Racial endogamy in Great Britain: A cross-national perspective

Racial endogamy in Great Britain: A cross-national perspective

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 3, Issue 2 (1980)
pages 224-235
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1980.9993301

Richard T. Schaefer, Professor of Sociology
DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois


Large numbers of Blacks and Asians have migrated to Great Britain since World War II, and especially between 1955 and 1967. These ‘coloured’ people, as they are referred to in Britain, were met with increasingly less sympathy and harsher immigration restrictions until the barriers to entry were almost insurmountable.

Initially British observers were optimistic about the likelihood of a multi-racial society succeeding in Britain. Kenneth Little advanced the ‘colour-class hypothesis’ in the early 1950s arguing that the Commonwealth immigrants were seen by the English as representatives of the natives in the Empire. The acquisition of wealth, education, and knowledge of the arts could make the immigrant acceptable to the host country. Implicit in this argument was that intolerance shown to the people from the former colonies was due to their being immigrants, not because they were coloured. Although the British experience of the last two decades has refuted this hypothesis, little data have been accumulated with respect to the ultimate measure of acceptance—intermarriage. The rate of intermarriage between races is affected by numerous factors, and may be viewed as a specific social action with significance both to the individual participants and the society of which they are member.

The experience in the Empire would have predicted little acceptance of marriage between whites and coloureds. For example, the English and Indians intermingled freely in the latter’s native country and the East India Company under British control first encouraged intermarriage in the belief that racially mixed people would serve as a ‘bridge’ between Britain and India. However, by the end of the eighteenth century the official policies had turned full circle; marriages crossing racial lines were treated with distrust and even regarded at a potential threat to the Empire.

Gunnar Myrdal outlined the theory of the ‘rank order of discrimination’ in which he postulated that the primary concern of whites during the Jim Crow era in the South in their relations with blacks, is to prevent complete intermarriage. When marital assimilation, as Milton Gordon termed it, ‘takes place fully, the minority group loses its ethnic identity in the larger host…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: ,