Black Handsworth: Race in 1980s Britain

In 1990, Birmingham-born John Taylor, a black barrister, was put forward as a Conservative candidate to run for a seat in the House of Commons, representing largely affluent Cheltenham, a town in Gloucestershire, England. Taylors efforts met with particular resistance from local members of the Conservative party, one of whom reportedly asked, We have 250-odd candidates. Why did we have to choose a nigger from Birmingham?A wealth of pathologies lay behind the question, not least the belief that multi-ethnic Birmingham was the very antithesis of genteel, white Cheltenham. The framing of Birmingham as decidedly not like Cheltenham had been given a particular fillip by the extensive disturbances that had taken place in Britains second city a few years earlier. Following pronounced periods of immigration from English-speaking countries with which Britain had extensive colonial histories, Birmingham became home to significant numbers of black and brown people, living in districts of the city such as Moseley, Sparkbrook and Lozells. It was, however, the district of Handsworth that became synonymous with Birminghams black presence, and this new book by Kieran Connell sets out to consider the making of Handsworth, with particular regard to an astonishingly rich amalgamation of factors that comprised Race in 1980s Britain. Connell tells us that in 1985 close to 60 percent of the Handsworth population was of African Caribbean or South Asian descent(p. 3). It is thus not surprising that Handsworth should find itself the subject of a study such as this.

The above extract is from a review by Eddie Chambers of Kieran Connell, Black Handsworth: Race in 1980s Britain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019) for the journal Urban History 47 (2), May 2020, published by Cambridge University Press. ‘Review of Books’, 360-362