Original introduction to The Land of Money?
Black* people owe their presence in Britain to slavery and colonialism. British "adventurers" were engaged in the slave trade even before Britain had acquired its colonies. With financial backing from British entrepreneurs, they soon surpassed the Spanish and Portuguese in the slave economy. It is estimated that between 1445 and 1870 approximately 40-50 million people were taken from Africa through the slave trade. During the same period, the "Jewel of the Crown", India, was discovered and subjected to political domination and economic exploitation. Thus the link between Britain, Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent is centuries old. Nor is the presence of black people in Britain a recent phenomenon; it dates back 500 years. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, young black people were brought to Britain as slaves and servants, while others came on their own initiative.
Later, black migrants came to live and work in Britain in large numbers as a result of the demand for labour in the 1950s and 1960s, responding to invitations by Britain, often through recruitment drives in their homelands. They came from diverse backgrounds and possessed a range of experiences and skills. Although they shared the experience of colonialism, they were often stranger to each other than they were to the "Mother Country". They were largely a rural people, from an agrarian society, to whom collective living and the support of the extended family was crucial. Once in Britain, urbanisation slowly eroded the migrant family structure.
In Britain, black migrants were channelled into low-paid unskilled work shunned by the indigenous white people. Many of them had to discard their skills or retrain in the face of the only available places in the labour market. As recounted in the following pages, they arrived to find a "colour-bar" operating, whereby they were not only given the worst jobs but also discriminated against in public places and in their quest for housing. Faced by such discrimination, black people turned towards themselves, giving support and assistance to each other. Through their hard work, industry and resilience they were able to survive.
Although the original vision of black migrants was to make material gains and return to the homeland, few were able to translate this into reality. The following accounts not only reflect the diversity of origin of the migrants, but also describe the differences in the migrants' view of Britain, their expectations on arrival, their actual experiences, motivations and intentions. Most of all, they capture the struggle of black people to establish their communities within the broader canvas of British society.
The aim of the cassettes and publication is to stimulate thought and interest, and to raise questions. They do not provide a comprehensive account of the lives of black migrants. For example, they do not look at the formation of organisations established by black people to challenge racism and discrimination. What they do seek to do is to capture and present a view from within: an account of and by the migrants themselves.
The interviews recorded here were carried out during 1990-1992 by the Birmingham Black Oral History Project.
* In this publication the term "black" is used to refer to people from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.