just over half the space on board allocated to Europeans (Visram 2002: 55). Indian seamen continued to be employed in large numbers during the First World War and by 1919 made up 20 percent of the British maritime labour force. By the outbreak of the Second World War they made up over a quarter. The 1823 Indian Merchant Shipping Act, still in place, ensured that their conditions of labour remained inferior to that of British sailors. They worked longer hours, were not paid overtime and were entitled to less


The Invisible Empire

living space. They did not receive pensions because although ship owners, under the 1911 National Insurance Act, were obliged to contribute to a pension fund for ‘lascars’, seamen who did not live in Britain were excluded from receiving the pension. Instead, white ex-seamen benefitted from the payments (Visram 2002: 55 and 225–6). In 1925 the Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order came into force following pressure from the Home Office, Board of Trade and the National Sailor’s and Fireman’s Union (NSFU). The order stipulated that ‘coloured alien seamen are required to register with the police whether or not they have been in the United Kingdom for more than two months since their last arrival’. The aim of the order was to ‘prevent the entry and ‘accumulation’ of ‘coloured seamen’ who it was alleged ‘competed in the overstocked labour market’ causing ‘serious discontent’ among British sailors (Visram 2002: 206). Indian seamen were legally British subjects, not ‘Aliens’. However, it was hard for ‘lascars’ to prove that they were British subjects because sailors were not required to carry passports. Unlike white seamen, ‘lascars’ official documentation, their continuous discharge certificates, were not accepted as proof of nationality. The ‘justification’ being that they were often trafficked (Visram 2002: 206–7). However, the practices of ship owners and government officials ensured that they and other undocumented ‘coloured’ people living in Britain became the subjects of this racially discriminatory legislation.10 I have listed the stream of discriminatory legislation and Company regulations against ‘lascars’ over a period of two hundred and fifty years, but beyond references to the increasing numbers of Indian seamen and occasional fights between different groups of seamen, I have not fully examined the reasons for the antipathy against ‘lascars’. Neither have I investigated the competing interests of those in government, the East India Company and later the seamen’s unions that meant that Indian seamen, kept separate through being classified as ‘lascars’ were forced to remain in a liminal state in Britain. The shifting politics of those powerful organisations and how they impacted on the lives of Indian seamen and littoral communities are discussed in detail in the historical research work of Balachandran (2005), Fisher (2004) and Visram (2002). The suffocating processes of legislative discrimination against Indian seamen summarised above is a result of struggles that their research demonstrates. Their narratives and analyses provide a framework for understanding how the discursive category of ‘lascar’ was mobilised instrumentally, resulting in the Indian seamen being, to quote Visram, at the bottom of the ‘hierarchy of citizenship’ (2002: 218). My aim here is to build on their historical research to establish political, economic and discursive continuities and 10  The 1925 legislation was in part a reaction to the 1919 ‘Race Riots’ which took place across a number of seaports in the post First World War period of 1919, 1920 and 1921 during mass demobilisation from the army. White crowds attacked African, Arab and African Caribbean sailors. Indian Seamen were also targeted although their second class legal status meant that it was hard for them to compete for jobs or housing, see Jenkinson(2009) and Visram (2002).

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


connections between the administrative and discursive categorisations of racial groups in colonised India, of ‘lascar’ and ‘coolies’ in the maritime and mobilised Indian labour force and the dominant discursive categories that subjectify Bengali and other ‘communities’ in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Britain. In the following section I focus on official discourses about the characteristics of ‘lascars’ through the period examined above. Racial Characteristics of ‘Lascars’ The humanity of Indian seamen was denied in innumerable instances and the racialised category of ‘lascar’ facilitated the many types of violence inflicted on Indian men in India, at sea and at British ports. In 1810 the ship Elizabeth sank off Dunkirk. It was returning to India with 320 ‘lascars’, mainly passengers. In his memoirs, the ship owner wrote of using an oar to beat off ‘lascars’ from his lifeboat. He considered ‘lascars’ as ‘virtual animals, easily panicked and useless in a crisis’. 310 Indian seamen and 8 Indian female servants died (Fisher 2004: 138 quoting Eastwick, Master Mariner, 262–82 and Times, 1 January 1811 4d–e). The characteristics ascribed to ‘lascars’ by their employers and others included some of those applied to Indian peasants in the colonial discourses described above. ‘Lascars’ were docile and content to do what they were ordered to do by their superiors; this also meant that they were cowardly and unmanly. These characteristics and implied lack of agency were seen as making them vulnerable to ‘outside agitators’ who sought to manipulate them into insubordination. When rebellions occurred it was assumed to be isolated and irrational. The following examples from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries demonstrate how in dominant discourses about Indian seamen, the relationship between the compliant ‘lascars’ and the external agitators echoed that between the childlike peasant and the troublesome, educated, untrustworthy Bengali in the discourse of the British colonial administration examined above. In the early nineteenth century Christian evangelicals and social reformers focused on ‘lascars’ both as subjects for religious conversion and as needing protection from sexually predatory working class white women and the owner of the dirty and overcrowded ‘depot’ where ‘lascars’ were forced to live whilst in London. The East India Company-appointed surgeon argued that the social reformers were being misled by a criminal minority of ‘lascars’ who up until their ‘interference’ had been disciplined and controlled by the gang masters (serangs) responsible for recruiting, managing and disciplining ‘lascars’ aboard and onshore. In a letter to Parliament in 1815 East India Company Directors wrote: We are compelled to notice that insubordination has been of late much increased by the injudicious though well meant interference of the Society for the Protection of Asiatic Seamen. (Fisher 2004: 169)


The Invisible Empire

In 1823 a group of ‘lascars’, led by their serang, complained to the Lord Mayor of London that they were starved and treated cruelly in Britain. They refused to board their ship until the captain paid them wages owed. The captain blamed a professional British letter writer for the agitation and a report in the Times made similar assumptions: For some time past some evil-minded fellows have been using their efforts to excite a spirit of insubordination amongst the Lascars in the East end of the town. (Fisher 2004: 174, quoting the Times 9 December 1823)

On board ships, British commentators attributed familiar characteristics of cowardice to Indian seamen. In 1902 a contributor to a provincial newspaper, wrote that ‘coolies’ … [lacked] ‘two o’clock morning courage’ which was the great trait of the British character’ (Hull Daily Mail 16 January 1902 in Balachandran 2003: 4).11 However, this was a positive trait from the perspectives of employers who, from the 1890s, were reacting against the increasing militancy and expense of European seamen and therefore recruited more Indian, African and Caribbean crews. In 1903, Captain Hood, a retired ship master wrote a report, ‘The Blight of Insubordination’ in opposition to criticism of the employment of Indian seamen by the press, unions and parliament. He asserted that Indian seamen were: more completely the servants of the ship owner while under engagement than any other group of men doing similar work that ship owners have ever had to do the work for them. (in Balachandran 2003: 3)

The racial characteristics ascribed to ‘lascars’ were contingent on political struggles between the different interest groups of the government, ship owners and unions. In 1893 in an enquiry into the loss of the ship, Roumania, a British captain explained ‘lascar’ inaptitude as because they were ‘absolutely useless in cold weather’ whereas, 20 years later in a celebratory look at the P&O shipping line their ability to endure cold was praised and explained creatively: The Lascars are a race of sailors, and take kindly to seafaring ways …The crew sign on for two years, and are docile and easy to handle … Lascars bear cold better than Europeans, provided they are not kept in it too long. This is due to the amount of caloric absorbed into their systems under their own tropical sun. (Mitton 1913: 57–8) 11  This echoes unpleasantly with Hillary Clinton’s campaign to win the Democratic nomination for US President against Barack Obama. “I want you to think, ‘Who do you want to have in the White House answering the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning when some crisis breaks out around the world? Who is best prepared to be commander in chief on day one?’” (Reuters 21 February 2009: idUSN2146357320080221).

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


The construction of ‘lascar’ docility obviously has to be understood in the context of the marginal positions that Indian seafarers were forced into through the legislation and discriminatory practices. In this context they also became the focus of anger from British trade unions for whom they were seen as a threat to wage rates and conditions. However, labour organisation was hard since, although there had been attempts at union organisation amongst Indian seamen in Britain, in colonial India, trades unions were not made legal until 1926. Moreover, Indian seamen joined ships at the distant ports of Calcutta and Bombay and came from very diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds having been forced by poverty to seek work on ships. Where they have existed at all in historical writing, discourses about Indian seamen, especially those from Bengal, constructed them as small peasants who took to sea to supplement their incomes. The discourses of the state and of employers represented seamen arriving in Kolkata (Calcutta) or Mumbai (Bombay) from their villages and finding work on ships through the serangs. Serangs were intermediaries in the labour market, leaders and enforcers of discipline of shipping crews on board vessels and on land at foreign ports. Suchetana Chattopadhay has shown that, contrary to the stated views of shipping companies, the seamen did not willingly depend on these brokers, who would take the majority of their wages. However, the shipping companies encouraged the brokers as, through controlling the workforce, they ‘weakened the collective bargaining power of the seamen’. The sailors formed a trade union in 1918 and went on strike for better conditions in the early 1920s (Chattopadhay 2008). Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Kolkata seamen struggled to undermine the intermediaries and develop systems of recruitment based on length of time on land (Balachandran 2003: 8). Until the 1940s, British seamen’s unions refused to accept Indian seamen’s unions. In 1936 negotiations, Indian unions’ demands for universally higher wages and a shorter working week were thwarted by the British unions which agreed on principles of difference and worse conditions for Indian seamen (ibid).12 The global strikes by Indian seamen at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, powerfully and publicly challenged the notion of the compliant and childlike ‘lascar’. Their actions forced the ship owners and British government to accept Indian seafarers’ demands at the same time as they tried to isolate and control supposed non-typical ‘agitators’. As Britain went to war, white seamen earned nine pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence whilst ‘lascars’ earned one pound and 17 shillings. Their hours, food allowances, space allowances and clothing allowances were all significantly worse than those of white sailors. Indian seamen started demanding a hundred percent wage rise before the war was officially declared and three days after that declaration 12  Indian Seamen supported a 56 hour week at sea and 48 hours at port for all. However the British unions supported 64 hours at sea and 56 on land. The latter also agreed for a longer transition period for Indian crews, unregulated hours on sailing days and overtime compensation in the form of time off rather than additional wages (Balachandran 2003).


The Invisible Empire

eight ships were on strike. As the strike spread some owners capitulated to the ‘lascar’ demands whilst others prosecuted them for breach of contract and there were mass arrests of ‘lascars’ who were given prison sentences with hard labour of up to twelve weeks. By December 1939 hundreds of Indian seamen were in prison and the strike had spread to ships in India, Burma, South Africa and Australia. As with the supposed ‘insubordination’ of ‘lascars’ in the previous century it was assumed by government and shipping companies that ‘political agitators’ and ‘foreign agents’ had instigated the strikes rather than seeing them as part of a wider industrial dispute over longstanding economic and political complaints. The actions of the hundreds of Indian seamen demonstrated the depth of grievances, For example, the case of the SS Mulbera in November 1939. The all Indian crew refused to go to sea without a hundred percent pay rise, a £10 bonus and warm clothing. Four alleged ‘ring leaders’ were arrested and sentenced to twelve weeks hard labour. The remaining ninety six Indian crew men were told the case would be dropped if they went to sea. They refused and were all imprisoned for eight weeks hard labour (Visram 2002: 236–9 passim). Visram has documented many similar examples of strikes, arrests and insinuations of outside interference that took place in the first few months of the war. She has also investigated the organisation, struggles, set backs and achievements of the Indian seamen up to the end of the war and the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. Although the Indian seamen did not achieve conditions equal to those of white seamen, they made substantial gains (Visram 2002: 238–53 passim). Balachandran has argued that the 1939–40 strike was pivotal to the long struggle of transforming the status of Indian seamen in the British shipping industry. He has argued that ‘Indian seamen went into these strikes as coolies and emerged from them as workers’ (2005). In the process of that transformation taking place approximately 6,600 Indian seamen lost their lives whilst 1,022 were badly wounded and 1,217 were taken prisoners of war. The invisibility of their lives and roles in the war is poignantly exemplified in the monument to those killed in the British Merchant Navy in the two World Wars. Of the 26,833 names on the memorial very few are Asian. Visram points out that this is because the memorial only records those who had managed to serve on British Articles by somehow circumventing all the restrictions imposed on them that sought to prevent their settlement in Britain. The huge majority who died served under the racially discriminatory Lascar Articles and the names of those men who were killed were not recorded (2002: 347). Notwithstanding the histories of Indian seamen’s industrial actions, Tony Lane quotes a P&O ship’s master writing in 1957 who preferred Indian crews to British because, with the latter: there were endless disputes to be settled … who compared with our peaceable Lascars, seemed to live in a perpetual ferment of disagreement either with each other or with me.

In contrast, the ‘lascar’ was said to be:

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


normally good-tempered and cheerful, chattering and laughing to his nearest shipmate as he works, occasionally breaking into snatches of song … The Lascar cannot dissemble; and if he has plainly ceased to be cheerful, something is radically wrong. There is a charming, childlike quality in his nature; he responds instantly to treatment, as a child does. It is essential that he be shown a certain amount of kindness and consideration, to which he will react in the most rewarding fashion, so that a sagacious Chief Officer will take more than a little trouble to ‘jolly him along. (Lane 1990: 182)

Ships records demonstrated that officers or companies had no interest in the social and economic backgrounds, political allegiances or cultures of Indian seamen. In 1965 when P&O published a guide for its officers on Asian crews, the only information provided was on regions of origin and whether or not they were loyal servants (ibid: 183). Whilst the term ‘lascar’ ceased to be used in official discourses in India in the 1920s it continued to be used in Britain by shipping unions which did not cease denigrating them as maritime ‘coolies’. In 1973 P&O had to warn its officers against using ‘the terms “Native”, “Asiatic”, or “Lascar”’ in reference to passengers, crews or people ashore (Balachandran 2003: 4). The examples above demonstrate the flexible, shifting and contingent constructions of the exclusionary legislative and discursive category of ‘lascar’ in dominant discourses about Indian seamen during the colonial and postcolonial periods. I have also shown that they were continually contested, resulting in the sometimes conflicting characteristics attributed to ‘lascars’. This discussion has established connections between the processes and practices of racialised and hierarchical categorisations of Indian people in colonised India and in Britain during the same timeframe embodied in the lives of Indian seamen. Violence in Colonial Discourse The processes of classification discussed in this chapter were embedded in the covert and overt violence that sustained the British Empire. This included the overt violence of the militarised state, the frequent brutality of the ships’ captains and of the disciplining by the serangs. The covert violence included the colonial taxation and administrative systems that caused disruption and famine throughout the colonial period and which led to the mass migrations of indentured labourers, labelled as ‘coolies’ and ‘lascars’, and the legislative racial discrimination that denied equal pay and conditions to the racialised category of ‘lascar’. These inventories of violence have remained invisible in dominant discourses about the histories of migration of Bengalis and other South Asians to Britain. In dominant colonial discourses about colonised India, violence most often was named as such when its agents were ‘natives’ and its victims were British. However, when the victims were Indian and the perpetrators were British the violence was not always named as such. As Purnima Bose has pointed out overt

The Invisible Empire


and covert violence permeated the British colonial state. Overt violence such as the machine gunning of Indian crowds during the Quit India movement of 1942 and covert violence such as the scorched earth policy in Bengal and requisitioning of food supplies that contributed to the Bengal famine of 1943 were rarely named as such. She further argues that the term ‘nonviolence’ that described the Indian independence movement worked to ‘occlude native victims of violence’. The ‘violence’ of natives was presented in dominant colonial narratives as irrational and insurgency and armed revolts were ‘anarchic’, ‘instinctual’ and ‘external’ (Bose 2003: 132–3). Bose tracks these discourses of violence into recent writings of ‘Raj Nostalgia’ where, for example in recollections about the riots at partition, Indians were pathologised for communal violence whilst the British rulers are exculpated ‘from any responsibility for either the origins of the riots or their continuance’ (ibid 195). In Chapter 3 I demonstrated how ‘violence’ as a keyword was used in 1993 in dominant police and media discourses about a ‘riot’ in east London in strategically similar ways to those described above. The young Bengali men fighting the police were viewed as irrational perpetrators of violence and it was assumed that, left alone, they would not have been fighting the police. Outside agitators were represented as having been responsible for rousing the passive ‘local Bengalis’ and the armed and armoured police were represented as victims of their violence. In this chapter I have used evidence gleaned from the comings and goings of ships and their crews over a four hundred year period to expose the historic links, the discursive genealogies and the hidden memories that connect events and discourses in twentieth-century London with those of colonised India. Together, when hidden, they sustain the Invisible Empire in the dominant discourse about Britishness. Conclusion At the height of the British Raj the school textbook with which I began this chapter set out a familiar justification for British rule in India: What makes our magistrates respected, above all, is that the natives know they will tell the truth and do justice. Lying is the weak part of the eastern nations, as of all who have not been used to freedom; yet they understand what an advantage it is to have to do with men whose word can be trusted. The most sensible of the natives must see also the benefits of British rule. Other conquerors have overrun foreign lands merely to plunder and destroy; but we think of the real good of the people. We give them roads, railways, canals, telegraphs and schools. We keep them from fighting with each other. (The Illustrated Continental Geography Readers: Asia: 47)

A more recent example of how the dominant white liberal discourse is used to counter the Invisible Empire through the use of the opposition between the docile

‘Lascars’, Colonial Genealogies and Exclusionary Categories


and passive ‘lascar’ and the dishonest Indian intellectual occurred in 2006 in The Guardian. Under the title ‘In the balance: Ian Jack finds a friend of Empire in Bangladesh’, The Scottish writer, posed the question that ‘if colonialism was so black, why was it only sporadically and unevenly hated by the colonised’ (Ian Jack, The Guardian 8 July 2006). He used the example of an ex-lascar’s nostalgia for British parks and women to argue against an article in the same newspaper by the Indian academic, Priyamvada Gopal, which was a criticism of media-savvy British historians who sought to disguise the violence of the British Empire. 13 Gopal was arguing for ‘more informed honesty about the past’ in contemporary Britain. She referred to the work of historians and economists which laid bare the processes of oppression and violence and specified numbers of colonised subjects who had died in famines and massacres and of those who had suffered the processes of enslavement and indenture under British rule. Jack began to undermine Gopal’s argument by contesting the numbers of dead that she quoted using the tone of a better informed and more balanced teacher, suggesting that ‘there were assertions to quibble with’. He quoted the ‘famine tables’ from the 1982 edition of the Cambridge Economic History of India to say that’ six or seven million people had died and many of those ‘from epidemics’ in the famines of 1896–1900 rather than Gopal’s total of 17–20 million deaths. Although Gopal had not directly referred to the scientific-sounding ‘famine tables’, one of the recent scholars whose evidence she used, Mike Davis, had included a table of famine mortality in which he had shown a range of estimates for the numbers dead in British India between 1896 and 1902, as well as numbers for the 1876 to 1879 famine. This included the estimate of 19 million for the later period by The Lancet in 1901 and that of 6.1 million by the Cambridge Economic History of India (Davis 2001: 7).14 Jack had mobilised the lowest estimated figure available and asserted that his source was the authoritative version, allowing no space for discussion about the possibility for different estimates. Statistics can always be mobilised in different ways and for varied reasons and it is unlikely that Ian Jack was unaware of other decimating famines, including the Bengal famines of 1769 and 1943, at the beginning and close of the British Raj, that Gopal had not referred to. If she was trying to play a numbers game she could have legitimately done so. To further counter Gopal’s argument that popular British historians were dishonestly supporting a nostalgic view of a benign empire Jack used anecdotal reminiscences gleaned from a meeting with a retired Indian seaman in Sylhet. Jack wrote that he had once visited Sylhet to meet ‘ex-lascars’. In a remote village he met an elderly man living in a house with a corrugated metal roof. He used the roof to slip in a point about positive by-products of imperialism. 13  The piece was titled ‘The story peddled by imperial apologists is a poisonous fairytale’. Gopal was critiquing the work of historians Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts. 14  As well as the work of Davis, Gopal also based her argument on the works of Amartya Sen, Nicholas Dirks, Mahmood Mamdani, Caroline Elkins and Walter Rodney.


The Invisible Empire During the first world war, when Jute was in demand for sandbags, so much money was made by the jute growers that they could spend their surpluses on importing new rainproof roofs from Britain, and soon they appeared in every village. (Jack, 2006)

There was no discussion of why jute was a major cash crop, of why Bengali peasants had to be part of the European led global war or why corrugated iron that had been manufactured widely and traded globally since the 1840s took seventy years to reach Sylhet.15 Jack then used the voice of the seaman to support his argument that every colonised subject did not hate the empire: The parks in London’ he said ‘they were very beautiful’ and good jams, he’d liked those. And the sight of women – women! – working behind counters in post offices. Last, something that had happened during a stay on the Clyde. ‘A large ship was being built. The Queen came. Men did this with their hats’ – and here he laughed and drew off his Muslim cap and waved it in the air. What he had witnessed, I worked out, was the launch of the Queen Mary in 1934. (Jack 2006)

The stereotype of the docile Bengali Muslim (who was possibly being polite to his unexpected guest) was used instrumentally to introduce positive representations of Britishness and silence others. Jack’s final sentence works to undermine the evidence of all the scholars referred to by Gopal; The variety of human experience, I sometimes think, is far too rich to fit the generalisations of the polemical historian. (Jack 2006)

Jack used carefully chosen words from a seemingly unthreatening Sylheti exseamen as ‘balance’ in order to dismiss arguments from Indian, African and US scholars that expose the violence of the Invisible Empire. This twenty-first-century example of the dominant white liberal discourse retains the nineteenth century binary construction of the docile and compliant ‘lascar’ and the untrustworthy, interfering educated Indian intellectual. It is challenged by the reminiscences of the retired seaman, Adul Wahab, of the seagoing grandfather of MR discussed in Chapter 5 and by the evidence of the experiences of Indian seamen researched by Visram, Balachandran, Fisher, Lane, Choudhury and Adams.16

15  Corrugated iron was invented in 1829 by an employee of the London Docks. During the 1830s and 40s it was used widely for railway terminus and navy slips. From the 1840s it was used widely by gold prospectors in California, Australia and South Africa. Adam Mornement and Simon Holloway (2007). 16  Jack was also challenged by writers of two letters in the following week’s Guardian. Ania Loomba and Richard Knights both critiqued his use of a ‘lascar’s’ supposed nostalgia to defend the British Empire (The Guardian 15 July 2006).


Exposing the Invisible Empire: Towards Commonality and Metropolitan Belonging Introduction In April 2009 the Pakistan born British journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, was detained at JFK airport in New York, on the basis, he discovered, of his journalistic trips to Pakistan and his Muslim name. The following week he wrote a satirical piece in The Guardian in which he decried the pressure put on Muslims to distance themselves from extremists. The article demonstrates the frustrations of being continually categorised and analysed. How to tell I’m not a terrorist: We Muslims clearly need to help panicking police and border officials. Would a big tattoo help? … So here are a few suggestions for how to help the police, airport immigration and anyone else who finds it hard to differentiate between liberal and extremist Muslims. All Muslims who consider themselves liberal and tolerant could apply for a special card which when presented would show the holder was a “preapproved Muslim”, thus saving time at airports. Sure, some may say that such a card would represent a gross violation of human rights but I think it could be marketed like a credit card: membership has its privileges – in this case not being indiscriminately arrested or held up when travelling (Sarfraz Manzoor, The Guardian 25 April 2009).

Whilst Manzoors’s imagery drew on the tattooing of Jews by the Nazis, the idea of the ‘pre-approved’ card has a history in the identity cards issued to educated Bengali Hindus in colonial Bengal during the 1930–34 Chittagong Uprising which the British rulers interpreted (wrongly) as a Hindu rebellion: A curfew order was placed on all Hindu bhadrolok [middle class] youths in selected areas requiring them to remain in their houses between sunset and sunrise. They were also forbidden to use bicycles. The Order, under Section 4 of Ordinance X of 1932 said all other members of the public should assist by arresting and handing over to the nearest police and military, any person found disobeying orders’ … All bhadrolok youths between the ages of twelve and twenty-five were made to carry identity cards at all times. The cards were


The Invisible Empire divided into white (no suspicion), yellow (some suspicion) and red (highly suspicious). (Chatterjee 1999: 228)

Separated by 70 years, two continents, colonial and ‘postcolonial’ contexts, both examples illustrate the easy assumptions and simplifications about ‘types’ of people in dominant discourses which are used as a basis for control by those with more power. The revolutionaries the British rulers were chasing depended on the support that they received from local Muslims who were also persecuted during British ‘anti-terrorist’ raids in 1930s Bengal (Chatterjee 1999: 292–7). The dominant discourse of the British Raj constructed the Chittagong population in terms of distinctions, differences and ‘types’ and therefore did not predict the shared interests and relationships between ‘two communities who neither saw the other as the “other”’ (ibid.: 293). Similarly the JFK airport authorities were only able to see Manzoor as a Pakistani Muslim, not as someone who, maybe like them, would travel to New York to visit galleries. My point is not that differences are unimportant in peoples’ lives, rather I am concerned with how separate and fixed categories are constructed and re-constructed in the dominant discourses and are mobilised by dominant alliances to control subordinate groups. Equally significant is how subordinate groups are able to challenge those dominant discourses. In the introduction to this book, I used the examples of a private argument and school-gate conversations to introduce and locate the dominant white liberal discourse about Britishness and to identify its pivotal element, the Invisible Empire. I also showed how, dependent on the Invisible Empire, other constituents of that discourse work to privilege and naturalise white experiences whilst other groups of people are categorised and subjectified as the ethnic ‘other’. Through focusing on contests to the dominant white liberal discourse in local and national anniversary events (in Chapters 1 and 2) and in local political and cultural events (in Chapters 3 and 4) and media discourses (Chapter 5) aspects of the Invisible Empire were made visible. Throughout the analysis I have linked the dominant and subordinate discourses to specific organisations, institutions or groups of people in order to reveal how they are grounded in economic and political struggles. I identified the white liberal discourse and demonstrated its flexibility in a range of very specific contexts. In each example I showed the centrality of the Invisible Empire to notions of Britishness. The examples demonstrated how the discursive mobilisations of the Invisible Empire worked to obscure past and present power relationships between the (ex)-colonies and (ex)-metropole and between the (ex)-subjects of the British Empire and the (ex)-colonisers. The chapters also show how the discourse works at a micro level in the construction of exclusive and essentialised categories and, through the discourse of tolerance, the hierarchical structuring of those categories. Throughout this book Britain and its (ex) colonies and protectorates have been understood as an analytic whole in both past and present. The exposure of the Invisible Empire through the analyses of the anniversaries of the opening of the West and East India Docks, events surrounding the attacks on Quddus Ali, the

Towards Commonality and Metropolitan Belonging


election of a BNP councillor and the workings of discourses of tolerance have necessarily all taken place in the context of a postcolonial metropole-colony framework. The colonial and postcolonial links were made explicit in Chapter 6 where I investigated the hidden histories of Indian seamen whose lives embodied the connections and power relationships between Britain and Bengal. This process of revealing and dissecting the Invisible Empire demonstrate how its centrality in the dominant discourse works to deny the connected histories and shared interests of different groups of people. By obscuring the economic oppression and political violence it also erases the different but common histories of struggle by people across the globe. It therefore feeds into an erasure of commonality and an exaggeration of diversity in discourses of contemporary politics and social life I pick up on these threads of commonality and connections in this concluding chapter, bringing together some of the themes already discussed to explore how the dominant white discourse about Britishness works in relation to contemporary discourses about ‘multicultural politics’. My intervention in the much researched area of multicultural policy focuses on how the Invisible Empire, as the pivotal element of the discourse, and the constructed and essentialised categories of minorities, work to simplify the complexities of the life experiences of ‘minorities’ and to privilege difference at the expense of commonality. I also show how, in different ways, competing discourses associated with both the right and left of the political spectrum incorporate aspects of the Invisible Empire in developing their opposing critiques of contemporary politics of multiculturalism. As in the previous chapters I employ the same framework whereby Britain and Bengal are examined as an analytic whole. The ethnographic examples used are taken from east London, and the specific relationship between Britain and Bengal, present day Bangladesh, remains at the centre of the discussion. I combine my own grounded research with analyses of discourses where Tower Hamlets has been mobilised in order to support a particular critique of multicultural policies. In the first section I focus on contemporary issues of mobile labour linking back to the contexts and experiences of early South Asian travellers and settlers examined in Chapter 6. I highlight issues of politics, poverty, class and migration that are consistently obscured in contemporary white dominant discourses about minorities and modern manifestations of the Invisible Empire. In the second section I use the example of a competing discourse following the London bombings of July 2005 to demonstrate how the dominant discourse of multiculturalism worked to ignore the complexities of people’s lives and consolidate the category of ‘Muslim’. In the third section I examine opposing discourses that challenge government multicultural policies and show how they both, through modern mobilisations of the Invisible Empire simplify the complexities, contradictions and intersections of the lives of, in this case, Bengali people.

 On 7 July 2005, 4 British suicide bombers set off bombs on London’s public transport system killing 52 people.


The Invisible Empire

Exigencies of Migration: Remittances, Restaurants and Raids In the previous chapter I demonstrated how during colonial rule, Bengalis and other labourers from South Asia were transported to distant reaches of the British Empire. Categorised, in the racialised discourses and practices, as either ‘coolies’ or ‘lascars’ and forced to move by landlessness and debt, the mobile and industrially ‘unskilled’ labourers faced legalised discrimination and economic exploitation. Whilst many migrants succeeded in establishing themselves around the globe, the socio-economic and political inequalities have meant that millions of South Asians have continued to move across regions and continents in order to escape poverty. Before the 2007 global economic crisis, 200,000 documented Bangladesh nationals were leaving Bangladesh annually to work abroad as temporary migrant workers mainly in the Middle East and Malaysia. Unknown numbers of children, women and men from economically marginal backgrounds without official papers, cross the border to trade or labour in India. Their presence becomes a focus of political clashes when they are apprehended on the border or when the Indian authorities raid Muslim dominated slums as far away as Mumbai and Delhi (Ramachandran 2005). One million Bangladeshis are estimated to be living abroad permanently in Europe, North America and Australia. In 2003 international financial transactions (remittances) from Bangladeshis living abroad to Bangladesh through official channels totalled $3.18 billion (de Bruyn and Kuddus 2005: 26). This is greater than the total of foreign aid disbursed in Bangladesh (ibid.: 40). The majority of remittances are from migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries who, mostly working in appalling conditions, remit greater proportions of their relatively low wages because they are prohibited from settling in those states. Only 5 per cent of official total remittances to Bangladesh are from the UK, however those amounts are substantial. Between 1997 and 2002 this totalled $900 million. Further amounts of money are remitted through the undocumented and unofficial hundi route or via family and friends. These have been estimated as being equal to the amount sent through formal channels (de Bruyn 2006: 4).   Concern about working conditions are exemplified by recent reports of the deaths of migrants in the Bangladesh press. The number of dead bodies transported back to Bangladesh from the Middle East and South East Asia in 2008 was 2,237, in 2007 was 1,673, 2006 was 1,402, 2005 was 1,248 and 788 in 2004. A total of 904 bodies of migrant workers returned home between January and May 2009, 391 of whom died of cardiac arrests, 268 in workplace accidents, 62 in road accidents and the remaining from sickness and other reasons. Cardiologists said acute tension caused by uncertainties of income and unhealthy food habits may lead to deaths by heart attacks, while labour rights activists are emphatic that mental tension caused by low income, debts, and lack of medical care abroad lead to such deaths (Daily Star php?nid=87981).   The estimate is given as between 20 and 50 per cent in de Buyn (2005: 29) and as ‘probably equal the amount sent by formal channels’ in de Bruyn (2006: 4)

Towards Commonality and Metropolitan Belonging


Substantial sums are also remitted through local organisations (Eade and Garbin 2002). Roger Ballard has noted that the low income and poor housing of Sylheti Bengalis in Britain have been constant sources of concern to commentators yet few have taken remittances into account when calculating the relative ‘success’ as migrants. The figures quoted above support his argument that Bengalis continue to remit substantial percentages of their incomes back to the subcontinent where they are invested in property, land and businesses as well as in supporting extended family members. Ballard identifies ‘networks of reciprocity’, that include financial, social and emotional links that continue to tie people from Sylhet to their homes in Bangladesh and uses the term ‘transnational entrepreneurial activists’ to describe migrants who make the most all the opportunities that their transnational status allows (Ballard 2003). A significant amount of the money remitted to Bangladesh is derived from employment in the thousands of ‘Indian’ restaurants spread across the British Isles. The seeds of the Indian curry industry were sown by early visitors to Britain from India, including merchant seamen from Sylhet, who set up cafes to cater for themselves (Visram 2002; Adams 1987; Choudhury 1993). The term ‘Indian’ subsumed other South Asian identities involved in the restaurant trade. Most ‘Indian’ restaurants in Britain are owned and staffed by people from Sylhet, Bangladesh. Today, the category of ‘Indian restaurant worker’ could be used to describe a significant number of men who migrated and continue to migrate to Britain from Bengal and elsewhere. Many have become successful owners of businesses and have continued to employ newer migrants. In the late eighteenth century the British Empire was all pervasive in that its goods, including tea and textiles were part of British people’s lives. However, it has been a common view of historians that ‘empire simply did not loom all that large in the minds of most men and women back in Europe’ (Colley 1993: 98–9). This view has contributed to the belief that Empire took place ‘beyond the domestic horizons of Britons and hence outside the confines of British history’ (Armitage 2000: 16). A similar situation could be argued as existing today; economic and social connections between Britain and Bangladesh do not loom large in the minds of most people in Britain despite the presence of Bengali restaurants and their employees in so many towns and villages. The Empire’s perceived invisibility led to historians of Britain downplaying its significance; in a similar process dominant discourses about British Bengalis, through focusing on their identities through fixed categories such as, in the 1990s ‘Asians’ and especially since 2001, ‘Muslims’ they have smothered the complexities of lives lived across continents. Bengali restaurant workers who may not speak good English appear confined within their ‘communities’ through the long hours and low wages. However, as well as their cultural impact on the Britain, their remittances to Bangladesh are highly significant not only in terms of calculations of poverty but also in terms of the continuing social, cultural and political ties that they help maintain. Amartya Sen has forcefully argued against the enforcement of a single identity on individuals and groups. Like other social scientists he appreciates the utility of


The Invisible Empire

categorisations for understanding and analysing the social world, but calls for many more classifications so that, for example, he can be counted as a Bengali, an Indian citizen or a male. In previous chapters I have shown that in different British contexts, Bengalis have been subsumed into the racialised categories of ‘lascar’ and ‘Asian’ and have been excluded from and struggled to be included in the superficially racially unmarked categories ‘East Enders’ or ‘Cockneys’, ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’. Later in this chapter, I will show how the religiously defined category ‘Muslim’ which has dominated recent discourses about British Bengalis has also worked to simplify the complexities of Bengali lives through the privileging of one ‘identity’ over others. Each category has included meanings specific to their time and places but only the category ‘lascar’, the maritime equivalent of the ‘coolie’ has been specifically linked to their status as workers. In Chapter 6 I showed that Indian seamen came from a variety of rural regional, language and religious backgrounds including from present day Bangladesh and that during the period of the British Empire, they made up the majority of people from the Indian subcontinent who arrived and sometimes settled in Britain. The majority were British subjects who, through being categorised as ‘lascars’, were discriminated against in law on the basis of their ‘race’ but who continued to work with low pay and poor conditions because of their marginal socio-economic and political situations. In order to demonstrate how, through simple categorisations of culturally defined ‘identity’, the dominant discourse about Britishness denies the complexities and ongoing connections with the subcontinent of Bengali lives, I focus on their often ignored status as workers, partners and owners within the ‘Indian restaurant’ industry. An estimated 60 per cent of Sylheti Bengali men aged between 20 and 30 are employed in the catering industry (Ballard 2001: 44). Recent research into the conditions of Bengali restaurant workers in Brick Lane found that most interviewed were paid below the minimum wage, in cash and many without having tax or national insurance deducted. The report described how, despite the long hours, shift work and difficult working conditions, the workers remained because of the lack of other opportunities that allowed them to work with low levels of English. Most of them remitted £250 ($380) per month back to family in Bangladesh (Community Links 2009). Restaurants continue to be the first employment for newly arrived Bengali male migrants irrespective of their educational background. They are an unpopular option for second generation Bengali men because of the low status and pay, hard physical labour, limited holidays and insecurity when sick as well as abusive managements. However, amongst those interviewed, Salway found that most second generation young men in Tower Hamlets and Camden had close connections with restaurants, many having worked in them. Part of the reason for these employment patterns was their exclusion from other sectors (Salway 2008: 1140). The claims and campaigns of two business organisations, the Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA) and the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs (GBR), demonstrate the continuing importance of the trade to the lives of both owners and employees and the continuing links with Bangladesh in terms of employment as well as the remittances discussed above.

Towards Commonality and Metropolitan Belonging


The BCA, founded in 1960, claims to represent 12,000 British-Bangladeshi restaurants employing 90,000 people, mostly of Bangladeshi origin across the UK with a total turnover of £3.5 billion (BCA 2009). The GBR founded in the 1990s claims that there are over 9,500 ‘Indian’ restaurant businesses employing 72,000 Bengalis and with a total annual turnover of £3.2 billion. They say that they serve three million meals per week to (mainly to non-Bengali) customers (GBR 2009). Following the 2008 changes in the British immigration rules to a ‘points based’ system and the mandatory proficiency in English for workers from outside the European Union, both the BCA and GBR have been campaigning for exemptions for restaurant workers from Bangladesh. The BCA claims that there is a shortage of 30,000 restaurant workers in Bangladeshi restaurants and that British (including of Bengali descent) and European workers are not prepared to work in the restaurants long enough to gain and use the necessary skills. The BCA joined with Turkish, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani caterers to form the Ethnic Caterers Alliance (ECA) and organised a demonstration against the new rules in Trafalgar Square in April 2008 that attracted between 3,000 and 10,000 people. Both organisations have called for an end to raids by the UK Border Agency which target restaurants and takeaways, arresting and deporting Bengali men working as chefs and waiters without the correct documentation, forcing the restaurants to close due to lack of staff and fining owners up to £10,000 per illegal employee. The ‘Latest News’ page of the Home Office’s Border Agency gives out regular information of successful raids of illegal workers in restaurants across the UK: Officers visited the Bengal Brasserie in Brecon … They found that all four of its employees had no legal right to live or work in the United Kingdom – a 36-yearold was a failed asylum seeker, a 30-year-old had overstayed his visa, and a 28year-old and a 50-year-old had both entered the country illegally. All four will be removed from the country once the Agency has secured the necessary emergency travel documents. The takeaway was forced to close for the evening because no members of staff who could legally work in the United Kingdom were left on site … Following the raids, all four restaurants and takeaways were served with notices of potential liability for employing illegal workers. (UKBA 2009)

The BCA has also been campaigning for the establishment of a ‘Curry College’ to train people in Britain for the work (Caroline Davies, The Observer 15 March 2009).   Articles about the BCA’s lobbying titled ‘BCA President Mr Bajloor Rashid meets Mr Stephen Timms MP, Financial Secretary To HM Treasury’, ‘BCA President attends Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) Stakeholder Forum Meeting’, ‘BCA President meets Mr Damian Green MP, Shadow Immigration Minister and Conservative leader Ms Ann Main MP’ (BCA 2009).   The former figure claimed by the BBC (20 April 2008), the second by Asian Image (23 April 2008).


The Invisible Empire

As well as representing the interests of the curry industry to government the BCA organises activities to promote ‘Bangladeshi cuisine’ across Britain and Europe and claims to be the ‘pride of Bangladeshi Community’ through its ‘relentless efforts’ on their behalf (BCA 2009). It states that it is a democratic representative organisation [of business owners] and has an executive committee elected every two years. They have a broad reach claiming that they ‘exist to make your [members] views known to all who affect your livelihood and future – Governments in Westminster and Dhaka, British and Bangladesh Parliaments, local councils and international bodies like the European Commission’ (BCA 2009). As well as being targeted by the Border Agency, restaurant owners and workers face criticism from Islamist politicians and activists for selling and serving alcohol. In November 1993 the Islamic Society at Tower Hamlets College organised a lecture for students by Imam Muradadeen, an American convert to Islam who told the two hundred students present that: People who sell, drink or transport [alcohol] are cursed. So tandoori restaurant workers are cursed. For a little bit of money their future is cursed.

This discourse attacked the family incomes of many of the students attending the talk. The former Jamaat-i-Islami Member of the Bangladesh Parliament ‘Delwar Hossain Sayeedi’ on his visits to Britain also criticised Bengali people who made money from selling alcohol and found support for his views from the Young Muslim Organisation (Glynn 2002: 983). This very brief overview of the Bengali catering industry in Britain raises issues about the continuing links between Britain and Bangladesh through employment of legal and illegal workers, official and unofficial remittances, and the cultural influences brought about through Bengali people cooking and living outside of the urban centres. It also raises issues about the contradictions faced by people who may or may not be practicing Muslims and who make a living for themselves and others through selling and serving alcohol. It demonstrates how Bengali business associations represent their interests as businessmen, not as representatives of fixed cultural categories of ‘Asians’ or ‘Muslims’, make political alliances with other minority restaurant owners. It reveals the isolation and vulnerability of many of those who work in the restaurants and raises the question of why in dominant discourses about British Bengalis, the complexities of their lives are reduced to the one dimensional categories of ‘Asians’ or ‘Muslims’ at different times.   I attended and made notes of the meeting. The antisemitism and homophobia of this meeting was reported by Ed Husain in The Islamist 2007: 53–6. However, he did not include any mention of alcohol. Husain spells the Imam’s name Murad Deen in The Islamist. I am using the spelling used on the 1991 poster. Husain made a few inaccurate recollections. The posters did not end with a ‘What is Islam’ punch line, but with the words ‘The Islamic Society lecture coming soon’. The meeting was termed ‘The Ultimate Solution’ not ‘the Final Solution’.

Towards Commonality and Metropolitan Belonging


In the following section I focus on events and discourses following the London bombings of July 2005 to demonstrate how the dominant discourse of multiculturalism through ignoring the many different aspects of people’s lives, worked to consolidate the position of specifically ‘Muslim’ organisations as representatives of British Bengalis. The London Bombs and ‘Muslim’ Identity The fixed category ‘Asian’, used in the discourses of the media and police in the early 1990s to describe the local Bengali population and discussed in Chapter 3, has almost ceased to be used in the dominant discourse about Bengalis in the East End or in Britain. Since 11 September 2001 (when workers from Canary Wharf evacuated the tower fearing it would be an obvious target and more intensively since the London suicide bombs of July 2005, Bengalis have most often been placed in the category of ‘Muslims’. The same processes of homogenisation, denial of differences and construction of leaders by the dominant white liberal discourse that worked to constuct the category ‘Asian’ are used in the subsequent construction of the category ‘Muslim’. Both categories work to elide the complexities of the lives they seek to define as illustrated in the following examples. On 7 July 2005 one of the four ‘London Suicide Bombs’ exploded near to Aldgate underground station which is on the border between the City of London and the Borough of Tower Hamlets. The injured were treated in the borough’s Royal London Hospital and local organisations including the nearby East London Mosque in Whitechapel provided support to survivors throughout the day. The week after the bombs a photocopied leaflet, produced by the Bangladesh Welfare Association (BWA) and the Coalition Against Terror, in Bengali and English, was distributed outside the Brick Lane Mosque. Under the Bengali title ‘shanti shomabesh ‘and the English translation ‘Peace Vigil’ it advertised a march and vigil to take place at 2.00pm on Friday 15 July. It was clear that the organisers aimed to encourage people coming out of Friday prayers to attend the vigil since they planned to meet outside the BWA offices which are next to the Brick Lane Mosque. The leaflet did not describe the vigil as religious. It listed support from twenty other diverse Bengali organisations ranging from the religious (Brick Lane Jamme Masjid Trust) to the business (Greater London Caterers Association, Importer Association in the UK) to sport (Bangladesh Cricket Association UK) to voluntary organisations (Flower & Dean Estate Parents’ Association, Boundary Community School) and political (Nirmul Committee). When the peace vigil was reported in the following week’s East London Advertiser the photograph of the

  The Nirmul Committee is a secular Bengali organisation that promotes Bengali cultures and opposes Islamism.


The Invisible Empire

Bengali banner proclaiming ‘Peace’ (shanti) was described as being a message in ‘Arabic’ (ELA 21 July 2005). Two weeks after the bombings, on the twenty-first of July, vigils were held at the tube stations where people had died. A group of nine Bengali men and women from east London had scheduled a visit to the headquarters of the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) near to Kings Cross Station. They were a group because of their shared experience of visual impairment rather than any political or religious affiliation. Knowing that the vigil was taking place, they wanted to take part and joined the crowd standing outside Kings Cross Station. It was an uncomfortable experience as some felt that others at the vigil were suspicious of their presence. Their attendance was not picked up in any of the extensive media coverage. In these local events and discourses Bengali people were voicing their anger at the murders as complex citizens, they were not choosing religious identities to express their views at the murders, yet their religious identities were given significance by observers. The initiators of the peace vigil were aware that hundreds of people would attend Brick Lane Mosque for the Friday midday prayers and therefore organised the vigil event to coincide. It was not a religious vigil and yet the reporting of it implied that it was through describing the message as being in Arabic rather than Bengali. The group of visually impaired Bengali men and women were able to pay their respects at the Kings Cross vigil because of its proximity to the RNIB headquarters but felt uncomfortable as visible Muslims. It was not the identities of Bengali British citizens as cricketers, parents, businessmen, women, educationalists, politicians or visually impaired people that were used in dominant discourses about their opposition to the bombs. Their identity as Muslims was privileged over all others. On the same day as the tube station vigils, a full page newspaper ‘advertisement’ announcement in English, headed ‘Not in our Name’ was posted in the national press by the ‘Muslims for Britain Campaign’. It began: ‘The Muslim communities across Britain are united in condemning the terrible atrocities of 7 July in London’ and stressed that ‘Islam forbids the killing of innocent people’. It listed seventy six specifically Muslim organisations, including those with regional identities such as the London Muslim Centre and Islamic Forum Europe and eleven with names linking them to specific national groups (Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea but not Bangladesh). In the immediate aftermath of the bombs, it was avowedly Muslim organisations such as these that were constructed as the voice of Bengalis and other British Muslims in dominant discourses about Britishness. Eleven months later, on 4 June 2006, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari was elected as the head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a federation of British Muslim organisations (see below). In a profile of the new secretary general, the BBC highlighted his many roles. As well as listing his involvement in Islamic Forum   Interview with one of the participants 23 July 2005.

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Europe, the Greater London Authority’s Faith Advisory Group and the organising committee of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the BBC stated that he is chairman of the East London Mosque, where: Bangladesh-born Dr Bari was considered instrumental in helping controversial MP George Galloway secure his parliamentary seat by telling Muslims they had a duty to vote in the last general election. The East London Mosque holds thousands of worshippers every Friday and is the public face of the East End’s predominantly Bangladeshi Muslim community. (BBC Website 5 June 2006)

Exactly one month earlier on 4 May 2006, in the local government elections, the voters of Tower Hamlets, the east London borough where the East London Mosque is located voted the Labour Party back into office with an overall majority of one. Out of the twenty-six Labour Party councillors elected, sixteen were Bengali Muslims. All twelve of George Galloway’s Respect Party councillors and three out of six Liberal Democrats were also Bengali Muslims. The seven Conservative Party councillors were all white. In 2006 Tower Hamlets Council therefore was made up of thirty-one elected councillors who collectively might claim the right to be ‘the public face of the East End’s predominantly Bangladeshi Muslim community’. The East London Mosque (ELM) and the London Muslim Centre (LMC) of which it is a part is given a representative role of Bengali Muslims partially because it is one of the best funded and largest mosques in the country (ELM 2005, 2006). Many smaller mosques are visible throughout the East End. On Brick Lane, the Jamme Masjid, whose trust committee had issued the ‘Peace Vigil’ leaflet, occupies the Huguenot Protestant chapel that became a synagogue before its present incarnation as a mosque. On Bigland Street is the Jamiatul Ummah and the Markazi Masjid is in Christian Street. These and the scores of smaller mosques in portacabins, converted flats and business premises all have their particular religious and political allegiances (Garbin 2005). In the dominant discourse about local reaction to the London bombs of July 2005, British Bengalis remained invisible as Bengalis with diverse civil interests and roles whilst they had a ‘public face’ as Muslims. This is not because Bengalis are recent entrants to British electoral or pressure group politics. Bengali councillors have held public office, representing East End electorates, since 1982 (Eade 1989: 37). Bengali residents in Britain and those employed on merchant ships, have been politically active in pressure groups, unions, anti-racist and other self-help organisations since at least the 1930s (Adams 1987, Visram 2002). In the following section I contrast the complexities and contradictions of Bengali British  By 2009 the number of Respect Party councillors had reduced to six following defections to the Labour and Conservative parties. The number of Bengali councillors however had increase to 32. Four out of the twelve women councillors were Bengali.


The Invisible Empire

lives discussed above with the simplifications constructed through the dominant discourses about ‘Muslims’ since 2001 and 2005. Citizenship and the Invisible Empire Anthropologists of social and public policy have demonstrated how policies can be studied ethnographically through analysing the cultural assumptions in their discourse and processes of interpretation and implementation by national and local officials. These processes of implementation can then be studied in relation to how those targeted by the policies react and in turn can influence policy (Wright 1995). A detailed local and global ethnographic study of government policy, its interpretation and translation into local authority practice and contestation (both ‘on the ground’ and from the academy) in the period leading up to and following the 2005 London bombs is a major project to which this chapter can contribute only a few insights; through focusing on how the Invisible Empire is mobilised in attempts to influence government policy in relation to British Muslims. I begin by examining the centrality of the Invisible Empire in the discourse of Policy Exchange. Policy Exchange is a non-government policy research organisation, working for ‘personal freedom, limited government, national self-confidence and an enterprise culture’.10 In 2006 it published a document, Living Apart Together, which reviewed and critiqued how multicultural policies have encouraged the growth of Islamist politics in Britain since the 1980s (Mirza, Senthilkamaran and Ja’far, 2006).11 It challenged the categorising and homogenising aspects of the politics of multiculturalism (that I have described above as elements of the dominant discourse about Britishness) and argued for Muslims to be treated as ‘citizens’. However, Policy Exchange represents the discourse associated with multicultural policies as working against a shared British identity through exaggerating the violence and oppression of Empire. 10  In their own words ‘Policy Exchange is an independent think tank whose mission is to develop and promote new policy ideas which will foster a free society based on strong communities, personal freedom, limited government, national self-confidence and an enterprise culture.’ They claim to use centre right methods of market forces and individual freedom to achieve progressive aims. The Chair of the Board of Trustees is Charles Moore who also writes for and has edited the Daily Telegraph. See Chapter 1 for his criticism of the Museum in Docklands gallery ‘London, Sugar and Slavery’. The previous Chair was the Conservative MP Michael Gove. 11  The discourse of the Policy Exchange in Living Apart Together has, as the title suggests, continuities with the discourse of Trevor Phillips (then Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality) in his speech ‘ After 7/7: sleepwalking to segregation’ (Phillips 2005). For a critique of segregation and parallel lives discourses see Finney and Simpson 2009. The salience of their discussions have increased following the election of two British National Party candidates to the European Parliament in June 2009.

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Living Apart Together summarises and criticises the recent engagement of government and Muslim organisations since the 1980s. It gives reasons for such engagement as including a push to win Muslim votes and to keep crime down by encouraging religiosity. The government’s institutional partnership with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is traced back to 1997 when the Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, called for a single representative body for British Muslims. The document shows how the focus on religious leadership related to the increased funding of organisations such as the East London Mosque and cuts to the funding of secular Bengali organisations in east London (Mirza et al. 2006: 25–7).12 The central argument of the document is that multicultural policies have failed through emphasising differences rather than shared national identity and that the government should engage with Muslims as citizens rather than through a single religious identity. How, if at all should the authorities recognise Islam in public life. The tendency of the government to engage with Muslims as a religious group with particular attitudes and practices misses the 3D multi-dimensional, contradictory character of human beings living through cultural transition. People may be culturally Muslim but not necessarily observant. (Mirza et al. 2006: 53)

This discourse superficially resembles the argument of this book; it is a criticism of what Chetan Bhatt calls a communitarian-culturalist discourse that restricts people’s lived experiences to a single dimension and conceals political interest groups (Bhatt 2007). However, its criticisms of multicultural categorisations differs from my argument in two significant ways. Firstly, it identifies the multidimensional and contradictory characters of people being due to ‘cultural transition’. The use of a reified notion of ‘culture’ in the notion of ‘cultural transition’ suggests that it is only because of contact with the ‘West’ in the West (in this case Britain) that people, specifically Muslims, become ‘ multidimensional’ and face contradictions. It assumes that before migration, Muslims did not have histories of conflict, contradiction and negotiation. It ignores the existence in Asia and the Middle East, for example, of preEuropean Enlightenment and pre-colonial ‘traditions of doubting and of questioning [scriptural] authority’ (Sahgal 2006: 207) as well as the ambiguities, conflicts and negotiations between those fluid traditions and European colonial power. Secondly the Policy Exchange discourse consciously seeks to bury the Invisible Empire even deeper in a quest for a coherent ‘British identity’. In mobilising a challenge to how ethnic and religious categories are constituted and worked through in multicultural policy and practice the authors mobilise a vehement attack on what they perceive as ‘anti-Western Bias’ and post-imperial guilt: One of the principal factors in undermining British identity has been the rise in the politics of multiculturalism. Intellectual fashion has dictated that right12 

Based on research by John Eade and David Garbin (2002: 137–51).


The Invisible Empire minded people should feel shame and guilt about Britain’s imperial past and embarrassment about overt manifestations of national pride. In recent years there have been many incidents that reveal the degree of discomfort the authorities feel about many aspects of ‘Britishness’. (Mirza et al. 2006: 33)

An example given to support the claim about skewed histories of Britain’s imperial past was that: In the new history curriculum prominence was to be given to one of the darkest incidents in the history of the British Empire, the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, regarded even by critics of the Empire as atypical. (Mirza et al. 2006: 34)

Despite the claims of Policy Exchange to base its research on ‘evidence’, there were only a few anecdotes put forward to support the ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’ felt about the British Empire and no references were given of critics who viewed the massacre as atypical.13 The report identified the unexplained emotion of ‘selfloathing’ as a significant factor in the creation of Islamic politics, and argued that a strong British identity and Western values is the solution: Islamism is one expression of a wider cultural problem of self-loathing and confusion in the West. One way to tackle this is to bring an end to the institutional attacks on national identity – the counterproductive cancellation of Christmas festivities, the neurotic bans on displays of national symbols, and the sometimes crude anti-Western bias of history lessons – which can create feelings of defensiveness and resentment. We should allow people to express their identity freely and in a climate of genuine tolerance … We need to work together as a society to develop a renewed sense of collectivity that asserts our shared British identity and Western values in a way which will inspire the younger generation. (Ibid. 7)

Throughout its history, they argue, the nation cohered people together and was seen by many as the best way to improve their circumstances. The report concluded that: It is not Islamism that poses the greatest threat to Western values or British identity but the mixture of self loathing and confusion that reigns in our society more generally. (Ibid. 95)

Without references to any research on which to base the claim, the document stated: 13 Even the popular historian Niall Ferguson who has focused on what he sees as the positive gains of the British Empire, in reference to the Amritsar Massacre, wrote ‘In previous centuries the British had felt no qualms about shooting to kill in the defence of Empire’ (Ferguson 2003: 334).

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Numerous critics have pointed out that history lessons, for instance, are taught in a one sided, moralised way, focusing attention on the racism and violence of Empire, and the oppression of ethnic minority groups and women, but with little sense of positive contributions of the industrial revolution and Empire, the emergence of parliamentary democracy, the literary and cultural heritage of the language. The constant focus on the negative is not focused on the complexity of the historical past, but rather to remind us of the inherent racism in British society … but anti-Britishness has not fostered a more hospitable atmosphere of tolerance towards different groups, it has simply demoralised our view of the past. A society that feels weighed down by shame cannot confidently face its future. The anti-Britishness agenda has also bolstered the confidence of the aggressive Islamists who see a society that it is ashamed to defend its ideals. (Ibid. 92)

In this discourse, the Invisible Empire is not only central but is mobilised in order to be countered and buried. Without providing any evidence of the ‘shame’ or ‘guilt’ of ‘society’ and through summary dismissal of challenging histories of Empire and assumptions of unique and isolated ‘Western values’ this discourse silences the multiple contesting philosophies, histories and connections in the complex lives of those they aim to include as ‘British citizens’ This assertion of ‘Western values’ and the submersion of the violence and oppression of the British Empire echoes the evening meal and school gate conversations that introduced this book. In contrast to the complex lived experiences of migrants to Britain, this discourse appears both parochial and tendentious. The discourse that constructs ‘British culture’ as ‘self-loathing and antiWestern’, recognisable in Living Apart Together, originates from several high profile ‘new liberals’ in Europe and the US including the assassinated Dutch politician, Pym Fortuyn.14 The ‘liberals’ argue about a clash within Islam between ‘extremists’ and ‘moderates’ and, according to Kundnani, enlist what the discourse defines as ‘moderate’ Muslims in support of their defence of the European Enlightenment and secular liberalism (Kundnani 2008: 41–6). After the July 2005 London bombs, the British government built alliances with the Muslim Council of Britain as the representative body of ‘moderate’ Muslims. In 2007, following high profile criticisms of multicultural policies contributing to minority ‘self-segregation’ and extremism (Phillips 2005) the government publicly shifted support away from the MCB stating that it was a mistake to treat the MCB as if it was the only voice of British Muslims and ‘elevate it to an exclusivity that wasn’t warranted’ (Home Office Security Minister Tony McNulty quoted on BBC News 26 September 2007). Kundnani argues that the shift took place also because the MCB became increasingly critical of government foreign policy. The government 14 Other examples the writers Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis, the journalist Nick Cohen and Michael Gove MP. Gove was previously Chair of Policy Exchange. Fortuyn was admired by the guest in the opening chapter of this book.


The Invisible Empire

support switched to organisations such as the Quilliam Foundation and the Sufi Muslim Council which were described as both ‘moderate’ and ‘spiritual’ and would be less likely to criticise government policy (2008: 55). The Muslim: Secular Dichotomy In a challenge to the eurocentrism and racism of the ‘new liberals’ evidenced in the discourse of Living Apart Together, Kundnani describes groups that organise politically using their identity as Muslims as often the most dynamic community organisers in comparison to ‘secular activists’. He suggests that such groups could develop into a ‘genuinely radical political identity’ that would ‘champion struggles for civil rights, oppose imperialist wars and empower young Muslims to engage in European societies’. He distinguishes between that radical identity and the conservative Islamism ‘that emphasises censorship and cultural policing’ and ‘salafi jihadi networks that spawn mass killing’ (2008: 66). In this discourse an opposition is established between ‘Islamist and ‘secular’ political groups. Whilst many variants of Muslim organising are detailed, a monolithic and fixed category of ‘secular’ dominates. The discourse foregrounds the violence and oppression of Empire and the roots of racism whilst eliding the complexities and intersections of, for example, Bengali lives in Britain. This discourse works to oversimplify the past and present relations between British Bengalis and Bangladesh through focusing on the discourses and observations of second and third generation young Bengalis in isolation from the economic, political and cultural context of connections with Bangladesh sustained by more recent first generation migrants and older generations. There are several influential examples of this discourse in writings about Tower Hamlets. In an investigation into the political mobilisation of second generation ‘Bengali immigrants’ in the East End, Sarah Glynn found that young people were increasingly attracted to Islamist organisations such as the YMO linked to the East London Mosque. In the context of unemployment, bad housing, drugs and gang culture: … their parents’ Islam rooted in and propagated by tradition has little appeal when tradition itself is challenged; and the battles for secularism, which were at the heart of the independence movement in 1971, seem to them to belong to another age. (Glynn 2002: 974)

After interviewing a college student and YMO activist she concluded: … the emphasis that secularists often give to the legacy of the independence movement does not help their cause especially amongst the post-1971 generation, who find Bangladeshi politics so corrupt [that they] regard it as merely a joke, (Glynn 2002: 982)

Towards Commonality and Metropolitan Belonging


Kundnani uses a similar discourse when he summarises the struggles between what he terms ‘secular community activists’ and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) connected groups linked to the East London Mosque, including the YMO. The ‘secular activists’ are constructed monolithically: Their political identity is defined by the Bangladesh national movement which liberated ‘East Pakistan’ in 1971. Their religious identity is focused on Bengali cultural traditions and their mosques are the preserves of men of a single ethnicity … for the younger generation that has come of age in the 1990s, the Bangladeshi national struggle has little resonance and Islamism has become the dominant political influence. The JI groups linked to the East London Mosque have emerged as the more dynamic community organizers. (Kundnani 2008: 63)

In this discourse, the views of young, educated second generation English speaking Bengalis who are involved in YMO activities are used to present an uncontested picture of the unchanging ‘tradition’, Islam influenced by ‘culture’ and an irrelevant and corrupt politics of the older generation. In both examples the construction of ‘secular’ is taken from interviews with people associated with an identified secular political organisation, the Nirmul Committee who publicly define Bengali secularism in relation to 1971. The discourse that constructs dynamic young Muslim activists in opposition to ‘irrelevant secularists’ and ‘traditional parents’ continues to be used to describe politics and ‘culture’ in Tower Hamlets. The former category is supported by government funding of Muslim–identified voluntary organisations. The counterdiscourse evident in the post 7/7 vigils in Brick Lane and Kings Cross Station described above has been unable to challenge either the dominant discourse of multiculturalism, the contesting discourses of the new liberals or of the well organised Islamists described above because it is associated with people who are not grouped politically as Muslims. The dynamism of the East London Mosque and politicians from the Young Muslim Organisation was proven in 2005 when they allied with mostly white socialists to successfully campaign for the election of the Respect Party candidate, George Galloway to the Bethnal Green and Bow parliamentary constituency. Although Galloway won the seat, Bengali residents who did not necessarily identify themselves as ‘secularists’ opposed the political involvement of the ELM. A middle-aged man recalled coming out of a Bethnal Green Mosque after Friday prayers and being handed a ‘Vote Respect’ leaflet by a white political activist who was campaigning with a group from the East London Mosque. He recounted the experience in Sylheti: Listen to me … there are some white people … they bond with Jamaatis, they hold procession with Jamaatis, campaign with them for Galloway’s Respect. This is a joke, I can only laugh at them. I am also a Muslim, why don’t they come and listen to me? Just because I don’t keep singing “I am a Muslim, I am


The Invisible Empire a Muslim” all the time they don’t think I am Muslim enough. They don’t take my point of view seriously. I simply don’t trust them. Their inside [mind] is not pure. Wearing Islamic gowns [in the name of Islam] Jamaatis committed so many atrocities, killed innocent people, burnt houses … and are still killing people, those white people are not prepared to understand this … because like Jamaatis they are camouflaged. (AH 2005)15

AH was referring to the 1971 war in Bangladesh but also to his continuing mistrust of JI influenced politics and the frustration of not being listened to by the white Respect canvassers. The view that people with current links with Bangladesh are defined by the politics of 1971 and that those politics are irrelevant to present concerns ignores the Islamist and related politics that continues to disrupt the lives of people in Bangladesh. In August 2005 three hundred explosions, targetting government establishments, took place simultaneously in 63 out of the 64 districts of the country. An outlawed Islamic group, Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh claimed responsibility for the attacks. In 2004 the Bangladesh-born British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Anwar Choudhury was seriously injured when a bomb exploded as he was leaving from Friday prayers at the mosque. These and many other political disruptions continue to impact on people who maintain connections with Bangladesh, through relatives and the investment of remittances derived from throughout Britain, as well as affecting the lives of new migrants who continue to come to Britain from all areas of Bangladesh as spouses or on student visas. The category of ‘secularist’ set up in opposition to Muslims who use Islam as a political identity works to create a further fixed category in the dominant discourse that obscures the varied experiences of people who may identify themselves in neither category or both. British immigration laws discriminate against Bengalis on the basis of their bank accounts, educational background and ability to speak English. Street racism is directed at non-perfect English accents, skin colour and cultural practices. Restaurant workers are vilified by Islamist groups for serving alcohol. Like ‘lascars’, they have been subject to racially discriminatory immigration laws. The racism they experience is directed at them as Muslims and as Bengalis. White families choose schools with fewer Bengali children because they assume that Bengali language and low attainment will disadvantage their offspring. Middle class Bengalis move out of the inner cities. The four hundred 15  In Sylheti: Aamar kotha hunouka… kichu shadainte jamati okler loge giya misil kore, kembas kore, respect partir lagi bhut chay. Ita oilo tamsha, aami hashi mone mone. Amioto musolman, ee-shadainte aamar kotha hune na kene, amar geche ayna kene? Ammar lebas nai? Aami musolman, aami musolman gaiya beraina gotike herer geche aami musolman nay, aamar kotha hera goinno kore na. eetaintere aami bishash kori na, eetainter bitor bala na. musolmani lebas loiya jomatira koto kumam korche, gor jalaiche, manush marche and aijo marer, shadainte eeta bijte raji na. era oilo… karon era-o jomati oklor moto muk mitha romjainnar ma aar tole tole kur dharay.

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year relationship between Britain and Bengal does not form a compulsory part of the national curriculum. The centrality of the Invisible Empire in discourses about Britishness suffocates the possibility of, amongst other constraints, discovering the dynamics of Islam in Bengal since it was a frontier of Muslim migration in the early thirteenth century (Eaton 1993). The contesting discourses of the left and the right are unable to recognise ‘the plural syncretic traditions through which lived ‘Islam’ negotiates its relationship with other religions and cultures, both temporal and sacred’ (Sahgal 2006: 219). In this chapter I have demonstrated the continuing presence and flexibility of the Invisible Empire in discourses about multicultural Britain. The mobilisation of the Invisible Empire disguises how power operates through obscuring the power relationships between Britain and Bengal established during the rule of the East India Company and consolidated during the British Raj and post-independence globalisation. Dominant white and contesting discourses worked to exercise power at the micro-level through the construction of categories of ‘Muslim’ and ‘secular’ activists that claim to represent, but effectively silence, the voices of Bengali citizens. This exposure of the Invisible Empire in the dominant white liberal discourse has shown how Bengali and other people with histories in Britain’s ex-colonies have been denied ‘genuine metropolitan belonging’ (Bhatt 2007: 104). In both past and present, the processes of categorising South Asian people into racialised ‘types’, racialised categories of workers, or religiously defined ‘communities’ have contributed to the circumscription of their citizenship rights and increased their vulnerability to the political ambitions of groups and individuals within and outside those ‘communities’ whose interests are to exaggerate difference at the expense of commonality.

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Documents Barratt (1998) Publicity brochure. Commission for Racial Equality (1988) Homelessness and Discrimination: Report of a formal investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality into the Allocation of Housing by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, July 1988. London : Commission for Racial Equality. Community Links and Toynbee Hall (2009) Waiting for Change: Restaurant workers and the informal economy in Brick Lane, February. Government Office for London (2007) Indices of Deprivation 2007. http://www. Hansard 13 December 2005. House of Commons Home Affairs Committee (1994) Third Report Racial Attacks and Harassment, Volume 1 (Report together with Proceedings of the Committee) and 2 (Minutes of Evidence and Appendices), London: HMSO. Indices of Deprivation 2000, Department of Education, Training and the Regions, DETR September 2000, Local Futures Group (2007) The State of the Borough: An Economic, Social and environmental profile of Tower Hamlets, London. Local Government Ombudsman (1993) Report on Investigation Nos 91/A/1759, 91/A/1759 & 91/A/1762 Against London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 8th March 1993, London: Commission for Local Administration in England. Museum in Docklands (1997a) ‘A New Museum for a New Millenium’, Publicity brochure. Museum of Docklands (2007) London, Sugar and Slavery: Revealing our city’s untold history, Publicity brochure. Office for National Statistics, OPCS (1993) 1991 Census, Ethnic Group and Country of Birth, Great Britain, London: HMSO. OPCS (2003) http// Sampson, Alice and Coretta Phillips (1992) Multiple Victimisation: Racial attacks on an East London Estate, Police Research Unit (Home Office) Paper 36. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1999) Report of an Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, February 1999, London: The Stationery Office. Tower Hamlets Council Minutes of Performance Review Committee, 21 September 1993. Tower Hamlets Council Minutes, no. 308, 1 November 1993. Tower Hamlets Council. Minutes of Bow Parks Board 9 December 1993. Tower Hamlets Council: Report of Isle of Dogs Standing Neighbourhood Committee 15th December 1993. Tower Hamlets Council, September 1993, Pupil Ethnicity Survey: The Ethnic Background of Pupils in Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets Labour Market Information 2000.



UKBA (2009) ( UK Border Control Agency) sitecontent/newsarticles Report 20 March 2009. Unpublished Material Collections Collection of advertising of Docklands apartments in and around East India Docks from 2000 to 2003. Collected by and in possession of the author. Collection of pamphlets, leaflets, bulletins and posters produced by anti-racist and anti-fascist groups between September 1993 and June 1994. Collected by, and in possession of author. Collection of press cuttings, 9 September 1993 to 1 July 1994, from monitoring The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Observer, The Daily Express, The Sunday Express, The Times, The Mirror, The Evening Standard, Today, The Independent on Sunday. East End Advertiser (weekly) September 1993 to December 1994 Complete collection by author. East End Life (weekly) November 1993 to December 1994. Complete collection by author. Election material produced by Tower Hamlets Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties and the BNP in 1993 and 1994. Collected by, and in possession of the author. Letters and speeches by sitting MPs during 1993–4. Collected by and in possession of the author. Material on housing in Tower Hamlets from 1986–1994. Collected by and in possession of the author. Material celebrating two hundred years of the West India Docks in 2000. Collected and in possession of the author. Tower Hamlets (1994) Welcome to the East End: Publicity material. The East End Marketing Strategy in 1993–4, including balloons, badges and flags. Collected by and in the possession of the author. Articles in Newspapers and Periodicals Brogan, Benedict (2005) ‘It’s time to celebrate the Empire says Brown’, Daily Mail, 15 January. Bunting, Madeleine (1993) ‘Island where equality is a loaded word’, The Guardian, 18 September. Chaudhury, Vivek (1993) ‘33 held after anti-racist clashes’, The Guardian, 20 September. Davies, Caroline (2009) ‘Caterers call for school of curry in the UK, The Observer 15 March.


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Donegan, Lawrence (1993) ‘1,000 march peacefully through East End in protest against BNP council victory’, The Guardian, 4 October. Gausi, Tamara (2007) Calabash October 2007: 29. Gopal, Priyamvada (2006) ‘The story peddled by imperial apologists is a poisonous fairytale’, The Guardian 28 June. Guardian Letters (2006) ‘No defence for empire’ from Ania Loomba and Richard Knights’, The Guardian 15 July. Jack, Ian (2006) ‘In the balance: Ian Jack finds a friend of empire in Bangladesh’ The Guardian, 8 July. Johns, Ted (1994) Letter to the editor, The Guardian 11 February. Karpf, Anne (2002) ‘We’ve been here before’, The Guardian Weekend 8 June. Mann, Nyta (1993) ‘Does tomorrow belong to the BNP’ New Statesman and Society, 24 September. Manzoor, Sarfraz (2009) ‘How to tell I’m not a terrorist: We Muslims clearly need to help panicking police and border officials. Would a big tattoo help?’ The Guardian 25 April. Martin, Allison and Sam Lyon (2003) ‘The rise, fall and rise of a dream’, The Wharf, 12 June. Notun Din (1993) 17 September to 23 September and 24 September to 30 September. Penman, Andrew (1993) ‘Brick Lane: flashpoint of Britain’s racial unrest. Vicious, frightening, sickening. This is what it is really like.‘Today, 24 September. Platt, Steve (1987) ‘The Liberals in Power’ New Society, 11 September. Porter, Mike (1993) ‘Nation divided by race’, Sunday Express, 26 September. The Times, 5 Aug 1806:3. Younge, Gary (1998) ‘White lies’, The Guardian, 10 September. Younge, Gary (2002) ‘A land fit for racists’, The Guardian, 4 May. politics/farright. News Releases Museum in Docklands (1997b) Press Release ‘Lottery Success for Docklands Museum’, 1 October 1997. Museum in Docklands (2000) Press Release ‘Docklands Museum to Commemorate the Blitz’, 1 September 2000. Museum in Docklands (undated post 2000 pre 2003) Press release’ Clarifying Statement’. White House News Release May 2007. releases/2007/05/20070507-13.html



Material Published by Pressure Groups, Political Parties and Organisations Anti Nazi League (1994) Fighting the Nazi Threat Today. Bangladesh Caterers Association (2009) Dockland’s Forum (1993) Race and Housing in London’s Docklands. East London Mosque (2005) and (2006) Annual Reports published by East London Mosque Trust Ltd. Guild of Bangladeshi Restauranteurs ( 2009) Liberal Democrats’ Tower Hamlets Inquiry December (1993), Political Speech and Race Relations in a Liberal Democracy: Report of an Inquiry into the conduct of the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats in publishing allegedly racist election literature between 1990 and 1993. December. The Ligali Organisation ( 2005) Declaration of Protest to the 2007 Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the British Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Nirmul Committee Bulletin (1993) Issue 6, November. Olympia and York (1990) Vision of a New City District. Public Informer (1994) Issue 9, May. Runnymede Trust December 1993 Neither Unique nor Typical: the context of race relations in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. An interim report by the Runnymede Trust, in the wake of the by-election in Millwall, Isle of Dogs. Searchlight Media Pack: a journalist’s guide to race hate in Britain, 2001. Tower Hamlets Anti-Racist Committee Bulletins 1993–4. Tower Hamlets Homeless Families Campaign (1990) Just a part of the Wall: A Report on the Services for Homeless Bangladeshi Women in Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets Housing Strategy Group, Housing Investment Programme 1990/91. 200 years: The Bicentennial of the Isle of Dogs and Blackwall, Community Souvenir Proframme, East London Advertiser, 2000. the+Three+Ships+to+Jamestown+Virginia/London+7+Days+ (accessed on 7 December 2006).,, Video/Audiography Channel 4 (1993) Dispatches. On Racism in Tower Hamlets. 27th October. BBC 2 (1993) First Sight. On Racism in Tower Hamlets 28th October. BBC London News (2006) 22 November at 13.30 GMT. BBC Website (2005) News, published 2006/06/05 13.08.42. BBC Website (2007) ‘Mistakes made over 7/7 reaction’, News 26 September 2007,

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Africans 35–40, 43–9, 61–3, 66, 136, 137 Agbetu, Toyin 46 Ali, Quddus, see Quddus Ali Anti Nazi League (ANL) 73–5, 76–81, 127–8 ‘Asians’ 88–91, 165, 167 Australia, as terra nullius 28–9 Ballymore 56 Bangladesh 1–2, 164–8 passim, 176, 178 Barratt 55–6 Beackon, Derek 75, 85, 87, 88, 92, 93, 95, 123, 125, 128, 133–4 belonging 4, 65–6, 121, 133–40 Bengal 52, 57–8, 64–6, 93–4, 138–9, 141, 144–6, 158, 162, 163, 178–9 Bengalis 57–8, 64–6, 69 as ‘Asians’ 87, 88–93 and belonging 137–9 East End Carnival 104, 113, 115–18 as ‘East Enders’ 108–9, 111, 112, 113 London Bombings (7 July 2005) 169–71 merchant seamen 141–3, 146–7, 157, 159–60 as migrants in UK 164–8, 178 Millwall 1993 election 74–5, 76–86, 90, 91–3 as Muslims 169–71, 176–9 Quddus Ali attack 72, 76–86 Quddus Ali vigil 73–4, 76–86, 88–91, 128, 158 as a racial category 144–6, 161–2 as secularists 176–9 Blackwall 34 bicentenary of East India Docks 64–6 departure of Virginia Company expedition 52, 54 opening of East India Docks 52–4

quatercentenary of settlement of Virginia 58–64, 65–6 regeneration of 54–8, 66 British National Party (BNP) 125–8, 135, 138 East End Carnival 116 Millwall 1993 election 72, 74–5, 76–86, 86–8, 90, 91–3, 95 Millwall 1994 elections 95 Tower Hamlets 1994 elections 95–6 Bush, George W. 63–4, 65, 66 Canary Wharf 22, 27–30 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9 bicentenary of West India Docks 30–41 Canary Wharf Group 30–31, 38, 43, 46 categorisation 3–4, 13–14, 69, 71, 86 ‘Asians’ 88–94, 165, 167 Bengalis 144–6, 161–2, 165–6, 167 and historical narratives 91–4, 111–12, 119, 143, 157–60 lascars 146–7, 153–60 and multiculturalism 163, 172–5 Muslims 161, 165, 167, 169–71, 172–5, 176–9 and power 161–2 secularists 176–9 white 86–8, 91–3, 107–14, 118–19 ‘celebration’ 45, 58–64, 65 ‘Cockney’ 74, 86–8, 107 ‘commemoration’ 45, 59–61, 65 Conservative Party Tower Hamlets 2006 elections 171 contestation of meanings 4, 15, 69, 75–81, 82–6, 107–14, 115–19 see also meanings ‘cosmopolitan’ 110–11, 119 Cugoano, Ottobah 36


The Invisible Empire

discourse 5–8, 10 Docklands 21–3, 49 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9 bicentenary of East India Docks 64–6 bicentenary of West India Docks 30–41 departure of Virginia Company expedition 52, 54 and Indian merchant seamen 141–2 opening of East India Docks 52–4 quatercentenary of settlement of Virginia 58–64, 65–6 regeneration of East India Docks 54–8, 66 East End Carnival 96, 102–6, 109, 112–14, 115–19 ‘East End’ marketing strategy 96, 97–106, 109–14, 117–19 ‘East Enders’ 107–14, 115, 118–19, 133, 134–6 East India Company 52–3, 64–5, 144, 147–52, 153 East India Docks 21, 24, 141–2 bicentenary of 64–6 and Indian merchant seamen 141–2 opening of 52–4 regeneration of 54–8, 66 Elizabeth II 63–4, 65 Equiano, Olaudah 36 European superiority 3–4, 13, 16–17 ‘extremists’ 75–81, 84, 85–6 Fortuyn, Pim 1, 175 Foucault, Michel 4, 5–8 Gramsci, Antonio 4, 5, 7–10, 132 hegemony 5, 7–10, 132 Hibbert, George 32, 33–4, 35, 37–8, 42, 43, 44–5 hierarchy of belonging 133–40 ‘history’ 111–12 homogenisation 3–4, 13, 69, 86–91, 107–9, 169 see also categorisation ideology 7–10

India 52, 57–8, 64–7, 93–4, 138–9, 144–53 passim, 157–60, 164 Indian merchant seamen 141–3, 146–7 and colonial violence 157–60 discrimination of 147–53 racial characteristics of 153–7 see also lascars Islamism 168, 172, 174–5, 176–9 ‘Islanders’ 79, 86–8, 93, 107 Isle of Dogs 21–3, 44 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9 bicentenary of West India Docks 30–41 Millwall 1993 election 72, 74–5, 76–86, 86–8, 90, 91–3 Quddus Ali attack 72, 76–86 Quddus Ali vigil 72, 73–4, 76–86, 88–91 as terra nullius 27–30, 49 Jamaat-i-Islami 89, 168, 177, 178 Johns, Ted 22, 38 keywords 6, 75, 94 ‘Asians’ 88–91 ‘celebration’ 45, 58–64, 65 ‘Cockney’ 74, 86–8, 107 ‘commemoration’ 45, 59–61, 65 ‘cosmopolitan’ 110–11, 119 ‘East Enders’ 107–14, 115, 118–19, 133, 134–6 ‘extremists’ 75–81, 84, 85–6 ‘history’ 111–12 ‘Islanders’ 79, 86–8, 93, 107 ‘multicultural’ 110–11, 119 ‘outsiders’ 75–81, 84, 85–6 ‘tolerance’ 16, 119, 124–32, 139–40 ‘tradition’ 111–12, 113–14 ‘violence’ 82–6, 158 Labour Party Tower Hamlets 1994 elections 95, 106 Tower Hamlets 2006 elections 171 lascars 57–8, 136–7, 138–9, 146–7 and colonial violence 157–60 discrimination of 147–53 racial characteristics of 153–7 see also Indian merchant seamen

Index Liberal Democrat Party ‘The East End’ marketing strategy 96, 97–106, 109–14, 117–19 Tower Hamlets 1994 elections 95–6, 106, 117–18 Tower Hamlets 2006 elections 171 liberalism 15–18 Locke, John 16–18, 130–31, 132 London Bombings (7 July 2005) 169–71 London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) 22, 41, 104 meanings 40, 75–6 see also contestation of meanings mercantile discourse 26, 135–6 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9, 63 bicentenary of West India Docks 34–41 and Indian merchant seamen 141–2 quatercentenary of settlement of Virginia 62–3, 66 Milligan, Robert 42–3, 44–5 Millwall 1993 election 72, 74–5, 76–86, 86–8, 90, 91–3, 95 1994 elections 95 ‘multicultural’ 110–11, 119 multiculturalism 3–4 bicentenary of West India Docks 41 and categorisation 163, 172–5 Museum in Docklands 41–9, 58–9, 61, 64 Muslims as a category 161, 165, 167, 169–71, 172–5, 176–9 as citizens 172–5 and London Bombings (7 July 2005) 169–71 and secularists 176–9 narratives of Empire 3, 12–13 and belonging 135–9 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9, 63, 65 bicentenary of East India Docks 64–6 bicentenary of West India Docks 34–41 and categorisation 93–4, 119, 141–3, 157–60


and Indian merchant seamen 141–3, 157–60 and post-imperial guilt 173–5 production of 24–6 quatercentenary of settlement of Virginia 58–64, 65–6 regeneration of East India Docks 55–8, 66 silences, see silences in histories of Empire Native Americans 61–2, 65 naturalisation 3–4, 13, 107–14, 119 New Providence Wharf 56 normalisation 3–4, 13, 133–5 Olympia and York 22, 27–30 ‘outsiders’ 75–81, 84, 85–6 P&O 154, 156–7 Pocahontas 56, 58, 64 Policy Exchange 172–5 politics of belonging 4, 65–6, 133–40 power 4–10 and categorisation 161–2 and tolerance 131–3 Quddus Ali attack on 72, 76–86 vigil for 73–4, 76–86, 88–91 race 4 and belonging 133–40 and bicentenary of East India Docks 65–6 and categorisation 13, 69, 71, 75–81, 85–94, 107–10, 118–19, 144–7, 158–60, 172–5 and East End Carnival 112–19 and ‘East End’ marketing strategy 107–14, 118–19 and lascars 147–57, 158–60 and quatercentenary of settlement of Virginia 65–6 and tolerance 124–8, 139–40 and whiteness 11, 13, 69 racism 2, 4, 71, 94 and East End Carnival 116 and lascars 147–53, 157–8, 158–60


The Invisible Empire

and Liberal Democrats 96 a nd Millwall 1993 election 74–5, 76–86, 87–8, 90 and Muslims 172–6, 178 and Quddus Ali attack 72, 76–86 and Quddus Ali vigil 76–86 and tolerance 125–9, 132, 140 and whiteness 11 see also anti-racism religious tolerance 16, 130–31 Respect Party 177–8 Tower Hamlets 2006 elections 171 silences in histories of Empire 3, 12–13, 24–6 and belonging 135–9 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9, 63, 65 bicentenary of East India Docks 64–6 bicentenary of West India Docks 34–41 and categorisation 93–4, 119, 141–3, 157–60 and Indian merchant seamen 141–3, 157–60 and post-imperial guilt 173–5 quatercentenary of settlement of Virginia 58–64, 65–6 regeneration of East India Docks 55–8, 66 slavery and slave trade 33–40, 61–3 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9, 63 South Asia 52, 57–8, 65–6, 93–4, 142, 144–53 passim, 157–60 Stepney Quddus Ali attack 72, 76–86 superiority, see European superiority ‘tolerance’ 16, 119, 124–8, 139–40 British 128–31 and power 131–3 Tower Hamlets 21–3

1 994 elections 95–6, 106 2006 elections 171 East End Carnival 102–6, 109, 112–14, 115–19 ‘East End’ marketing strategy 96, 97–106, 109–14, 117–19 Islamism in 176–9 Millwall 1993 election 72, 74–5, 76–86, 86–8, 90, 91–3, 95 and multiculturalism 163 Quddus Ali attack 72, 76–86 Quddus Ali vigil 72, 73–4, 76–86, 88–91 ‘tradition’ 111–12, 113–14 ‘violence’ 82–6, 158 Virginia, settlement of 52, 54, 55–8 quatercentenary of 58–64, 65–6 Virginia Company expedition 52, 54, 55–8 quatercentenary of settlement of Virginia 58–64 Virginia Quay 55–8, 59, 61, 63, 66 Wedderburn, Robert 44 West India Docks 21, 22, 24 bicentenary of 30–41, 49 bicentenary of abolition of slave trade 41–9 mercantile discourse 34–41, 41–9 as terra nullius 27–30 West Indies 31–41 passim, 41–9 passim white categories 4, 13–14, 69, 71, 86–8, 107–14, 116, 118–19, 133 Whitechapel Quddus Ali vigil 72, 73–4, 76–86, 88–91 whiteness 10–11, 12–15 passim Wilberforce, William 36, 45, 46 Young Muslim Organization (YMO) 89, 176–7