We Ask for British Justice: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain

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Cornell University Press, 1994 - Social Science - 255 pages
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Laura Tabili is the first historian to examine the concrete connections between the legacy of imperialism and the problem of racial antagonism inside Britain. Previous efforts to explain ethnic conflict have often resorted to pessimistic "commonsense" assumptions about the universality of xenophobia and racism; here Tabili recovers the historical conditions under which racial inequality was institutionalized in Britain.
Tabili tells in unprecedented detail the story of racial subordination and Black resistance in the first half of this century. Drawing on rich archival evidence, she traces the sources of racial conflict to the structure of the labor market in merchant shipping, a global industry that relied on cheap labor from the colonies. As she reconstructs the social meaning of race in the late empire, she describes how unions, workers, and British and colonial governments all struggled to define who was Black and what this meant in relation to the prerogatives of British identity.
Notorious episodes of racial confrontation, Tabili demonstrates, were shaped more by the decisions of influential institutional actors than by the racist impulses of ordinary people. In documenting the power of institutions to assign meaning to racial difference, "We Ask for British Justice" has important implications for ethnic relations in other postcolonial societies.

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Problems of Empire
Recolonizing Black
We Shall Soon Be Having Rule Britannia Sung

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John R. Hall
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About the author (1994)

Laura Tabili is Assistant Professor of Modern European History at the University of Arizona.

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