The Construction of Racial Difference in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925

by Laura Tabili
The Construction of Racial Difference in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925
Laura Tabili
The Journal of British Studies
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The Construction of Racial Difference in
Twentieth-Century Britain: The Special
Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen)
Order, 1925
Laura Tabili

In the course of the past several decades, scholars have exposed Black people's long history of life and work in Britain, but their ap- proaches to racial conflict have slighted the historical contingency of racial difference itself.' Black workers have been presented as logical, visible scapegoats in an otherwise homogeneous working class, and interracial hostility as an ineluctable product of economic or sexual competition between two mutually exclusive and naturally antagonistic groups of working men.2 Scholars examining Black people's experi-

LAURATABILIis assistant professor of history at the University of Arizona.

I The pioneering works in the field were anthropologist Kenneth Little, Negroes in Britain: A Study of Racial Relations in English Society, introduction by Leonard Bloom (1948; reprint, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972); and the first work of Little's student, sociologist Michael Banton, The Coloured Quarter: Negro Immigrants in an English City (London: Jonathan Cape, 1955). Banton has authored numerous subsequent works on post-1945 British race relations, but this work remains the most important for historians. Also see James Walvin, Black and White: The Negro in English Society, 1555-1945 (London: Allen LaneIPenguin Press, 1973); Edward Scobie, Black Britannia: The History of Blacks in Britain (Chicago: Johnson Publishers, 1972), 155-63; Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London: Pluto, 1984); Ron Ramdin, The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain (London: Gower, 1987); and Rozina Visram, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: The History of Indians in Britain, 1700-1947 (London: Pluto, 1986).

Examples include Walvin, pp. 206-15; Banton, The Coloured Quarter, p. 185; and Scobie, pp. 155-63. See a useful critique of monolithic notions of racism by Paul Rich, in Race and Empire in British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 4-5. I use the word "men" deliberately. For the most part these works have been written from a "gender-neutral" perspective that precludes implicit or explicit discus- sion of women, especially Black women. A notable exception was anthropologist Syd- ney Collins, Coloured Minorities in Britain: Studies in British Race Relations Based on African, West Indian and Asian Immigrants (London: Lutterworth, 1957). For recent efforts to restore Black women to this history, see Amrit Wilson, Finding a Voice:

Journal of British Studies 33 (January 1994): 54-98 O 1994 by The North American Conference on British Studies. All rights reserved. 0021-937119413301-0003$01.OO

ence in Britain under the rubric "immigrants and minorities" have placed particular emphasis on racial conflicts, xenophobia, and preju- dice, which they see as evidence of "traditions of intolerance" wide- spread in British ~ociety.~

Such interpretations leave unchallenged the assumption that racial or ethnic hostility is latent in social relations, resurfacing in any crisis. Whatever the intentions of their authors, such assumptions can all too easily be used to justify rather than to combat conflict and excl~sion.~

Intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, moreover, are not explanations for racial or ethnic conflict: in themselves they require explanation.' In focusing on "attitudes," and behaviors, these works neglect to ex-

Asian Women's Lives in Britain (London: Virago, 1978); Beverly Bryan, Stella Dadzie, and Suzanne Scafe, The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain (London: Virago, 1985); and Visram. Also see Fernando Henriques, Children of Conflict:A Study of Interracial Sex and Marriage (New York: Dutton, 1975).

Recent examples include Colin Holmes, John Bull's Island: Immigration and Brit- ish Society, 1871-1971 (London: Macmillan, 1988); Tony Kushner and Kenneth Lunn, eds., Traditions of Intolerance: Historical Perspectives on Fascism and Race Discourse in Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989). Earlier works include Colin Holmes, ed., Immigrants and Minorities in British Society (London: Allen & Unwin, 1978); Kenneth Lunn, ed., Hosts, Immigrants and Minorities: Historical Responses to Newcomers in British Society, 1870-1914 (London: Dawson & Sons, 1980), esp. p. 6.

For an articulation of the flawed epistemology and the political uses of "human nature" explanations, see Stephen Rose, "'It's Only Human Nature': The Sociobiolo- gists' Fairyland," Race and Class 20, no. 3 (1979): 277-87; and Stephen Rose and Hilary Rose, "Less than Human Nature: Biology and the New Right," Race and Class 27, no. 3 (1986): 47-66.

In spite of the distinctions among dictionary definitions of race, ethnicity, and culture, the imprecision in their usage is so prevalent in much of the literature that one is forced to conclude that "ethnicity" and "culture" are often coded stand-ins for racial difference. For a critique of this slippage, see Michel Giraud, "The Distracted Look: Ethnocentrism, Xenophobia or Racism?" Dialectical Anthropology 12 (1988): 413-19; and Immanuel Wallerstein, "The Construction of Peoplehood: Racism, Nationalism, Ethnicity," in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, by Etienne Balibar and Im- manuel Wallerstein (London: Verso, 1991), pp. 77-78. Douglas Lorimer dates the transi- tion from cultural to biological notions of race to the late nineteenth century in his

Colour, Class and the Victorians: English Attitudes to the Negro in the Mid-Nineteenth

Century (Leicester: Leicester University PresslNew York: Holmes & Meier, 1978). See

Penelope Hetherington, British Paternalism and Africa, 1920-1940 (London: Frank

Cass, 1978), pp. 76-83, for a discussion of the muddling of race, culture, language,

morality, and intelligence in twentieth-century thought and its political implications.

While her work concerns the period 1920-40, this muddling persists in current scholar-

ship. Scientists were never unanimous about the biological bases for racial distinctions,

and such interpretations have largely been repudiated since the Second World War. See

Ashley Montagu, Statement on Race: An Annotated Elaboration of the Four Statements

on Race Issued by the United Nations Educational, Scient$c, and Cultural Oganiza-

tion, 3d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972). For the history of scientific

thought about race, see Nancy Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain,

1800-1960 (Macmillan, 1982); and George Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (New York:

Free Press, 1987), esp. pp. 106-7, 228-29.

amine the structural underpinnings of popular racism and xenopho- bia-in particular the ways that Black and white working people were positioned in relation to each other within a system also riven by class, gender, skill, and other power dynami~s.~

What many scholars have taken for granted, indeed, is the objective or fixed quality of racial difference itself and its inexorably divisive effects. They fail to recog- nize that some differences denote race while others do not, yet their own evidence suggests that the differences selected to define race and the meaning of racial difference itself have varied over time and in different situations. To identify racial difference as a source of conflict is thus to beg the question of how racial difference has been con- structed and assigned meaning in the first place.

Such approaches have shaped current understandings of the justly notorious Coloured Alien Seamen Order of 1925. The Special Restric- tion (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order was the first instance of state- sanctioned race discrimination inside Britain to come to widespread notice. The order, promulgated by the Home Office Aliens Depart- ment, demanded that undocumented Black seamen register as aliens in Britain. As a result, many Black British subjects were registered as aliens, impairing their ability to get work, and many were threatened with deportation. Historians have depicted the Coloured Alien Seamen Order as an anomalous foretaste of the conflicts following the Second World War and of the state's capitulation to popular racism.

Until recently, scholars' two major sources of information about the Coloured Alien Seamen Order have been the League of Coloured Peoples' investigation, conducted in 1935, and anthropologist Kenneth Little's investigation in 1948.~ Both were based largely on the recollec- tions of Black seamen themselves, ten and twenty years after the% event. Contemporaries were unaware of the extent of central govern- ment involvement and quite logically blamed overzealous local police for exceeding their charge while enforcing the order. Reinforcing as- sumptions about localized popular racism, some have argued that local police erroneously applied the order, principally aimed at alien Arabs, to all Black seamen.* Many scholars have also assumed that the influ-

That the absence of such structural context impairs an analysis confined to atti- tudes and behavior is most apparent in Kenneth Lunn, "Race Relations or Industrial Relations? Race and Labour in Britain, 1880-1950," in Race and Labour in Twentieth Century Britain, ed. Kenneth Lunn (London: Frank Cass, 1985), esp, pp. 10-17.

'See George W. Brown, "Investigation of Coloured Colonial Seamen in Cardiff: April 13th-20th, 1935," Keys: Oficial Organ of the League of Coloured Peoples 3, no. 2 (October-December 1935): 18-22; Little, pp. 85-89.

Kenneth Little wrote that the "police were under a complete misapprehension" about the legalities of the order (see p. 87); Typical is Peter Fryer's account, based

ence of the National Union of Seamen (NUS), who were vocal in their opposition to Black and alien seamen, was responsible for the ordere9 These interpretations neglect inequalities of power and differing goals among different parties: among employers, among different branches of central and local government, and between labor leaders and the rank and file, both white and Black. They also tend to overestimate the union's role in policy formation, while investigation reveals the state and employers took the principal initiative in formulating specific policies and the union played only a reactive, negative role.

Identifying local officials or the union as the perpetrators of race discrimination through the Coloured Alien Seamen Order has absolved the central government of its critical role in formulating and enacting this and similar policies. As a result, abuse connected with the order has been misinterpreted as an expression of popular will, supporting the view of racial conflict as universal, atavistic, endemic among ordi- nary people. Evidence subsequently available shows the race discrimi- nation and abuse connected with the Coloured Alien Seaman Order was neither a spontaneous outbreak of popular racism nor merely lo- calized abuse of power by provincial police and officials.1° Race dis- crimination originated and was encouraged at the highest levels of

solely on Brown's report in the Keys: "The local police, high-handedly and quite ille- gally, placed their own interpretation on the Aliens Order of 1920 and the Special Restric- tion (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925. In the eyes of the police, these measures automatically made every black seaman in Cardiff an alien, regardless of any documen- tary evidence a man might produce to prove he was British" (Fryer, Staying Power, n. 1 above, p. 356). Ron Ramdin, who derived the bulk of his data from Little and union mascot Captain Edward Tupper, fell victim to the same interpretation, speaking of the "wilful misapplication" of the order and emphasizing the role of local police, pp. 75-77, 102, 113, 491-92. Also see Walvin, pp. 209-10. Only Scobie commented on the order's obviously racist intent (p. 161).

Scobie, p. 161. Kenneth Lunn, "The Seamen's Union and "Foreign" Workers on British and Colonial Shipping, 1890-1939," Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History 53, pt. 3 (Winter 1988): 5-13, states that both the order of 1920 and the Coloured Alien Seamen Order of 1925 were promulgated "largely as a result of persistent lobbying by the union" (p. 6); Holmes's account in John Bull's Island (p. 154) is derived largely from Lunn's.

'O While the abuses connected with the Coloured Alien Seamen Order have been widely discussed in survey histories of Black people in Britain, the documents explaining its formulation only became available in 1969, and no one but Paul Rich has used them, in Race and Empire, pp. 112, 125-28, 130, 142. Rich's argument, that the Coloured Alien Seamen Order represented "a political imperative to tighten up governmental control within the metropolis as well as a wider economic and political response on the imperial plane" (p. 122), credits local and national officials and other elites with greater unanimity of action and purpose than detailed examination of the evidence suggests. This is consistent with his argument that a variety of consensus he terms "middle opinion" has guided British racial thought in the twentieth century (pp. 4-5 and passim).

government, in response to converging pressures from historical actors within and outside the state.

As important, the meaning of what it was to be "coloured" or Black was reformulated in the process of state policy making." Be- tween the two world wars, the definition of who was "coloured" or Black, and to what this entitled him, was continually contested, thus shaped, by employers, union officials, and local and national govern- ment and by resistance from Black seamen, from consular officials and colonial governments, and from colonized elites. Black workers' resistance and evasion compelled the central government into increas- ingly intense supervision of the Black workforce in Britain and over- seas, of which the Coloured Alien Seamen Order of 1925, far from an isolated anomaly, was merely the most visible manifestation. Under- standing how this came about requires a materialist analysis of the political economy of British race discrimination combined with an analysis of the historical construction of racial difference-two discrete although interdependent processes.

In turn, the history of the Coloured Alien Seamen Order can illu- minate current debates about the nature of racial and ethnic difference while reaffirming the critical centrality of racial subordination to Brit- ish imperialism, at home as well as overseas. Scholars in many disci- plines are rejecting the view of both race and gender as innate attri- butes, instead viewing them as dynamic power structures given shape by particular historical context^.'^ While literary scholars have been the most emphatic in arguing for the social and historical construction of racial as well as gender differences, their current focus on imperialist and racist discourses was presaged in scholarship on race and eth- nicity.13 These scholars have argued that terms like "race" or "eth-

" For an important discussion of the relationship between law and custom, and a consideration of the law not merely as an instrument of class domination, but also as a terrain of contestation, see the essay on "The Rule of Law," in Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act, by E. P. Thompson (New York: Pantheon, 1975), pp. 258-69.

l2 Gayle Rubin made the analogy between race and gender explicit in a classic essay: "Marx once asked, 'What is a Negro slave? A man of the Black race. The one explanation is as good as another. A Negro is a Negro. He only becomes a slave in certain relations . . .' What is a domesticated woman? A female of the species. The one explanation is as good as another. A woman is a woman. She only becomes a domestic, a wife, a chattel, a playboy bunny, a prostitute, or a human dictaphone in certain relations." "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex," in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Reiter (New York: Monthly Review, 1975),

p. 158.

l3 See, e.g., Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1978); and articles by Abdul JanMohamed, Mary Louise Pratt, Gayatri Spivak, Hazel Carby, Pat- rick Brantlinger, and several others in Race, Writing and Difference, ed. Henry Louis

nicity" do not describe a static condition so much as a "positional" relationship made and unmade in historical circ~mstances.'~

The creation or construction of racial difference involves linking value-neutral physical attributes or cultural practices to value-laden negative or positive constructions or interpretations. Hence, racial dis- tinctions cannot be value free; they cannot be divorced from power relations-relations of disadvantage and dominance that are inherently conflict~al.'~

One finds, moreover, that which differences mattered, and the meaning assigned to them, has been conditioned by historical contexts. Race, like gender, is a historical artifact. Definitions of racial difference, like masculinity and femininity, have been sensitive to eco- nomic and political change, mediated by class and gender, and manipu- lated by elites in the pursuit of power.16 Their meanings have been

Gates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); Patrick Brantlinger, Rule of Dark- ness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988); and, most recently, Dominick LaCapra, ed., The Bounds of Race: Perspec- tives on Hegemony and Resistance (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991).

l4 H. Hoetink writes, "One and the same person may be considered white in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, and 'coloured' in Jamaica, Martinique or Cura- cao . . .the same person may be called a 'Negro' in Georgia." See Hoetink's Caribbean Race Relations: A Study of Two Variants, trans. from the Dutch by Eva M. Hooykas (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1967), p. xii. This is not to endorse an application of Hoetink's "phenotype" explanation, for a critique of which see Sidney Mintz, "Groups, Group Boundaries and the Perception of 'Race,"' Comparative Studies in Society and History 13, no. 4 (October 1971): 437-50. Also see Barbara Harrell-Bond, Allen M. Howard, and David E. Skinner, Community Leadership and the Transformation of Freetown (1801-1976) (The Hague: Mouton, 1978), pp. 3-17, 304-6; Charles VanOnselen, New Babylon: Studies in the Social and Economic History of the Witwatersrand, 1886-1914 (London: Longman, 1982), 1:xvii and passim; John Bodnar, The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1985); Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982), pp. 361-62; Cynthia Enloe, Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies (Athens: University of Geor- gia Press, 1980), p. 104; Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); Jonathan Okamura, "Situa- tional Ethnicity," Ethnic and Racial Studies 4 (October 1981): 452-65.

'j Robert Miles makes a cogent argument for the power relations implied in the social construction of racial difference in Racism and Migrant Labour (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), esp. pp. 9-21; while Ernest Krausz asserts that "physi- cal differences which are visible" were still "socially defined"; see his Ethnic Minorities in Britain (London: McGibbon & Kee, 19711, p. 10. A fascinating analysis of the contin- gency of racial and ethnic categories, and of their manipulation both in law and by individuals, can be found in Virginia Dominguez, White by Definition: Social Classifica- tion in Creole Louisiana (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986).

l6 On the simultaneous and interdependent construction of race, class, and gender, see Leonore Davidoff, "Class and Gender in Victorian England: The Diaries of Arthur

J. Munby and Hannah Cullwick," Feminist Studies 5, no. 1 (Spring 1979): 87-141; and, more recently, Joanna DeGroot, "'Sex' and 'Race': The Construction of Language and Image in the Nineteenth Century," in Sexuality and Subordination: Interdisciplinary Studies of Gender in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Susan Mendus and Jane Rendall

continually contested and redefined in struggles over wealth, power, and identity. In light of such understandings, emphasis on reified differ- ences as the source of ethnic or racial conflict appears misplaced. The task for historians is to reconstruct the process whereby racial differences have been defined and assigned meaning, to historicize the sources of racial conflict.

Early twentieth-century Britain offers particularly good evidence of how racial difference was constructed and assigned meaning and of how its meanings changed. The population called "Black" or "col- oured" was ethnically and culturally disparate, including Africans and West Indians, South Asians such as Burmese and Indians, Arabs, and people of mixed race.17 In 1921, for example, "the problem" of "the Negro," according to Liverpool Immigration Officer E. N. Cooper, involved "Adenese, Arabs, Berberans, Somalis and ~~y~tians.""The

(London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 89-128. The pioneering work on social construction is Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Doubleday, 1966). Recent and more ex- tended treatments of the social construction of gender include Joan Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," in her Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), pp. 28-50; Mary Poovey, Uneven Develop- ments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); and Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subver- sion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990).

I use the term "Black" because it is used by scholars in the discipline; because it is preferred by contemporary Black Britons, who constitute an equally diverse popula- tion; and because the term "coloured" is anachronistic and sometimes offends. I capital- ize "Black" to emphasize its categorical rather than descriptive function; while I refrain from capitalizing "white" because the term describes an equally diverse population whose ethnic and racial composition and boundaries have yet to be subjected to system- atic scholarly scrutiny. Although I agree that racial differences can be attributed at least in part to the Manichean dichotomies ubiquitous in modern Western culture, it is still not sufficient to say that "Black" is merely "nonwhite" and that "white" is merely "non-Black." On recent efforts to define "white" as a racial or ethnic category, see Ann L. Stoler, "Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Gender, Race, and Morality in Colonial Asia," in Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodern Era, ed. and introduced by Micaela di Leonardo (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 52-53 and passim; Paul Gilroy, There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (1987; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 122-23. Gilroy himself is reading rather creatively from Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Methuen, 1979), esp. pp. 62-67. For a recent American effort, see David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1991).

l8 Cooper to his superiors in the Home Office Aliens Department, February 17, 1921, Records of the Home Office Aliens Department, Public Record Office (PRO), London H0451118971332087120. A similarly diverse population can be found defined as "black" or "coloured" in, among many sources, Cardiff Immigration Officer S. A. Wilkes to the Home Office, April 1921, PRO H0451118971332087124; David Caradog Jones, The Economic Status of Coloured Families in the Port of Liverpool (Liverpool:

sole apparent shared characteristic among this diverse group was not physiological, but political and historical: they were colonized by the British. Thus race was a political rather than a biological or cultural category. The boundary between Black and white was drawn, not merely on the basis of physical appearance, but on relations of power, changing over time.

The historical record shows that assignment to racial categories has been far from natural: in the 1920s and 1930s the boundaries be- tween Black and white were contested terrain, defined by economic and political imperatives and enforced through coer~ion.'~

Disputes revolved around whether an individual was to be considered Black or white, as well as to what that individual was entitled. It may thus be fruitful to understand racial conflict as a by-product of racial definitions developed in a given historical context in response to institutional as well as popular pressures-and to understand the dialectical relation- ship between structures of race oppression and racial or racist con- sciousness and popular prejudice and action. Thus, to explain conflict, it is important to investigate and to understand whose purposes were served by racist practices and who participated in formulating racial categories.

Racial differences in twentieth-century Britain were constructed by the political economy of a declining maritime empire. Britain's global expansion was driven first by commercial and later by industrial capitalism, supported by the world's most powerful merchant fleet. Within Britain's global system, colonized people's labor was systemat- ically undervalued, and the extra profits appropriated by metropolitan capitalists.20 From the late nineteenth century, Britain's political and

University of Liverpool, Social Science Department, Statistics Division, 1940), p. 11; Reverend St. John B. Groser et al., "Conditions of Life of the Coloured Population of Stepney," 1942, Board of Trade Papers, PRO, MT913952, pp. 1-2; Leo Silberman and Betty Spice, Colour and Class in Six Liverpool Schools (Liverpool: University Press of Liverpool, 1950), p. 7. For an example of Indian seamen referring to themselves, if ruefully, as "black," see "Inspection of Lascars' Food," India Office Records (IOR), London, LIE171604 (1908).

l9 Within Britain's Asian community today, moreover, there are those who identify with the Black movement broadly defined and those who wish to remain aloof from it and explicitly reject the label "Black" applied to themselves. See comments by Marika Sherwood, in the Newsletter of the Association for the Study of African, Caribbean and Asian Culture and History in Britain, no. 3 (May 1992) p. 2. Changing terminology and the intensity of struggles around it seem to be only further evidence of the contingency of racial definitions.

20 Scholars have debated whether economic disparities between colonizer and colo- nized are a product of economic backwardness, unequal exchange, systematic underde- velopment, or economic dependency. For a summary and critique of recent arguments, see Cristobal Kay, ed., Latin American Theories of Development and Underdevelop-

economic subordination of non-European people was buttressed by an ideology of European and specifically British racial and cultural superiority. Supporters of European empire building argued that Brit- ish and European success in dominating non-European peoples was proof of their entitlement and fitness to do so. To colonized people they promised paternalistic protection, benefits, and rewards in ex- change for subordination and ~ervice.~'

Yet while the link between imperial race and power dynamics and those found in late twentieth-century Britain is widely acknowledged, the material mechanisms through which colonial racial inequalities were imported to Britain have remained unexplored.22 The mid-twentieth century, indeed, has been portrayed as a period in which demoralization, decline, and retreat from empire brought forth a nar- row and implicitly racial popular definition of Engli~hness.~~

The Col-

ment (New York: Routledge, 1989), esp. pp. 124-96. The argument that seems to best fit the situation of the colonized workers examined here is that of Claude Meillassoux, who argues in Maidens, Meals and Money: Capitalism and the Domestic Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975) that the decline of the colonized econ- omy stems from the systematic undercompensation of migrant and colonized labor. For a recent inquiry into who profited from British imperialism, see Lance Davis and Robert Huttenback, Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire: The Economics of Britis!l Imperialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

2' See, among many others, Christine Bolt, Victorian Attitudes to Race (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971); and Lorimer (n. 5 above), the pioneering works on Victorian racial thought; also see Hetherington (n. 5 above), esp. pp. 76-85; Terence Ranger, "The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa," in Hobsbawm and Ranger, eds., pp. 211-62; Patrick Brantlingner, "Africans and Victorians: The Geneology of the Myth of the Dark Continent," in Gates, ed., pp. 185-222, esp. p. 206; Leo Spitzer, The Creoles of Sierra Leone: Response to Colonialism, 1870-1945 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 19741, pp. 185-222; Catherine Hall, "The Economy of Intellectual Prestige: Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and the Case of Governor Eyre," Cultural Critique 12 (Spring 1989): 167-96.

22 John Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880-1960 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984); John Mackenzie, ed.,Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986); and several contributions to Raphael Samuel, ed., Patriotism: The Making and Un- making of British National Identity (London: Routledge, 1989); Rich, Race and Empire

    2 above), see also essays in the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain (London: Hutchinson, 1982). Other scholars dispute the relevance of Britain's history of imperialism, arguing instead that the English people are simply intolerant and xenophobic: "'The legacy of Em- pire' . . . represents little concrete research" (Kushner and Lunn, eds. [n. 3 above], p. 1). I submit that both domestic and imperial relations were critical and that neither can be dismissed as irrelevant-indeed, they were part of the same system and, if recent scholarship is to be credited, involved some of the same personnel: see P. J. Cain and A.
    Hopkins, "Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Expansion Overseas," pt. 2: "New Imperialism, 1850-1945," Economic History Review, 2d ser., 40, no. 1 (1987): 1-26; and Davis and Huttenback.

23 Paul Rich, "Imperial Decline and the Resurgence of English National Identity, 1918-1979," in Kushner and Lunn, eds., pp. 33-52. John Darwin has argued, on the

oured Alien Seamen Order, on the contrary, was an episode in an ongoing process that reconstructed colonial racial categories in the mother country, and its contradictions reflected the dilemmas of em- pire in the mid-twentieth century. The reconstruction of racial differ- ences in the 1920s and 1930s did not reflect a retreat from empire so much as the efforts of an influential section of the metropolitan elite to continue to reap the benefits of empire without bearing the costs. At the same time, rather than an unmitigated "tradition of intoler- ance," the rhetoric of empire and nationality too proved mutable: Black workers themselves appropriated this rhetoric to place claims on the state, with some limited success.

For numbered among this vast colonized labor pool was a substan- tial portion of the seafaring workforce itself. The most visible and controversial Black workers in interwar Britain were merchant seamen from Britain's overseas empire. Interwar racial policy developed from efforts to limit their access to the British labor market, hence their ability to bargain over the price of their labor outside the colonial context. Although Black people have lived in Britain for centuries, the men in question probably began arriving in Britain in the late nine- teenth century, as the British merchant fleet began to hire them in large numbers.

From the 1870s onward, with the conversion to steamships, an industrial division of labor, reinforced by colonial racial hierarchies, replaced the "rough equality" found aboard sailing ~hips.'~The advantages of underpaying colonized seamen, conveniently justified by colo- nial ideologies of racial inferiority, intensified due to international chal- lenges to Britain's once unrivaled maritime dominance.25 In the same

contrary, that the British ruling class was impervious to the symptoms of imminent imperial dissolution, stressing instead the "persistence of illusions of grandeur" in "Fear of Falling: British Politics and Imperial Decline since 1900," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 36 (1986): 41; also see John Darwin, "Imperialism in Decline? Tenden- cies in British Imperial Policy between the Wars," Historical Journal 23, no. 3 (1980): 657-79.

24 The argument for "rough equality" is most forcefully made in Marcus Rediker,

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo- American Maritime World, 1700-1750 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987); while Eric Sager describes the transition from sail to steam as "industrialization as it occurred at sea," in his Seafaring Men: The Merchant Marine of Atlantic Canada, 1820-1914 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989), p. 10.

25 For details, see Laura Tabili, "A Maritime Race: Masculinity and the Racial Division of Labor on British Merchant Ships," in Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Anglo-American Seafaring, 1700-1919, ed. Lisa Norling and Margaret Creighton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, in press). The long-term decline of British merchant shipping, irrespective of wage levels, is common knowledge, but for a detailed exploration of the situation in the 1920s, see Labour Research Department, Shipping, Studies in Labour and Capital, no. 4 (London: Labour Publishing Department, 1923).

decades the definition of British nationality became subject to debate and contestation as the massive displacement of population associated with global industrialization brought large numbers of migrants to Brit-

Both of these trends culminated in the First World War.

From 1900 through at least the 1930s as much as one-third of the labor force on British merchant ships-some 40,000 to 60,000 men- were Black ~eamen.~'This group was highly disparate: in 1921, Cardiff police enumerating "Alien and British Coloured Seamen" included 952 men of ten different nationalities, including Arabs, Adenese and Berbers, British Somalis, Egyptians, Goanese, French Algerians, and British Indians, while another authority included Estonians, Portu- guese, and ~altese.~~Official

tallies after 1925 sorted them into seven somewhat arbitrary categories, including "Arabs (including Iraqis and Palestinians)," "Somalis (including Djibutis)," "Other Africans," "Indians and Cingalese" (i.e., Sinhalese), ''Malays," "West Indians." and "Miscellaneous. "29

Most of the Black men serving in British ships were hired in colo- nial ports in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, placed on two-year "Asiatic" or other special labor contracts, and paid at colonial wage levels-one-third to one-fifth of a British seaman's wage.30 The appalling conditions of "Asiatic" or "Lascar" labor con-

26 Bernard Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905 (Lon- don: Heinemann, 1972); John Garrard, The English and Immigration: A Comparative Study of the Jewish Influx, 1880-1910 (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1971); David Feldman, "The Importance of Being English: Jewish Immigration and the Decay of Liberal England," in Metropolis London: Histories and Representations since 1800, ed. David Feldman and Gareth Stedman Jones (London: Routledge, 1989). On migration as an effect of late nineteenth-century industrialization, see Wolf (n. 14 above), pp. 354-83.

27 See table 1 below. All of those listed as "Lascars" and an unknown proportion of those listed as "Foreign" or "British" were Black. Although the total workforce fluctuated around 200,000, since approximately one-third of men listed as "British" were officers who were usually white, the proportion of Black men in the rank and file would be approximately one-third.

28 Cardiff Immigration Officer S. A. Wilkes to the Home Office, April 1921, PRO, H0451118971332087124.

29 These categories structured the tabulations under the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, sent to the India Office annually between 1925 and 1939 by the Home Office, IOR, found in LlEl91953, LlEl91954, and LlEl91972.

'O For relative wages as they stood in 1928, see figures presented to the House of Commons on June 15, Parliamentary Debates (Commons), 5th ser., vol. 218 (1928), cols. 1331-32. Seamen from the West Indies constituted a significant exception: the 1823 legislation establishing Asiatic articles exempted West Indians, who were declared to be "as much British seamen as any white man would be." Bob Hepple, Race, Jobs and the Law (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 63. Yet this status was much compromised in the twentieth century, culminating in the Coloured Alien Seamen Order. See also reference to "special arrangements with reference to non-white crews" be

tracts reflected employers' view of colonized people as superexploit- able and expendable labor: they provided low pay, squalid living and working conditions, and constraints on sailors' occupational mobilit~.~'

For their own protection, seamen hired in British ports were re- quired to sign new articles of agreement for each ship, but two-year "Asiatic" labor contracts precluded thi~.~~In

1913-14, employers were required to provide 120 cubic feet of shipboard space for each Euro- pean seaman, while Lascars were allotted 72 cubic feet per man.33 When requirements were upgraded, the differential remained.34 Asiatic articles also exempted employers from British social wage provisions such as unemployment insurance and pensions.35 Employers resisted

tween the National Union of Seamen and the Furness Withy company regarding Trinida- dian seamen (NUS Executive Council Minutes, July 7, 1939, Modern Records Centre (MRC), University of Warwick, Coventry, Mssl75lllll9, p. 4).

31 In the interwar period, Asiatic articles and the men who sailed under them were governed by the Indian Merchant Shipping Act of 1883, sec 29, and the British Merchant Shipping Acts of 1894, sec. 125; and 1906, sec. 12. The terms of these acts defined who was a "Lascar" and who was not and specified levels of rations and other minutia. See India Office Revenue no. 171, London, November 20, 1903, IOR, LlEl71481; A. Colaco, ed., A History of the Seamen's Union, Bombay (Bombay: Pascoal Vaz, 1955), p. 58; in the papers of the International Transportworkers' Federation (ITF) MRC, Mss15915131

588. For a 1903 legal test and a 1918 clarification of who was to be considered a "Las- car," see IOR, Economic and Overseas Department, LlEl91936; also see Hepple, pp. 63-64. Contract labor systems designed to mobilize Indian labor for plantations, mines, and other colonial enterprises developed soon after the abolition of slavery in 1834, and were a continual source of contention, scandal, and, in their destinations, labor conflict on racial lines. See Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830-1920 (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1974), esp. pp. 41-43; and Hugh Tinker, Separate and Unequal: India and the Indians in the British Commonwealth, 1920-1950 (London: C. Hurst & Co., 1976). The terms "superexploitation" and "superprofits" refer to the extra profits to be gained from labor paid even less than regular waged workers who are simply exploited in the sense that their wages amount to less than the value their labor adds to the goods they produce. Meillassoux (n. 20 above) argues that migrant workers are often paid less than the cost of their reproduction: in this way the host economy effectively drains resources from the migrants' country of origin.

'*Employers could legally abridge this contract any time after the first three months, while crewmen had no legal grounds for quitting or any mechanism for recovery of wages due (Board of Trade minutes by A. S. Hoskin, August 5, 1929, and Board of Trade minutes October 3, 1927, PRO, MT912735.M4184).

"W. E. Home, Merchant Seamen: Their Diseases and Their Welfare Needs (New York: Dutton, 1922), p. 87.

34 In 1959 the Elder Dempster company reported that an incentive for the "African- isation" of their crews was the need to upgrade facilities if white crews were retained (Federation of Nigeria, Report of the Board of Enquiry into the Trade Dispute between the Elder Dempster Lines Ltd. and the Nigerian Union of Seamen [Lagos: Federal Government Printer, 19591, esp. pp. 31-34, 79-81, 118-24).

35 P. G. Kanekar, Seaman in Bombay: Report of an Enquiry into the Conditions of their Life and Work (Bombay: Servants of India, 1928), p. 17, MRC, Mss 15915131587; Colaco, ed., pp. 87-88.

buying European-quality food for their Lascar crews on the pretext of "Eastern races" religious dietary strictures yet covertly abridged them to save money, in one case feeding a Muslim crew margarine con- taining lard from tins painted over and labeled "ghee."36 Fleet Surgeon

W. E. Home attributed Lascars' suspiciously high death rate from pneumonia and tuberculosis to their inferior working conditions. Black seamen's high mortality rates and frequent "disappearances," deaths from beri-beri, "heat apoplexy," heart failure, and suicide, suggest that many men, particularly firemen, who stoked steamships' boilers with coal, may have been literally worked to deathe3'

For this reason many Black seamen chose to migrate or to jump ship in British and European seaports where they could obtain employ- ment under European contractual conditions, with vastly improved wages and rations, shipboard living conditions, and chances of surviv- ing the voyage.38 Thus the ethnically and racially heterogeneous popu- lation in most British seaports was a product of British overseas impe- rialism, reflecting both maritime employers' efforts to benefit from and extend the vulnerability of colonized labor to the metropole and Black seamen's refusal to acquiesce in the inequalities underpinning the im- perial system.39

Shipowning employers, conversely, sought to bar Black seamen from the European labor market, confining them to labor contracts negotiated at colonial wage levels. With state sanction, special articles customary in India were imposed on Adenese in 1903, on Somalis and men from Port Said in 1918, on some "white natives of India" in 1923, Goans in 1925, men from the Red Sea ports in the late 1920s, and, with

36 Ghee is clarified butter, used in Indian cooking. See "Inspection of Lascars' Food," India Office Economic and Overseas Department, file Revenue and Statistics (R&S) 54, 1908, IOR, LlEl71604.

"See figures on Black seamen's mortality reported in the Seaman (March 20, 1914),

p. 7; (May 15, 1914), and p. 2; also see Home, pp. 87, 94. For questions about individual cases, see House of Commons debates March 3 and 9, 1908, Parliamentary Debates, 4th ser. vol. 185 (1908), cols. 493-508, 11 15; and 6, 7, 22 and 23 April 1909, Parliamentary Debates, 5th ser., vol. 3 (1909), cols. 1131-32, 1253-54, 1786, 1869-70.

To infer that all seamen shipping out of British ports in these years were union members would be erroneous. Yet European wages and conditions, even when employ- ers successfully abridged them, as they often did, were still substantially better than those provided by Lascar articles.

39 If the figures for Black populations in ports are fragmentary and incomplete, those for inland cities are simply nonexistent. The British census did not ask a question about race until 1991, and no scholar has yet attempted the empirical work necessary to establish the Black population of even a single British city, maritime or inland. But see Carlton 0.Wilson, "A Hidden History: The Black Experience in Liverpool, England, 1919-1945" (Ph.D. thesis, University of North Carolina, 1991); and my work in prog- ress: "'A Place of Refuge': Black Workers and Interracial Settlements in Britain, 1900-1950."

modifications, Chinese seamen and West Africanse40 Between 1901 and 1938, the proportion of the workforce on "Asiatic" labor contracts grew steadily-from less than a fifth (18.5 percent) to more than a quarter (26 percent) at the expense of white and Black seamen who operated in the relatively free European labor market.41 Splitting the workforce in this way enabled employers to minimize wages for both Black and white sailors, threatening each group with replacement by the other should their demands escalate.42 It also enhanced Black sea- men's incentive to seek work in Britain. (See table 1 for the propor- tional makeup of seamen employed on British merchant ships.)

The Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade, respon- sible for government oversight of the industry, was unable to constrain these labor practices, due to shipowners' refusal to cooperate, their substantial influence with interwar governments, and the ailing indus- try's historically critical role in British economic well-being. In the early twentieth century, shipping interests and the national interest were closely identified in the City and in ~arliament.~~

Even during the 1924 Labour administration, sixty-six members of the Commons and seventy in the Lords were "known to be directors of [Shipping Federa- tion] affiliated companies." Sometime Board of Trade President Wal-

On the extension of Lascar articles, see relevant documents in India Office Reve- nue Department, November 20, 1903, LlEl7/481; and India Office Economic and Over- seas Department, file R&S 2435, 1925, IOR, LlE/9/936; Colaco, ed., p. 58; Catherine Betty Abigail Behrens, Merchant Shipping and the Demands of War (London: Her Majesty's Stationery OfficelLongman, 1955), p. 157. Because few Chinese were formally colonized by Britain, and perhaps because they had the alternative of the U.S. industry, where they served in considerable numbers, their experience in some ways resembled that of colonized Black people, but there were also significant differences that scholars have yet to thoroughly explore. Consequently, they occupy an ambiguous place in the work at hand, but one that seems to be necessary. On Chinese settlers in Britain, see Ng Kwee Choo, The Chinese in London (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1968); J. P. May, "The Chinese in Britain, 1860-1914," in Holmes, ed. (n. 3 above), pp. 11 1-24.

41 See table 1 below.

42 Labor relations in the maritime industries were historically turbulent and embit- tered to say the least. For a brief glimpse into a substantial literature, see John Saville, "Trade Unionism and Free Labour: The Background to the Taff Vale Decision," in Studies in Social History, ed. Michael Flinn and T. C. Smout (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), pp. 249-76; Ron Bean, "Employers' Associations in the Port of Liverpool," and Geoffrey Alderman, "The National Free Labour Associations: A Case Study of Organi- sed Strikebreaking in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries," both in International Review of Social History 21, pt. 3 (1976): 380-81, 309-36; Hugh Clegg, A History ofBritish Trade Unions since 1889, vol. 2,1911-1933 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985); Arthur Marsh and Victoria Ryan, The Seamen (London: Malthouse Publishing, 1989).

43 Harris Joshua, Tina Wallace, and Heather Booth, To Ride the Storm: The 1980 Bristol "Riot" and the State (London: Heinemann Educational, 1983), p. 29.


EMPLOYED SHIPS British Foreign Lascars Total

SOURCE.-Figures for 1901-35 are from the Board of Trade papers, PRO, London, MT9I 2737.M4541. Figures for the years 1936-38 are from Catherine Betty Abigail Behrens, Merchant Shipping and the Demands of War (London: Her Majesty's Stationery OfficeILongman, 1955), p.

157. The category "foreign" included alien seamen, white and Black, as well as many Black seamen who were British subjects but undocumented, while the category "British" included some docu- mented Black British subjects; hence the difficulty of estimating the numbers of Black seamen on European articles. For detailed definitions of categories, see Great Britain, Board of Trade, Census of Seamen (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1937, 1938, 19391, esp, 1937, pp. 4, 6, 7. Figures in the Census of Seamen reflect the number of men employed on a given day, somewhat fewer than the total workforce enumerated here. Figures were also published in the Board of Trade Parliamentary Command Papers each year until 1935.

NOTE.-Proportional numbers are in parentheses.

ter Runciman owned the Moor ~ine.~~

In the 1920s the Board of Trade supported employers' efforts to put all Black seamen on "Lascar" labor contracts, preserving the race segregation and hierarchy in the seafaring labor market.45

The seamen's union, which has commonly received the dubious credit for the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, in fact played an ambiva- lent role. Officially committed to organizing all comers regardless of race or nationality, the union, however grudgingly, admitted Black

44 The quote is from Labour Research Department (n. 25 above), p. 31. In 1922 the Home Office considered it "politic to keep on as good terms as possible" with the Shipping Federation (Home Office minutes, March 18, 1922, PRO, H04511189713320871 60). Rebuffing unions' calls for pressure on shipowners in 1923, Roundell Cecil Palmer, Viscount Wolmer of the Board of Trade, commented ruefully, "Sometimes the Board of Trade . . . are credited with magnetic and wonderful powers which I am afriad they do not possess" (Deputation to the Board of Trade [Viscount Wolmer] from the Seafar- ers' Joint Council regarding the Employment of Arabs to the Detriment of British Seafar- ers, January 15, 1923, PRO, H0451118971332087170). On employers' refusal to cooperate with government regulatory bodies, see Tabili, "'Keeping the Natives . . . Under Con- trol': Race Segregation and the Domestic Dimensions of Empire, 1920-1939," International Labor and Working Class History (Fall 1993), in press.

45 In spring 1921, the Colonial Office and the Board of Trade considered legislation to put all "coloured colonial seamen" on special articles (C. H. Grimshaw of the Board of Trade to the Home Office, June 2, 1921, PRO, H0451118971332087129.

members in the interwar years, perhaps as many as several thousand.46 Yet, divided and in retreat due to the postwar depression in shipping, union leadership sought to placate employers by colluding in Asiatic articles and other special arrangements that kept the bulk of Black labor cheap, a threat to unionized seamen, Black and white.47 At the same time the Seaman, the union's biweekly "green sheet," featured vitriolic public attacks on "coloured" seamen, reinforcing charges of blacklegging (scabbing) with racist stereotypes.

The process whereby racial difference acquired particular mean- ings-equal or inferior, mate or scab, union brother or threatening rival, comrade or class enemy-was thus a material and an historical one, shaped by domestic, labor and imperial politics, and by the simple pursuit of wealth. In the 1920s and 1930s, these meanings were recon- structed into new definitions of racial difference as a product of the struggle and negotiation that produced the Coloured Alien Seamen Order.

In the early 1920s the British state successively shifted and rede- fined the boundaries of race and nationality in response to competing pressures from a variety of historical actors within and outside govern- ment. Between 1917 and 1925 the Home Office reluctantly undertook the policing of Black workers in Britain, using aliens regulation against Black British subjects in a racially discriminatory manner outside the letter and spirit of existing legislation and in breach of common prac- tice. The result was the codification of a new political category and, with it, an implied revision of the meaning of racial difference itself, in the Coloured Alien Seamen Order of 1925. As the affected seamen continued to contest and resist the discrimination implied by this par- ticular construction of their racial difference, this category was broad-

46 David Byrne, "The 1930 'Arab Riot': A Race Riot That Never Was," Race and Class 18, no. 3 (1977-78), pp. 266-67, reports Arabs were considered the seamen's union president Joseph Havelock Wilson's "pets." Union records available in the Mod- ern Records Centre at the University of Warwick do not include membership lists or any other evidence that would enable the reconstruction of the union's composition-racial, ethnic, regional, or otherwise. Extrapolations from anecdotal evidence in the Seaman and in union and government records, when combined with aggregate statistics, suggest that several thousand apiece of the men classed as "British" and "Alien" in the Board of Trade's annual Census of Seamen were Black men: to discuss relative numbers of different ethnic origins would be purely speculative. Rank-and-file organizer George Hardy alleged that, in 1926, of a total of 51,566 "Lascars" on British ships, 45,000 were on Asiatic articles and 6,580 were in racially mixed crews earning European wages (George Hardy, The Struggle of British Seamen [London: Seamen's Section of Trans- port and General Workers' Union Minority Movement, 19271).

47 For details of this very complicated story, see chap. 5 of L. Tabili, 'We Ask for British Justice': Black Workers and the Construction of Racial Difference in Late Impe- rial Britain (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), in press.

ened from an initially small and specific group of "Arab" seamen to encompass a disparate group of workers defined chiefly by their vulnerability in the global labor market and by attributed "racial" characteristics. In the process racial difference itself was construed as prima facie alien status. This broader definition was recodified in 1932 in the special certificate of nationality and identity, a second-class British nationality credential for Black workers only. These mecha- nisms of division in turn reconstructed racial hierarchies not only in Britain but eventually in the overseas empire.

Race policy became the province of the Home Office in response to direct and indirect pressure on the state from employers, local offi- cials, and the seamen's union, and in default of responsible action from other central government ministries such as the Colonial Office, the India Office, and the Board of Trade. Charged with policing labor and civil agitation, the Home Office also regulated immigration through its Aliens Department. As the ministry in charge of aliens matters, the Home Office first got involved in policing Black seamen who were of genuinely doubtful nationality.

Legislation to exclude and control aliens, first promulgated in 1905 after decades of bitter opposition, and aimed primarily at Russian Jews, was strengthened in 1914 for use against Germans and other suspected subversive^.^^ Yet in the course of the war Adenese and other Arab seamen, many of whom were nominal subjects of the Otto- man empire, were somewhat indiscriminately provided with British document~.~~An

episode in 1917 illustrated this process and how Brit- ish officials and Adenese seamen responded.

In lieu of a passport, a British seaman customarily carried a dis- charge book that contained his record of service on ships and served as a work credential and proof of his identity.jO Yet in 1917 police in

48 For details, see Gainer (n. 26 above); and Garrard (n. 26 above).

49 The fortress of Aden had belonged to Britain since 1802. The rest of the territory was technically an Ottoman possession until after the war, when it became a protectorate of Britain, and its inhabitants British protected persons. In 1937 Aden became a crown colony and, eventually, in 1967, the capital of South Yemen. Also see R. B. Serjeant, "The Ports of Aden and Shihr," in Studies in Arabian History and Civilisation, ed.

R. B. Sarjeant (London: Variorum Reprints, 1981), pp. 207-11.

50 "It was pointed out that a Seaman's Discharge Book with his photograph therein is sufficient passport for any seaman landing in a foreign country" (Minutes of the National Union of Seamen Temporary Management Committee, February 17, 1931, MRC, Mss175/1/311&2, fol. 92). "A discharge book is the seaman's most precious possession, and he should care for it as such. It is at all times the seaman's only passport to work, and no matter what his qualifications and length of service may be, he seldom if ever gets a job without its production" (the Seaman [February 22, 19331, p. 2). Also see R. H. Thornton, British Shipping (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939),

p. 224, for a discussion of seamen's credentials.

South Shields arrested three Adenese men for failure to register as aliens because they lacked birth certificates to prove they were Aden- ese. The Home Office, at Foreign Office and Colonial Office behest, rebuked the police: Arab seamen, they wrote, "never have proper passports. . . . They are seldom if ever able to support their claim to British nationality by documentary evidence, but unless there is a rea- son to doubt it, the permits [leave to land] are i~sued."~' Major-General J. M. Stewart, the political resident at Aden, took an even broader view. To him, it mattered little whether the men were British or Ottoman subjects: "It will be most impolitic at this time when . . . Turkish territories and ours [are] no longer, by reason of the war, clearly defined, to dismiss all trans-border Arabs as beyond the pale of our consideration and to treat them as enemy subjects."52 "Arab" seamen, in demand due to a manpower shortage in British war transports, were granted permission to land in Britain for ulterior foreign policy goals.j3 But seamen so credentialed proceeded to use these documents for their own purposes-to enhance their position in the seafaring labor market by remaining in Britain and seeking jobs at European wages.

Thus in 1917 the convergence of wartime manpower demands and British strategic interests expanded the definition of who was treated as British and to what he was entitled. The British state explicitly bargained Black seamen, like other colonized people, the prerogatives of British nationality in exchange for their service in the war.54 But this convergence lasted only until the Armistice. Political boundaries in the Near East, and with them the nationality status of "Arab" seamen, solidified with the peace. Residents of the Aden settlement were British subjects. Many more were now residents of the British protectorate of Aden, not technically British subjects but still under

51 See correspondence among solicitor A. W. Ruddock, representing South Shields Adenese seamen, the Home Office, and South Shields police, as well as correspondence related to a similar incident in Cardiff, in March, April, and May 1917 PRO, H0451 11897133208717, 19 and 112.

52 Stewart admitted many of these men were probably French subjects of Somali- land. Major-General J. M. Stewart to the Secretary of State for India, March 28, 1917, PRO, H0451118971332087112: also see Home Office correspondence, July 23, and Au- gust 2, 1917, PRO, H0451118971332087110.

53 British officials used the term "Arab" somewhat indiscriminately to describe Islamic seamen from East Africa as well as the Arabian peninsula and environs. While folklore has it that large numbers of such men entered the British merchant service during the war years, no estimate of their numbers is available.

54 For another story of hopes raised and betrayed by the First World War, see Spitzer (n. 21 above).

British jurisdiction through the India Office.55 No longer potential de- fectors to be wooed from the Turks, this group of "Arab" seamen of genuinely dubious nationality became the initial focus of Home Office concern.

In Britain, demand for merchant seamen slackened due to indus- trial mismanagement and postwar depression with its attendant labor agitati~n.~~

In traversing the geographical barriers between colonizer and colonized, Black seamen who traveled to Britain, evading colonial race exploitation, entered the milieu of labor conflict in the metropole. Consequently, they occupied the sometimes perilous intersection of imperial and domestic political struggles and economic contradictions.

Their vulnerability was revealed in the course of the worldwide civil disorders of summer 1919.57 In June 1919, crowds of white people that included American war veterans invaded and pillaged interracial port communities in Cardiff, Liverpool, and elsewhere. Although scholars have yet to thoroughly investigate the causes of these riots, the press and local authorities such as police and immigration officers were quick to identify "primordial," "racial antipathy" at their root.58

55 Although protectorate status implied the retention of local autonomy, under Brit- ish administration "the chieftains of the Protectorate were gradually brought under control" while the borders between the Aden Protectorate and Yemen retained "ambi- guity." See Ann Williams, Britain and France in the Middle East and North Africa (London: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 49-50. In practice, the precise relationship between the crown and the protectorates was unclear and inconsistent, and, in some cases, formal annexation was viewed as a dispensable formality rendered moot by "implied annexation." See correspondence April 1920-February 1921 among the Home Office, the Board of Trade, and the Colonial Office, regarding "Exemption of Protected Persons." See esp. "Extract from 'The Law Times' June 12th 1920," PRO, H0451137161417984. For this reason the status of British protected persons was open to dispute. In the midst of vexed negotiations with the India Office, W. Haldane Porter of the Home Office commented with unconscious irony, "It is difficult to explain even to the educated person the legal difference between a British subject and the British protected person, and quite impossible to make a coloured seaman understand" (Interdepartmental meet- ing, November 2, 1928; note of a conference at the Home Office, November 5, 1928, IOR, LlEi91953.

56 After a brief boom in 1919-20, largely produced by irresponsible overcapitaliza- tion, the shipping industry slumped again in 1921. See Labour Research Department (n. 25 above).

57 In June 1919 alone, there were riots in Vienna and Winnepeg, Canada, and a pogrom in Poland as well as police and teachers' strikes in Britain. See Daily Herald (June 18, 19191, p. 3; (June 23, 19191, p. 2; (June 24, 1919); Charles Loch Mowat, Britain between the Wars, 1918-1940 (London: Methuen, 1956), pp. 24-25.

58 These phrases came from the maritime journal Syren and Shipping (June 18, 1919), p. 1055; and the chief constable of Liverpool to the Home Office, June 1919, both in the Home Office file on the riots, PRO, H0451110171377969. The reasons for the 1919 riots have yet to be thoroughly explored, but the most suggestive article is Roy May and Robin Cohen, "The Interaction between Race and Colonialism: A Case Study of the Liverpool Race Riots of 1919," Race and Class 16, no. 2 (1974): 111-26. Also see

Although the attackers were white, local and national authorities con- cerned with domestic order, often influenced by colonialist notions of Black people's irrationality and volatility as well as class-based hostil- ity to workers in general, increasingly viewed interracial settlements as potential sites of chronic crime and ~iolence.~'Their view of Black men as out of place in Britain conveniently coincided with that of employers and their advocates at the Board of Trade, albeit for differ- ent reasons. In subsequent years, the Board of Trade and some local officials invoked fears of renewed violence to persuade the Home Of- fice to use aliens legislation and its attendant powers to police Black seamen in the ports.

In January 1920 South Shields officials, for example-the secretary of the union local, the Mercantile Marine supervisor and the secre- tary of the Labour Exchange-complained of a surfeit of Arab seamen who, evading the Asiatic articles in force in some Red Sea ports, "are discharged at Marseilles, pay their fares to England, and drift to South Shields" seeking work. Alleging that many such men were aliens, and reinforcing their charges with dire warnings about potential violence by unemployed white seamen, they called on the Home Office to provide British Adenese subjects with identification. The Home Office de- murred: most of these men were British subjects in the broader sense, technically outside the purview of aliens regulation. Complaints, the Home Office suspected, were "due to prejudice against their col-

In any case, the task was impossible: "There are scores of such men scattered all over the world in pursuit of their calling, who never return to Aden at

chap. 7 of Tabili, "Black Workers in Imperial Britain" (n. 25 above); and Jacqueline Jenkinson, "The 1919 Riots," in Racial Violence in Britain, 1840-1950, ed. Panikos Panayi (Leicester and London: Leicester University Press, 1993), pp. 92-1 11.

59 Ralph Desmarias observed that to the interwar Home Office militant "workers were presented less as victims of economic circumstance and more as enemies of the state" in "Lloyd George and the Development of the British Government's Strikebreak- ing Organization," pt. 1, International Review of Social History 20 (1975): 1-15, esp. 8; also see Jane Morgan, Conjict and Order: The Police and Labour Disputes in England and Wales, 1900-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).

60 Home Office to Newcastle, April 15, 1920; J. W. Oldfield, immigration officer at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to the Home Office, May 1, 1920; Home Office minutes, June 26, 1920, PRO, H0451118971332087117.

61 Correspondence among J. W. Oldfield, immigration officer at Newcastle-upon- Tyne, the Home Office, and the India Office, and Home Office minutes, January and February 1920, PRO, H0451118971332087117. The Home Office also begrudged commit- ting resources to a task not properly theirs, and India Office opposition to the proposal effectively squelched it. India Office to the Home Office March 4, 1920, PRO, H0451 11897/332087117. India Office staff themselves were far from unanimous: C. E. Baines favored confining all seamen under India Office jurisdiction to "Tascar" [Lascar] arti-

Yet later that year, negotiations among the Home Office, the Board of Trade and the Colonial Office revealed each saw Adenese sailors from a different angle, accordingly assigning them different enti- tlements and prer~gatives.~~Early

in 1920, the Board of Trade, charged with regulating the seafaring labor market, had adopted a "general policy of not registering alien coloured seamen" as part of the work- force, preventing them from seeking work in Britain. They based their position on a narrow but technically correct reading of the Aliens Or- der of 1920 that defined British protected persons as aliens. Both the Colonial Office and at least one local Mercantile Marine officer, how- ever, objected that refusal to register such men, many of whom had long been part of the seafaring workforce, stranded them in British ports, whence they must eventually be repatriated either at Colonial Office or local expense: "It should not be necessary for public funds to bear the cost of repatriation of able bodied men who are willing to These authorities petitioned the Home Office to exempt protectorate subjects from aliens regulations, implying a broader defi- nition of British nationality based on custom and practice. Because legal opinion regarding protectorates and their inhabitants was itself imprecise, the Home Office was willing to exempt selected Malay and African protectorates from aliens registration, but rejected a general exemption as futile since the Board of Trade was "dead set . . . against the employment of non-British seamen, or, indeed of non-white sea- men whether British or not," commenting in frustration, "we have had this matter before us ~onstantly."~~

cles, while J. E. Shuckburgh favored "treating ail Arab seamen on the same footing as British subjects," and W. Ferard saw defining protected persons as aliens as a welcome pretext to abdicate responsibility to the Foreign Office (India Office document 1555, February 26, 1920, PRO, HO451118971332087117).

62 As Francesca Klug points out, British nationality in itself was no guarantee of equal rights and prerogatives. Until 1928, for example, the franchise was restricted on gender grounds, and women have remained without equal rights throughout the twenti- eth century ("Oh, to Be in England: The British Case Study," in Woman-Nation-State, ed. Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthius (London: Macmillan, 1984), pp. 17-18.

63 G. E. A. Grindle of the Colonial Office to Sir John Pedder in the Home Office, 3eptember 15, 1920, PRO, HO451137161417984.

"Pedder to the Colonial Office, September 18, 1920. Those territories included the Federated Malay States, Nigeria, the Gold Coast and Northern Territories, Sierra Le- one, and the Gambia. Seamen from several other, mainly African protectorates were entitled to apply for individual exemptions, and "we throw all the rest to the wolves"

(G. E. A. Grindle, undersecretary of state for the colonies to Pedder, Home Office undersecretary, May 13, 1920; Undersecretary Harold Scott of the Home Office to chief constables, May 26. 1920. Also see correspondence April 1920-February 1921 among the Home Office, the Board of Trade, and the Colonial Office, regarding "Exemption of Protected Persons," and esp. "Extract from 'The Law Times' June 12th 1920," all in PRO, HO451137161417984).

In addition to their unclear legal status, the "political" problem remained: many of these men carried European discharge papers they had been using for some time and had every reason to believe were evidence of their right to continue seeking work in British ports.65 In addition, seamen from Britain's overseas possessions, including the protectorates, considered themselves British and were commonly so recognized-by local magistrates, for instance, who often refused to convict them for breaches of aliens regulations. Liverpool Immigration Officer Cooper complained that arresting "British protected natives" (sic)was "practically useless . . . as . . . it would be difficult to obtain a con~iction."~~

An example was Ahmed Gabbar, in all probability a stowaway, against whom a British magistrate's clerk refused to issue an aliens' expulsion order because his documents established his resi- dence in Shaikh 0thma1-1.~~

But since aliens legislation linked the right to live and work in Britain with British nationality, political and eco- nomic pressure in the interwar years provided the impetus to enforce it selectively against new groups, shifting the boundaries and meanings attached to race and nationality themselves.

For in spite of their scruples, in autumn 1920 the Home Office began penalizing undocumented Arab seamen for their ambiguous sta- tus, using aliens powers on a selective, racial basisa6' In September 1920 the Board of Trade "return[ed] to the charge," relaying local port officials' warnings of imminent interracial violence.69 By October, convinced the situation was "serious," the Home Office had capitu- lated, perhaps because the alleged threat to civil peace was within

J. W. Oldfield, assistant superintending immigration officer, to Home Office, Janu- ary 23, 1920; and Home Office minutes, PRO, H0451118971332087117. Aliens legislation of 1919 and 1920 exempted sailors on shore leave of up to sixty days from registration as aliens.

66 Cooper cited a recent regulation, "S.I.267 of 30.6.20." E. N. Cooper to the Home Office, February 17, 1921, PRO, H045ll18971332087123.

67 The Home Office, conversely, refused to register Gabbar under the Coloured Alien Seamen Order because they feared registration would regularize his position in Britain. Home Office to the India Office, November 20, 1925, IOR, LlEl91953; and see Notes of a conference held at the Home Office, January 26, 1928, PRO, H0451133921 493912142.

Aliens powers, as defined in the legislation of 1919, 1920, and 1925, included refusal of leave to land, registration and monitoring of legal resident aliens, and deporta- tion without recourse to appeal at the virtual discretion of the home secretary. Grounds for deportation included but were by no means limited to destitution, illness, suspected criminal behavior including labor organizing, and failing to register on entry. See, for details, Paul Gordon, Policing Immigration: Britain's Internal Controls (London: Pluto Press, 1985), esp. pp. 8-10.

69 Board of Trade to Consul-general at Marseilles, September 20, 1920; Home Office minutes, September 20, 1920, PRO, H0451118971332087119; Home Office minutes, Oc- tober 20, 1920, PRO, H045/11897/332087/20.

their purview. They directed immigration officers to bar "Arab seamen'' without proof of British nationality if they arrived as passengers, implicitly impugning their bona fides as seamen.70 The Home Office consoled themselves that this measure would affect very few men since they believed most Arabs in the ports were "no doubt genuine sea- men" who had arrived as members of ships' crews and thus were legally exempt from registration for a sixty-day period on the assump- tion they were between ships.71 Yet this measure was a significant concession to race discrimination, for a discharge book or a discharge sheet-a record of past employment-while still acceptable evidence of identity from other seamen, including white aliens, was no longer sufficient for Arabs, who, the Home Office well knew, "never have proper passports. "72

Encouraged by this grudging concession to race discrimination in autumn 1920, the Board of Trade and immigration officers in the ports proceeded to demand Home Office action against other undocumented seamen. In the process Home Office scope broadened from "alien Arabs" to men from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Once created, this racialized category-"coloured alien seamenH-was broadened to encompass increasing numbers of Black men-whether British or alien, whether seamen or not. In this process, indeed, the presumption of British nationality itself was gradually albeit covertly restricted to white men only, including white Australians and other imperial sub- jects, while racial difference increasingly denoted presumptive alien status-recodified into second-class nationality status in 1932.

As winter approached, the Board of Trade, stressing "unemploy- ment among British seamen," and warning that "alien coloured sea- men would become a public charge, and provoke discontent and distur- bance among British seafarers," pressed the Home Office to bar "not

70 Such proof would include a British passport, an emergency certificate of British nationality, or a wartime seaman's identification certificate. Home Office circular to immigration officers, PRO, S.I.2841332, 087119, signed by Haldane Porter, October 20, 1920. For white seamen, and for Black seamen before 1925, none of these forms of identification were necessary if a man held seamen's discharge papers. The Home Office exempted men who could prove domicile in the United Kingdom, who held return tickets to Aden, or whose repatriation would be "impractical" for employers or the authorities. Home Office minutes, October 20, 1920, PRO, H0451118971332087120.

Home Office to G. E. Baker of the Board of Trade, November 17, 1920, PRO,


72 Home Office to immigration officers in Home Office ports, December 31, 1920, PRO, H0451118971332087122. The Aliens Order of 1920 required all aliens to register with the police on arrival in the United Kingdom, but seamen were exempt for sixty days on the assumption they were between ships. For this reason and since their dis- charge papers were accepted as adequate identification, few seamen carried passports.

only Arabs but any coloured seaman signed on abroad unless they can produce evidence of British nationality" or domicile in Britain. G. E. Baker forwarded press clippings about an interracial scuffle in New- port and repeated other lurid allegation^.^^ Bowing to this pressure, in January 1921 the Home Office ordered immigration officers to exclude all incoming "coloured" seamen who could not prove British national-

Thus within weeks of their first reluctant policy shift, the Home Office's scope broadened from putative alien nonseamen to all undocu- mented "coloured" seamen, including many men the Home Office knew were British subjects but could not prove it.

After barring new arrivals-first "Arabs" and then all Black sea- men, bona fide or not, the Home Office, again responding to direct and indirect pressure from local authorities and other branches of the central state, turned to deporting men already in Britain. By spring and summer 1921, unemployment due to "slack trade," no doubt exac- erbated by a cooks' and stewards' strike against a union-sanctioned pay cut, had overtaxed local relief efforts in Cardiff.75 By April 1921 boardinghouse keepers, their coffers drained, were preparing to eject destitute clients, and seamen's missions and other institutions were providing overnight shelter. Enclosing a census of several hundred destitute seamen in Arab, Maltese, West African, Portuguese, Russian Finnish, Egyptian, and Japanese boardinghouses, Cecil G. Brown, the town clerk of Cardiff, asked that they "may be either repatriated forth- with, or accommodated in a concentration camp," remedies used in 1919. Cardiff's Chief immigration officer, S. A. Wilkes, endorsed re- housing men in camps, invoking racial stereotypes to spur Home Office concern: "The men are quiet and patient, but" he added, with unin- tended irony, "they are of excitable temperament, and it only takes

"G. E. Baker of the Board of Trade to W. Haldane Porter, Chief Inspector of the Immigration Branch, December 4, 1920, PRO, H045111897/332087120. Confident that incipient civil conflict amply justified their involvement, Pedder urged his colleagues in the Home Office to "join hands with the Board of Trade." Home Office minutes, No- vember 18, 1920, PRO, H045/11897/332087120. The scuffle, which occurred among a "crowd of seafaring men in the neighbourhood of the Shipping Office," was apparently precipitated when a ship's captain announced he was about to sign an all-Black crew of firemen. Typescript of trial testimony printed in the South Wales Argus of Wednesday, November 10, 1920, PRO, H0451118971332087/22.

l4W. Haldane Porter, chief inspector of the Immigration Branch to Immigration Officers in Home Office ports, December 31, 1920, PRO, H0451118971332087122.

75 This strike, which lasted from March 6-September 19, was precipitated when the National Maritime Board, composed of employers' and union representatives, negoti- ated a pay cut of £2 10s. While Havelock Wilson's National Sailors' and Firemen's Union voted to accept the cut-by a margin of fifty-seven of 19,000 ballots cast-Joe Cotter's Cooks' and Stewards' Union struck unsuccessfully. See Marsh and Ryan (n. 42 above), 112-13.

one malignant spark to make a blaze."76 Sir John Pedder squelched the idea of concentration camps, and, lacking power to deport British subjects, the Home Office approached the Colonial Office and the India Office, responsible for relieving distressed Indian and colonial sub- jects, for funds to "repatriate" them.77

But local authorities were neither unanimous nor consistent in their stress on repatriation. By June some 1,100 British Indian, Arab, Somali, West Indian, and West African seamen, "almost entirely col- oured seamen of British nationality," were unemployed. "Only a very few" of them were considered locally domiciled, thus eligible for mu- nicipal relief. Eight boardinghouse keepers faced bankruptcy. Aid had come from a variety of sources including the Lord Mayor's Fund, the Missions to Seamen, the King George Fund For Sailors, which had provided £500, and the British and Foreign Sailors' Society, which had served thousands of meals and provided sleeping space and was now £200 in debt. These authorities requested financial assistance from the central government for the relief of those who were legally domiciled in the colonies. The National Sailors' and Firemen's Union (NSFU) had furnished a small grant, and, with the chaplain of the local sea- men's mission, appealed to the Colonial Office on behalf of "these men who served this country." Reporting, "many of the seamen desire repatriation but as many do not," the lord mayor requested a "capi- tation loan" of 10s. per man per week for a total of £6,000 over six weeks.78

But central government choices steered local Poor Law officials and the union away from relieving unemployed seamen, toward ex- cluding them. The Colonial Office and the India Office rebuffed local pleas for assistance, offering only deportation, euphemistically called "repatriation," and then only because the Home Office feared labor agitation or racial ~onflict.~~The

lord mayor had described the situation

76 Cardiff town clerk to the Home Office, April 21, 1921; and report from His Maj- esty's officer in charge, Cardiff, to the Home Office, May 1921, PRO, H0451118971 332087124.

77 Although the home secretary had virtually limitless discretion to deport aliens, British subjects could technically be repatriated only voluntarily. Home Office minutes, April 1921; and Home Office draft letter May 1921, PRO, H0451118971332087124; also see approaches to Estonian and Japanese authorities, PRO, H0451118971332087135.

78 Henry T. A. Bosanquet, of the King George Fund for Sailors, to the Home Office, June 10, 1921; secretary of the NSFU and chaplain of the Missions to Seamen to the Colonial Office, June 13, 1921; report from Cardiff, PRO, H0451118971332087133,135,1


79 To the Seamen's Union, Cardiff, the Colonial Office responded they had no funds for relief, only for repatriation. Grindle of the Colonial Office to the secretary, Seamen's Union, Cardiff, June 22, 1921, PRO, H0451118971332087133; reports from Cardiff, June 1921, PRO, H04.51118971332087135, 39.

as "menacing," and the chief constable predicted imminent rioting, after warnings by James Henson, a union official later suspected of "fomenting colour riots."80 Thereafter the Home Office responded to reported threats to public order by supporting efforts designed to de- port or "repatriate" unemployed Black seamen rather than to maintain them in Britain. These efforts repeatedly failed because Black men refused to be forced back to the colonies and "Lascar" labor condi- tion~.~~

In any case, by March 1922 unemployment was declining due to a revival in trade. Black seamen's labor was again in demand, and the few remaining unemployed reportedly had "every prospect of sign- ing on ships. "82

Thus in the early 1920s, racial difference, compatible with appar- ent British nationality in the eyes of many local officials, came in the hands of the central government to signify alien nationality and illegitimate status in Britain. These events suggest the institutionaliza- tion of race discrimination and the codification of racist definitions of nationality and entitlement were not attributable to visceral popular racism or natural antagonisms and affinities but to historical forces and actors. These included the Board of Trade's support for employers' racial segmentation of the labor market, sporadic pressure from vari- ous local officials, and Colonial Office and India Office evasion of financial responsibility. In late 1924, several additional ingredients pro- duced the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, requiring all Black seamen in Britain's major ports to establish their British nationality or be regis- tered as aliens.

The common belief that union influence was responsible for the order is not supported by evidence: although the archival record of the mid-1920s has been heavily purged, the surviving evidence of at- tempted union pressure suggests the unions took their lead from the state, while civil servants proved impervious to union bluster. In a

Lord mayor of Cardiff to the Home Office, June 22, 1921, PRO, H0451118971 332087133, H045111897133208713.5; the chief constable of Newport denounced Henson as an example of "the low type of seamen's union agents" who exacerbated racial conflict. Home Office minutes, March 18, 1922, PRO, H0451118971332087160.

" Throughout summer and autumn 1921, the Home Office and local police in Cardiff and several other ports cooperated in a series of efforts to deport or repatriate Arab seamen regardless of their nationality and in spite of their awareness that many "might refuse to leave England." In most cases, men who agreed to go when initially ap- proached "at the appointed hour . . . failed to put in an appearance" for repatriation, most likely because they had obtained employment in the intervening weeks. See Home Office files, PRO, H04.51118971332087139, 141, 142, 146, 150. Failed "repatriation" schemes were a hallmark of interwar race policy, and another story in themselves.

'*Newport Immigration Officer Wilkes to the Home Office, March 18, 1922, PRO, H0451118971332087160.

meeting at the Board of Trade in January 1923, union delegates at- tempted to appropriate and use the state's own construction of racial difference: "The Arab seaman is no British seaman at all according to the Colonial Office and according to the Home Office; he is an alien seaman and . . . liable to be deported."83 Although already quietly engaged in a series of repatriation schemes, Roundell Cecil Palmer, Viscount Wolmer, parliamentary secretary to the Board of Trade, and

W. Haldane Porter of the Home Office maintained a public facade of official nondiscrimination: "It would be unjust to treat these men as if they were aliens." They rejected the unions' demand as "an extremely drastic step" with repercussions "not only in this country, but in the British Dominions abroad and in the East." Union representatives readily agreed that men who had seen war service or were married to local women should remain unmolested. The meeting concluded with a frustrated parting shot from a union spokesman: "The great trouble with deputations in the past has been that we have come, we have seen, but we have not conquered." Pedder dismissed the meeting with disdain as "an outlet for rather confused feelings."84

There is no evidence to support the view that the National Union of Seamen was responsible for the Coloured Alien Seamen Order or even knew of its imminent promulgation. In autumn 1924 and spring 1925, Black seamen appeared in the pages of the Seaman only rarely, and as often in a sympathetic as in a hostile light. On September 12, for example, the front-page editorial scolded "men who are always yelling and shouting regarding the number of aliens, especially Arabs, that are employed by the British mercantile Marine," insisting that 94 percent of crews were British. The next mention-an admittedly hos- tile editorial about "Our Gentle Egyptian Brethren"-appeared on December 5, unaccompanied by any hint about the Coloured Alien

83 "Deputation to the Board of Trade (Viscount Wolmer) from the Seafarers' Joint Council regarding the Employment of Arabs to the Detriment of British Seafarers," January 15, 1923, PRO, H045/11897/332087/70. Delegates to the meeting included repre- sentatives of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, the Marine Engineers' Association, the Mercantile Marine Service Association, the NSFU, the Shipconstructors' and Ship- wrights' Association, and S. G. LeTouzel, editor of the Seaman, representing the Seafar- ers' Joint Council. With the exception of the NSFU and LeTouzel, few of their members could have been in competition with Black men, who were barred from the higher ranks.

84 Pedder in Home Office minutes, January 1923, PRO, H0451118971332087170. Although the question of "coloured seamen" had been raised in the House of Commons the previous month, it was on behalf of "social workers and ministers of religion," concerned about "stranded seamenH-not on behalf of the union, who were instead criticized for abuse of power. Lieutenant-Commander Joseph Montagu Kenworthy to Sir

P. Lloyd-Greame, president of the Board of Trade, December 11, 1922, Parliamentary Debates (Commons), 5th ser., vol. 159 (1922), cols. 2335, 2337-38.

Seamen Order. An editorial on December 19 denounced a man who complained about aliens in British ships as "The Grouser." Henson's first cryptic remarks to the union's Executive Council in April 1925- weeks after the order's promulgation-suggest that his role in negotia- tions leading up to the order was indirect at bestU8'

The pretext that the order was intended to remedy a surfeit of labor in the shipping industry is also questionable: unemployment had peaked and was declining by mid-1924. In some ports there were even

shortage^.^^ Conversely, the mid-1920s were years of renewed labor agitation in the shipping industry, culminating in summer 1925 in an empirewide wildcat strike against a union-sanctioned pay cut. Rank- and-file seamen's strategies included organization across the racial bar- riers that kept them divided and ~ulnerable.~~

In November 1924, the Western Mail reported the formation of a multiracial seamen's organi- zation, led by a committee composed of three white, three West In- dian, and three Somali seamen, envisioned as the "nucleus of a power- ful white and coloured combine of seamen."88 The organization, based in Cardiff, had presented a petition with hundreds of signatures to Captain Arthur Evans, M.P., and was building contacts in London, Newcastle, Hull, Swansea, Newport, and other ports. This report's appearance in Home Office files, forwarded by none other than Immi- gration Official Cooper, a longtime antagonist of Black seamen, sug- gests the Coloured Alien Seamen Order may have been as much a response to the threat of labor insurgency-multiracial and perhaps empirewide insurgency at that-as to a labor glut. For 1924 saw re- newed efforts to exclude Black seamen at a time when rank-and-file seamen were growing restive, perhaps in response to an improving labor market, and when a general strike was deemed imminent.

National Union of Seamen executive council minutes, April 22, 23, 1925, MRC, MSS 175111116, fols. 41-42.

86 The year 1924 was the best year since the war for seamen's employment. National Maritime Board Sailors and Firemen's Panel, "Report on the Joint Supply System, 1924" (January 13, 1925), MRC, Mss 17516lNMBl311.

Rank-and-file organization threatened union leaders as well as employers by dis- crediting union leaders, thereby jeopardizing the effectiveness of the National Maritime Board, a union-employer regulatory body. See Tabili, "Black Workers in Imperial Brit- ain" (n. 25 above), chap. 6. On the pay cut, the strike, and race discrimination, see Hardy (n. 46 above); on the strike, see Marsh and Ryan (n. 42 above), pp. 122-25.

Clipping from Westevn Mail (November 15, 1924) forwarded to the Home Office by E. N. Cooper, 12 James Watt Street, Glasgow, to the Home Office, November 19, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087191. While the men themselves distinguished among alien seamen, Black seamen, and corrupt seamen, the local press apparently found it inconvenient or impossible to do so. Ignoring the organization's explicit nonracism, the Western Mail spiced its report with stereotypes of tubercular Turks or Armenians masquerading as British "Arabs."

Two other events coincided most immediately with this new pol- icy: Arthur Henderson's installation as Labour's first home secretary in January 1924, and budget cuts into the immigration staff in spring 1924.89 Since staff reductions made it impossible for immigration offi- cers to board individual ships seeking stowaways, a more systematic and comprehensive system may have seemed warranted. In addition, many in the Labour party, now in power for the first time, had long opposed regulation of aliens, the fruit of anti-Semitic campaigns at the turn of the century. George Lansbury approached Henderson immedi- ately after he took office to modify the ~ystem.~~Home

Office staff may have seen the budget cut as a prelude to Labour's outright abolition of aliens controls, proposing in self-preservation "a special system of Police registration" for "coloured seamen." In any case the Labour government of 1924 was short-lived, and the impetus to control Black seamen proved congenial to the succeeding Conservative administra- tion, which took office determined to vanquish organized labor. In- deed, it appears that Labour's defeat at the polls on October 29 re- moved the last obstacles, for after ignoring Board of Trade entreaties in May and August, Home Office staff announced plans for the Order on November 3, four days before Stanley Baldwin formed his govern- mentug' The registration scheme, planned in Autumn 1924 during the final days of Henderson's administration, was promulgated the follow- ing spring by William Joynson-Hicks, Henderson's Conservative suc- cess~~-.~~

89 Henderson's son, Arthur Henderson, Jr., as M.P. for Cardiff South, was a vocal opponent of "coloured alien seamen." See, e.g., Henderson's questions in the House of Commons, July 18, 1929 and May 7, 1930, Parliamentary Debates, 5th ser., vols. 230 and 238 (1929-30), cols. 606, 1065-68.

90 Lansbury was unsuccessful. Correspondence between George Lansbury and the Home Office, PRO, H0451248201456725. In 1930 the Labour Party Research Department criticized the "drastic powers" delegated the home secretary, but efforts during the second Labour government to curb abuse through an advisory committee were similarly squelched when the board became too friendly to appellants' interests. See "Aliens Deportation Advisory Committee," PRO, H0451149091617473. Henderson's biographer describes his eleven months in the Home Office as "uneventful," commenting on his distaste for Aliens matters and his abdication of responsibility to the permanent secre- tary, John Anderson. See F. M. Leventhal, Arthur Henderson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), p. 126.

9' Board of Trade to customs and excise officers, carbon copy to Henderson, May 19, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087191; Board of Trade to Home Office, August 28, 1924; and Home Office minutes, November 3, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087194.

E. N. Cooper, 12 James Watt Street. Glasgow, to Home Office, November 19, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087191. On the fall of the Labour government of 1924, see Mowat

(n. 57 above), pp. 187-94.

92 Joynson-Hicks was no panderer to labor. His arrival in the Home Office was accompanied by extensive measures to bust the impending general strike of 1926. See

On March 18, 1925, Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks invoked pow- ers under Article 11 of the Aliens Order of 1920, requiring all "col- oured" "seamen who cannot produce documentary evidence of British nationality to register with the police as aliens." The order in effect removed the sixty-day grace period and exemption from carrying pass- ports from seamen who were not European, Chinese, or Japanese- and did so covertly and at short notice. Now, immigration officers would register each undocumented man immediately, and inform the local police of his disembarkation. On registration, each man would be photographed, fingerprinted, assigned a number, and issued a small passport-like book identifying him as an alien seaman and containing demographic data, signature, thumbprint, and photograph. The man's "aliens registration number" would remain permanently stamped across all personal documents, including his discharge papers.93

The order was made in full knowledge that few sailors, Black or white, carried passports, for a continuous discharge book had hitherto been sufficient identification. The Coloured Alien Seamen Order effec- tively invalidated the continuous discharge as proof of identity for all Black seamen, even British subjects, while it was still accepted from white seamen, whether aliens or British subjects.94 Thus, the order blurred the distinctions between Black aliens and Black British sub- jects while reinforcing racial hierarchy between British subjects.

Not surprisingly, many men disembarking from inbound ships or apprehended on the street by zealous police did not possess documents

Mowat, pp. 193, 294-320, esp. 309, 316. Joynson-Hicks was also a notorious anti- Semite, and his tenure as home secretary saw enhanced aliens restriction on anti-Semitic lines. See David Cesarini, "Joynson-Hicks and the Radical Right in England after the First World War," in Kushner and Lunn, eds. (n. 3 above), pp. 118-39, esp. p. 129-30.

93 Statutory Rules and Orders 1925, no. 290, March 18, 1925, IOR, LlEl91953, fol. 349, reprinted in Board of Trade Mercantile Marine Department paper no. 461, July-September 1925, p. 120; Home Office memorandum, November 3, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087194. Originally envisioned as a onetime registration "confined to two or three ports," the order, by the time it was implemented, covered thirteen major ports. These were Barry Dock, Penarth, Port Talbot, Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Llanelly, Liverpool, Salford, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, South Shields, Middlesbrough, and Hull. See Cooper to Home Office, October 18, 1924; Home Office memorandum, November 3, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087191, 194. The Home Office intended to exempt men in shore employment and not to unduly harass those without proof in the early stages. Home Office letter to constables, March 23, 1925, PRO, H0451118971332087198; Board of Trade paper no. 461, p. 122, IOR LlEl91953, fol. 349. The order was broadened in January 1926 to all major U.K. ports.

94 Cooper to the Home Office, October 18, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087191; "Notes of meetings attended by Liverpool Immigration Officers at various ports."

E. N. Cooper to Carew Robinson at the Home Office, April 2, 1925, PRO, H0451123141 476761.

satisfying the order. The ambiguity of many Black seamen's national- ity, of which the authorities took ample advantage during the war, now became a weapon used against them. In the space of a few years, Black seamen went from welcome additions to the empire and particularly to the seafaring workforce, with or without "proper passports," to undesirables barred from entry to British ports or deported when desti- tute, whether British subjects or aliens, to presumptive aliens illegiti- mately in Britain. At the same time the boundaries of the undesirable target group broadened from genuinely "alien" Arabs who were irreg- ular seamen to all undocumented Black seafarers, including men the Home Office knew were British but could not prove it.95

The order became the pretext for widespread harassment and abuse of Black residents of British ports, both alien and British subject, seaman and nonseafarer. Examples of the order's anomalous and arbi- trary application included sixty-three Indian peddlers-neither aliens nor seamen-registered by Glasgow police who had successfully pressed the Home Office to extend the order to their port; two aged coffeehouse keepers in South Shields, Ali Saleh, aged eighty-three, and Syed Hashim Mahdi, sixty-nine, who were registered as seamen; and William Jacob Berka, whom the Home Office refused to register under the order on the grounds that he was not a bona fide seaman, when the order was ostensibly designed for irregular seamen.96 In the course of its enforcement, many Black British subjects were registered as aliens and threatened with dep~rtation.~"

Many others saw their

95 Home Office instructions to chief constables, issued March 23, made the racism behind this painfully explicit: "The racial resemblance between many coloured seamen is such that there is no satisfactory means of identifying individuals." Home Office confidential memorandum to chief constables, "Registration of Coloured Alien Seamen (Other than Chinese and Japanese)," March 23, 1925, PRO, H0451118971332087198. An analogous procedure, the issue of certificates of service, a type of work credential, by the Board of Trade, was simultaneously tightened up for "all coloured seamen irrespec- tive of race or nationality" (Board of Trade paper, no. 461, pp. 122-23, IOR, LIE191 953).

% Berka was denied a passport when he reported his occupation was seafaring, but he received one after stating he was a clerk. See also the cases of Fazal Mohamed reported by his wife, Mary Fazel, to the India Office, September 7, 1925, IOR, LIE191 953, fol. 257; of Alexander Givvons, reported by the Manchester chief constable to the Home Office, April 14, 1925, PRO, HO45112314147676117; and of Ahmed Gabbar (n. 67 above).

97 After April 1925 a man had to produce documentary evidence of more than six weeks' residence in Britain, or of leave to land from an immigration officer, in order to get a certificate of registration under the order as a U.K. domiciled alien, thus permission to remain in the United Kingdom. See Board of Trade Paper no. 461, p. 122, IOR, Ll El91953. fol. 349.

Location Number I Location Number

Cardiff 4,260 Barry Dock 690 Newport 534 Swansea 124 Llanelly 6 Penarth 67 Port Talbot 117 Liverpool 260 Salford 191 Newcastle-upon-Tyne 5 South Shields 924 Middlesbrough 43 Hull 187 Grand total 7,408


Office memorandum to the India Office, October 1925, IOR, LlEl91953.

British passports and other documents confiscated or altered by local police.98

While contemporaries as well as many historians have interpreted such abuse as examples of police excess, it was actually central gov- ernment policy: the Home Office plan was to treat single-journey pass- ports or expired passports issued in London as no proof at all of British nationality and to register the bearers as "coloured alien seamen" after impounding their documents.99 In the aftermath, many Black British subjects remained registered as aliens indefinitely, suffering additional hardship in 1935 when alien sailors were excluded entirely from state- subsidized vessels.'00 (See table 2 for the number of men registered under the order in October 1925.)

As the Home Office had feared, the order proved a blunt instru- ment in effecting the conflicting agendas for which it was designed. The order's impact on the seafaring labor market could only have been negligible. The ports affected by the Coloured Alien Seamen Order

98 Also see accounts of these events as reported in 1935 in the Keys (n. 8 above); and by Little (n. 1 above).

99 Men with expired passports issued abroad would still be treated as British subjects as the Home Office preferred that such documents be renewed in the country of issue. Men from the exempted protectorates, the Malay States, Nigeria, the Northern Territo- ries of the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia would be accorded "most favour- able treatment as regards admission to the U.K." In October 1925, all protected subjects were treated this way, but "the general feeling among the staff who deal with coloured seamen" was to suspect that in many cases, for instance in Addis Ababa, credentials were too freely given, and they wished to cease accepting them. Home Office report, October 1925, PRO, H0451123 141476761148.

loo This was the result of conditions attached to the British Shipping Assistance Act, 1935. See India Office file, 1935-39, IOR, LlEl91955.

and the number of men registered in spring 1925 bore little relationship to unemployment figures. The registration of 4,000 men in Cardiff, or 300-odd in Liverpool was in neither case a solution appropriate to their respective labor markets, for there were less than 1,000 men unemployed in the former, and 5,000 in the latter. The only concentra- tion of unemployed firemen, who were often Black, was in London, to which the order was not even applied until 1926.1°' Moreover, in proportion to a seafaring workforce of 200,000, the few thousands of undocumented seamen registered were inconsequential. Rather than confronting the growing threat to unionized white and Black seamen posed by Black seamen on Asiatic articles, the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, in attempting to restrict Black seamen's access to the British labor market, was consistent with state-sanctioned efforts throughout the interwar period to confine all colonized seamen to labor contracts negotiated in the colonies. Defining all Black seamen in Britain as presumptive aliens, lacking the rights accorded British workers, effec- tively reimposed the vulnerability and subordination the men sought to shed by traveling to the mother country and claiming rights as British subjects. Rather than a retreat from empire-a decolonization, as some scholars would have it-the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, by enhancing and legitimating extraordinary control over Black workers in Britain, actually amounted to the recolonization of Black workers in the metropole.

The enduring result of the Coloured Alien Seamen Order was the codification of a hierarchical definition of British nationality dependent on race, class and occupation, and, implicitly, gender, a definition shaped by the demands of the shipping industry, the vagaries of the interwar economy, local and national politics, and state policy deci- sions. The order was not a simple reflection of popular racism arising from a self-evident or "natural" distinction between white and Black. It was not a matter of bringing law and policy into conformity with custom and practice that invariably defined Black seamen as "arche- typal stranger^."'^^ Legal and policy changes violated custom and practice, giving birth to new definitions of the relationship between

'01 See Report on the Joint Supply System, 1924, MRC, Mss 17516iNMBi311.

'02 The phrase is Michael Banton's, from White and Coloured: The Behaviour of British People toward Coloured Immigrants (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1960). Banton later defended the "stranger" thesis in the "Correspondence" column of Race 15 (1973): 111-13, although his most recent work suggests movement toward a subtler position, arguing, indeed for a dialectic between notions of "race" and "colour" and the definitions contained in antiracism statutes-that is, between popular definitions and the law. See Michael Banton, "The Race Relations Problematic," British Journal of Sociology 42, no. 1 (March 1991): 115-30.

race, nationality, and entitlement. Indeed, the creation of racial hierar- chy preceded the redefinition of who was Black. This definition was continually contested-thus shaped-by Black seamen's evasion and resistance. For just as Black seamen's efforts to overcome or evade imperial inequalities and exploitation first provoked efforts at control culminating in the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, once the order was in place, their protest and evasion undermined and subverted it, prompting continual reshaping of official definitions of entitlement and of racial difference itself.

In executing the policy, the Home Office initially met resistance from the seamen affected and their advocates in government. Black seamen's resistance to the order took varied forms, from simple eva- sion to collective public protest. They evaded and subverted the mech- anisms of control, effectively foiling the order and impelling the Home Office to increasingly harsh measures. In addition, Black seamen ap- propriated imperialist and nationalist rhetoric and refashioned it into a vigorous and unequivocal assertion of their collective entitlement to live and work in Britain.

India Office and Colonial Office indifference became concern when Black seamen protested, imperiling imperial credibility. The terms of the order cut across claims to British nationality and alle- giance to the sovereign and the mother country that British colonial governments had cultivated among colonized people. For British na- tionality itself was subject to interpretation and negotiation; its ambigu- ity and expandability were intrinsic to Britain's global dominance.lo3 The India Office, the Colonial Office, Black seamen themselves, con- suls abroad, and foreign governments articulated competing definitions of nationality and pressed the Home Office to accept them.

Immediately after the order came into effect, in April 1925, the India Office and the Colonial Office received protests from Adenese, West African, West Indian, and Indian seamen importuned by local police in South Shields, Barry, and other ports.lo4 These complaints indicated local officials were using the order against men who were obviously British subjects and against non-European seamen generally rather than just "Arabs." In April 1925 the Colonial Office forwarded a protest from twenty-six West African and West Indian seamen, resi- dents of the Missions to Seamen in Barry Dock in the Bristol Channel.

'03 For a discussion of these ambiguities, see Robert A. Huttenback, Racism and Empire: White Settlers and Colored Immigrants in the British Self-Governing Colonies, 1830-1910 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976), pp. 21-23.

'04 See protests by the Cardiff Adenese Association, April 7, 1925, PRO, H0451 12314147676115, 16; and India Office, April 25, 1925, IOR, LlEl91953.

The men conveyed their objections to the order in a cluster of argu- ments characterizing Black protest throughout the interwar period. Invoking the links the British state itself had forged among British nationality, war service, and the right to work, they sought in turn to place claims on the state: "As far as we can understand," they wrote, "the permits are required to prevent an influx to swell the ranks of an already overflowing Army of unemployed. While we heartily agree to the Plan we are not with the word alien." They invoked both their service in the Great War and imperialist rhetoric: "If we are classed as aliens our brothers who have made the supreme sacrifice on various battle fields of the Great War for the preservation, flag, prestige, hon- our and future welfare of the British Empire can be termed merce- naries." Emphasizing that D. J. Smith, one of their number, was per- manently injured in a mine explosion at sea during the war, they continued: "We know, feel, and believe that every breast was bared in freedom's cause, every eye, heart, soul wish and imagination pointed to the same goal as the truest Englishman that ever lived. Victory for the Allied cause with an honourable peace and as true as we were to Britain in War and danger so true are we . . . in time of peace." "We sincerely believe," they concluded, "that our govern- ment will rectify what we believe to be a mistake," demanding "satis- faction" from the Colonial Office.105

The India Office and the Colonial Office, indifferent to Black sea- men's distress a few years before, came to their aid in 1925 because they feared the order would outrage colonized elites, threatening impe- rial credibility. The India Office was mortified when a story about the registration of sixty-three Indian peddlers in Glasgow appeared in the Madras newspaper New India under the banner headline, "Agitate for the Commonwealth Bill." lo6 Consuls warned that the order could be "exploited by the disloyal element" to exacerbate colonial disaffec- tion. The British consul in Colon, Panama, for example, submitted a clipping from the Negro World alleging police abuse in Britain and warning of resultant "perturbation" among "loyal British West Indi- ans in Panama." lo' Public outrage in the overseas empire raised the specter of colonized elites making common cause with their working-

'05 Enclosed in Grindle of the Colonial Office to the Home Office, April 27, 1925; and see further letters to the Colonial Office, dated April 30 and May 5, 1925, PRO, H0451123141476761117.

Iu6 P. S. R. Chowdhury to the secretary of state for India, February 17, 1926; E. P. Donaldson of the India Office to the Home Office, March 2, 1926, IOR, LlEl91953.

Iu7 Hugh Alex Ford to the Foreign Office, January 1926, forwarded to the India Office, IOR, LlEl91953; Home Office minutes, March 1, 1926, PRO, H0451123141 476761177. The article appeared in the January 30, 1926, number of the Negvo World.

class compatriots. Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain demanded a resolution to the conflicts, lest adverse publicity "serve as a peg on which to hang anti-British propaganda." Io8 Declaring that "the Home Office policy of worrying coloured seamen is being pushed to indefen- sible limits," the India Office threatened to issue passports to Indian subjects whole~ale.'~~

This is evidence that the order was far from an uncomplicated expression of even ruling-class understandings of racial difference, for it produced disunity and conflict within the central gov- ernment, as well as between the government and Black seamen.'1°

Moreover, the first tally of men registered under the order by October 1925 suggested the large numbers of "alien Arabs" it was designed to apprehend were largely mythical. Of 7,408 registrants, most from Cardiff, South Shields, and Barry, the bulk were not aliens at all but claimed to be undocumented British subjects, claims borne out by subsequent investigation."' In addition, as even the Home Of- fice admitted, registration had limited deterrent value, for it implied official approval of a sort for registered men.Il2 The central contradic-

logG. R. Warner of the Foreign Office to the Home Office, July 14, 1926, IOR, Ll El91953. Io9India Office minute paper, June 9, 1925, IOR, fols. 319-22, LlEl91953; also see confidential draft paper, December 14, 1925, IOR, LlEl91953.

The discrepancy between the state's public policy of nondiscrimination and co- vert race discrimination no doubt accounts for Rich's conclusion that "middle opinion" curbed the worst excesses of racism in the 1920s and 1930s (see Race and Empire, n. 2 above). Whenever the Home Office were called to account, as they indeed were in Parliament, their responses were designed more to obscure than to enlighten. See, e.g., Joynson-Hicks's response to Captain Arthur Evans on December 21, 1925 and March 15, 1926, Parliamentary Debates (Commons), 5th ser., vol. 189 (1925), cols. 1964-65, and 193 (1926), cols. 40-42; and Captain Douglas Hewitt Hacking, undersecretary of state for the Home Office, to George Lansbury and J. S. Wardlaw Milne, April 14, 28, 1926, Parliamentary Debates (Commons), 5th ser., vol. 194 (1926), cols. 195-96, 2030. Also see Little's account, pp. 88-89. On December 21, 1925, Joynson-Hicks assured Evans in the House of Commons that "No British subject is required to register" (Parliamentary Debates [Commons] 5th ser., vol. 189 [19251, cols. 1964-65).

"I Evasion was insignificant: only 32 nonregistered men-amounting to '12 of 1 per- cent of the 7,408 men who registered-had been apprehended in three months. Home Office memorandum to the India Office, containing the first tally under the order, late October 1925, PRO, H0451123141476761148, also found in IOR, LlEl91953. In the late 1920s, between 50 percent and 60 percent of the appeals the India Office processed proved to be British subjects. See India Office correspondence with the Home Office, November 1928, PRO, H0451133921493912173a. Of 241 cases, 169 were resolved, and of these, 101 men (60 percent) were British subjects; 46 men (27.2 percent) were British protected persons; 12 men (7.1 percent) were untraceable; and only 10 men (6 percent) were proven to be aliens. "Indian High Commissioner: Coloured Seamen: Grants: Re- fusals of Nationality Certificate," March 26, 1928, PRO, H0451133921493912146.

'I2The Home Office itself, in defending the order, insisted that registration was "welcomed by those affected" because ~t gave them " a definite status in this country." Memorandum on the operation of the Aliens Order, October 1925, PRO, H0451123141 476761 148.

tion of such credentials, Home Office personnel mused, was that regis- tering undocumented men would legitimate their presence in the port, yet, "if registration is refused, they cannot be got rid of. . . there will be no sort of control." 'I3 As early as October 1925 some local officials realized this and ceased registering men they viewed as newcomers, instead prosecuting them as illegal aliens. In turn they demanded broader powers from the Home Office precisely because they tended to lose such cases in English courts, where magistrates presumed men from British possessions, including the protectorates, were British sub- ject~."~

By winter 1925-26 the Home Office itself was abetting a new policy of "deferred" registration, keeping men undocumented, thus unemployable, in hopes they would be forced to request repatriation assi~tance."~

By the late 1920s the Home Office virtually ceased regis- tering new men altogether, and the India Office commented ironically on their refusal to register one Gulam Rasul on the pretext he was not a bona fide seaman when the order was developed explicitly for irregular seamen.'I6 Moreover, from October 1926 the original impetus for the order, the "problem" of "coloured alien seamen," should have abated because in December 1925 Aden imposed Lascar articles on all seamen engaged there."' Faced both with resistance and with the internal con- tradictions in the policy itself, the Home Office might have rescinded the order, about which they themselves maintained grave reserva- tions."' Instead, they proceeded in an effort to reconcile these prob-

'I3 Home Office memorandum, November 3, 1924, PRO, H0451118971332087194.

P. R. Fudge, Immigration Office, Liverpool, to the Home Office, September 7, 1925, PRO, H0451142991562898; minutes of a meeting at the Home Office, January 1928, PRO, H0451133921493912142.

A man whose registration was pending or "deferred" would not be hired because employers might be unable to discharge an undocumented man at the end of the voyage.

C. D. C. Robinson in a Home Office memorandum, October 1927, PRO, H0451133921 493912136. Chief constable, Cardiff, forwarding a letter from Detective Sergeant Gerald Broben, April 1926; Home Office to Cardiff, May 12, 1926; and Home Office to Broben, June 18, 1926, all in PRO, H0451123141476761192, 99, 100, 101. As suggested above, the repatriation process was slow and cumbersome, and many men were fundamentally unwilling to go, so that by the time berths had been found for men who "volun- teered,"most had apparently found work or other means of support.

'I6 C. E. Baines, September 17, 1933; and, on Gulam Rasul, India Office memoran- dum, September 17, 1933, both in IOR, LlEl91972.

[I7 India Office minute paper, October 1926, IOR, LlEl91953.

As late as November 1927, Home Office personnel complained of the "almost protean" difficulties the order posed, and discussed scrapping it. Home Office minutes on "Coloured Seamen: Difficulties of Administration," November 22, 1927, PRO, H0451133921493912136.

lems, leading to increasingly intensive policing and coercion of an ever- broadening category of men.Ilg

The order in winter 1926 contained numerous loopholes. Men's principal means of resistance was to obtain passports or other creden- tials, whether legally or illegally, that identified them as British. Men could still get British passports and papers before embarking from many of the colonies. After Asiatic articles were imposed on Red Sea ports, men simply traveled as passengers to Britain, obtaining British consular documents in France that British and French officials not surprisingly accepted as evidence of British nationality. In the course of the late 1920s and 1930s, numbers registered under the order gradu- ally diminished, as increasing numbers of men established their status as British subjects. When in 1930 British officials began confiscating passports and certificates of registration from men returning to Aden, the men wrote to friends and relatives in Britain "warning them that they had better not bring their registration certificates to Aden." I2O By the early 1930s the Home Office recognized that race-based exclusion was unworkable without redefining British nationality itself along ra- cial lines, simultaneously redefining the meanings and implications of racial difference. For this they developed the Special Certificate of Nationality and Identity, a second-class passport whose validity for travel within the British empire was restricted on grounds of race, class, and occupation.

The Home Office developed the special certificate in explicit re- sponse to India Office threats to issue Indian subjects passports, to Colonial Office plans to encourage colonial subjects to carry passports to the United Kingdom, and to Indian and colonial subjects' continued migration to Britain using passports and other credentials obtained legally. The India Office had squelched a proposal in 1925 to issue West Indian and Indian British subjects certificates of nationality. They feared the Home Office wished to alter the validity of these documents once issued, which was precisely what they did.I2' In July 1930, at Home Office behest, the Foreign Office directed authorities to confiscate passports and certificates of registration under the Coloured

Il9 Home Office memorandum to the India Office, late October 1925, PRO, H0451 123141476761148; also found in IOR, LlEl91953; Memorandum from the chief inspector, Aliens Branch, to the Home Office, October 1925, PRO, H045112314/476761148.

lz0 Acting Resident Major H. M. Wightwick, July 25, 1931, IOR, LIEl91954.

12' J. C. Walton to the Colonial Office, July 2, 1925; India Office to the Home Office, April 13, 1926; C. D. C. Robinson of the India Office to Donaldson of the Home Office, April 19, 1926, IOR, LIEl91953.

Alien Seamen Order from men returning to Aden from Britain. There- after they would receive documents of limited validity at the discretion of British officials in Yemen. Again, this innovation was soon broad- ened beyond Adenese seamen. In October 1931 passports of all "col- oured British seamen" of India, Africa, East Asia, and the West Indies were revoked and replaced with certificates of nationality valid for five years.122 In 1934 the certificate was extended to "Coloured persons or natives belonging to the Union of South Africa or South West Africa" and to "coloured seamen belonging to Southern Rhodesia." 123

Like the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, the certificate of national- ity blurred the distinction between British subjects and British pro- tected persons while creating a starker demarcation between Black and white British subjects. It consummated the process, begun in the 1920s, of gradually depriving Black British subjects of the rights other British subjects enjoyed. Yet at the same time, the special certificate acknowledged the Britishness of its holders, including protected per- sons, exposing the fallacy of treating the latter as aliens. At the stroke of a pen, racial difference was no longer a marker of presumptive alien status; instead it marked a version of British nationality explicitly detached from the prerogatives of the freeborn Englishman. The di- lemma posed between a definition of British nationality based on cate- gorical racial equality, threatening imperial stratification, and one re- stricted to white men only, threatening imperial unity and cohesion, was resolved, again at the expense of Black colonized pe0p1e.I~~

The most successful effort to resist these policies also illustrated the mutability of racial definitions and their susceptibility to political and economic pressure. This was the government of Malta's successful effort in 1935 to exempt Maltese British subjects from the special cer-

Note of an interdepartmental conference at the Foreign Office, March 12, 1931, Foreign Office circular T.368715011378 and Foreign Office circular, October 10, 1931, T.949615011378. (Both can be found in IOR LlEl91954. Related material is also found in PRO, H045/142991562898196, March 1931); and see Board of Trade Mercantile Marine Department Memorandum no. 446, "General Minute to All Superintendants: 'Coloured Seamen,'" from G. E. Baker, December 16, 1932, PRO, MT9127351M.3580.

Foreign Office circulars T.591812171378 and T. 1248412171378, December 8, 1934, and Dominions Office to India Office, November 9, 1934, IOR, LlEl91972. In April 1934, the Colonial Office affirmed that visas and other endorsements could be affixed to certificates of nationality, solidifying their function as second-class passports. Secre- tary of State Philip Cunliffe-Lister to the high commissioner for the Somali protectorate, April 18, 1934, IOR, LlE191972.

Like the status of all "New Commonwealth" subjects, both men and women, British women's relationship to nationality remains problematic in the late twentieth century. See Beatrix Campbell, Wigan Pier Revisited: Poverty and Politics in the 80s (London: Virago, 1984); Klug (n. 62 above).

tificate. Hitherto, Maltese subjects had not been "regarded as persons of colour under the Order" and were thus exempt from registration- provided they could prove they were ~a1tese.l~~

But in 1935 the Home Office proposed to extend the special certificate to Maltese British subjects, implicitly redefining their racial identity as well.

Malta depended heavily on migration and repatriation of wages to relieve underemployment and overpopulation. A man identified as a "coloured alien seaman" by his own government would be rendered virtually unemployable abroad. The "special seaman certificate issued in England to coloured seamen," argued Edward Mifsud of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, "would place [Maltese seamen] at a disad- vantage for employment, " especially in "France, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and the United States of America." They would also have "serious difficulties" if they "attempted to return overland to Malta without proper pa~sports."'~~

While the India Office and the Colonial Office had earlier resisted the order on purely tactical grounds, and eventually capitulated, the Maltese government had a clear financial stake in Maltese seamen's employability, thus their ra- cial identity. Perhaps this is why they prevailed.

After months' delay, the Home Office relented, allowing Maltese seamen to continue carrying passports, and assured Mifsud that "no steps need be taken in the meantime to extend the issue of special certificates of nationality and identity to white colonial seamen." Mal- tese seamen, to their advantage, were officially reclassified as white- again, provided they could prove they were Maltese.12' With this deci- sion the Home Office not only redefined Maltese seamen's racial identity at the stroke of a pen; they also radically altered their life opportunities: their status in the eyes of foreign governments and their own, their international mobility, and their ability to get a livelihood. Thereafter the deployment of the special certificate somewhat arbi- trarily signposted the fluid and unstable boundaries between Black and white: in April 1936 other "white colonial seamen" such as "natives of Cyprus," the Seychelles, Gibraltar, and Mauritius, who "did not

Joynson-Hicks to Captain Arthur Evans, March 15, 1926, Parliamentary Debates (Commons) 5th ser., vol. 193 (1926), col. 42. '26 Edward Mifsud to Trade Commissioner, Malta House, London, September 23, 1935, IOR, LIEl91972.

12' Correspondence among the Home Office, the Passport Office, and the Colonial Office, A. V. Agius, trade commissioner of Malta. and Edward Mifsud of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Malta, May 10, 11, and 16, June 14, 19, and 28, Septem- ber 23, 1935; and March 11, 1936, (E&O 1735136 and HO Gen 351712) IOR, LlEl91972.

appear to be 'coloured' seamen" were permitted "passports of limited validity." 12'

The Coloured Alien Seamen Order was renewed in 1938 and again in 1942. Soon after it was abolished, making British protected persons eligible for con~cription.'~~he

end of the Coloured Alien Seamen Order was consistent with its promulgation: it was a measure designed to move Black workingmen to meet the demands of the imperial sys- tem whether in war or peace. The definition of who was welcome to live and work in Britain, and with it the definitions of race and nationality-of "Coloured Alien SeamenH-were shaped by domestic and international economic forces, political considerations, and institu- tional actors. These definitions could change in the space of a few years or even a few months from broadly inclusive to narrowly exclu- sive: in 1948 British nationality was recodified, and British citizenship was extended to all colonial and Commonwealth subjects. In subse- quent decades, Black British subjects' access to Britain has again been progressively restricted, through a series of immigration and national- ity statutes in 1962, 1968, 1971, and 1981. Each of these developments occurred in the context of intense negotiation and struggle not only between Black and white British subjects but among workers, employ- ers, unions, and the state as well.130

The history of the Coloured Alien Seamen Order not only shows the institutionalization of race discrimination in British state policy and practice but also demonstrates that race itself is not simply a national attribute but a political category in which boundaries have been shaped by historical forces. This problematizes the notion of racial difference as a natural, obvious, or objective quality. Instead, it points to the mutability, the contingency, and the contested meanings and uses of racial difference itself. It also illustrates the historical con- struction of racial difference to meet particular political pressures.

128 Correspondence among the Home Office, the Dominions Office, and the Colonial Office, April 6, and May 13, 1936, IOR, LlEl91972.

129 India Office personnel commented that, if Indian subjects, newly redefined as British, were "made subject to conscription . . . we should . . . find it difficult to resist it." M. J. Clauson of the India Office Political Department, n.d., ca. 1942-43 (Pol. 94431 42; E&O 5876142), IOR, LlEl91953. Repeal was the response to protests regarding African protected persons.

I3O See Paul Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics (Baltimore: Penguin, 1965); A. Sivanandan, "From Immigration Control to Induced Repatriation," in his A Different Hunger: Writings on Black Resistance (London: Pluto, 1983), pp. 131-40; Madge Dresser, Black and White on the Buses: The 1963 Colour Bar Dispute in Bristol (Bristol: Bristol Broadsides, 1986); Edward Pilkington, Beyond the Mother Country: West Indians and the Notting Hill White Riots (London: I. B. Tauris, 1988).

If race and its attendant disabilities were indeed obvious and self- evident, it is not clear why codification such as the Coloured Alien Seamen Order would be necessary.l3l Racially exclusive policy was in fact developed in the 1920s and 1930s by historical actors within and outside of Britain's major interwar institutions, in the process of nego- tiating new relationships during and after the First World War. The boundaries and meanings attached to racial difference itself were rede- fined in these struggles, by historical actors with divergent and some- times conflicting agendas.

Given the opportunistic flexibility of racial categories as employ- ers and their allies defined them, and given continual resistance by Black seamen and their advocates, it is not surprising the interwar state had difficulty codifying racial definitions or enforcing racial strati- fication and exclusion. The definition of who was "coloured" or Black, and to what this entitled him, was continually contested, and thus shaped, by employers, union officials, and local and national govern- ment and by resistance and protest from Black seamen, from the Colo- nial Office and the Foreign Office, from colonial governments like the government of Malta, and from colonized elites.

The struggles that created the Coloured Alien Seamen Order sug- gest not only that racial difference is susceptible to historical investiga- tion but also that such investigation is imperative if we are to move beyond inadequate "commonsense" explanations for race prejudice and racial conflict. The idea that racial difference is positional, thus historical, can lead us away from essentialist assumptions that differ- ence alone inexorably produces conflict. In interwar Britain, a person defined as Black or white came loaded with a baggage of social, eco- nomic, and political advantages or disabilities. It was these advantages and disadvantages, not mere physical or cultural attributes-differences-that were the source of contention and conflict. These "ra- cial" characteristics derived from an economic, political, and ideologi- cal positioning structured by Britain's imperial expansion in the nineteenth century and by its economic and political decline in the twentieth. In interwar Britain, racial differences, like class, gender, and other social divisions, derived their meanings and uses from the same historical contexts of power and struggle that shaped the lives ol" all the British people. The Coloured Alien Seamen Order, indeed,

13' The Nazis encountered similar difficulties in codifying supposedly obvious and "natural" racial categories. See Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin's, 1987), p. 372.

may well have been part of the offensive against labor that culminated in the general strike of 1926.132

The disunity and conflict among elites that the order attempted and failed to reconcile expressed the contradictions in twentieth- century imperialism itself: the intensified tension between maintaining the subordination and stratification that made imperialism profitable and the political necessity of a liberal and progressive public face. Conflict within the central government and between the central and local government would seem to call for some modification of the interpretation that the order was an expression of a "wider . . . response on the imperial plane" or indeed that a consensual "middle opinion" ordered "imperial circles" approaches to race and empire. 133 The Home Office was not accountable to the British public for the Coloured Alien Seamen Order or other covert measures. Moreover, the effort to "tighten up government control within the metropolis" through the order actually provoked disaffection in the overseas em- pire and brought the Colonial Office and the India Office into conflict with the Home Office. These conflicts suggest that it is correct to argue that the Coloured Alien Seamen Order did not reflect a "cohesive racial ideology," but less because of the moderating influence of "mid- dle opinion" than because different sections of the governing classes were engaged in intense internal conflict about racial difference and its meanings.'34 Through their resistance and protest, Black seamen themselves were critical catalysts in this struggle, appropriating the rhetoric of empire and nationality in an effort to promote their own goals. Racial boundaries were contested terrain in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, and where they were drawn was, in the end, a question of power.

This evidence also calls for some modification of the interpretation that racially based definitions of British nationality reflected a retreat from empire or, indeed, that definitions of nationality have been depen- dent on natural ethnic or racial affinities and antipathies. In the hands of employers and the Home Office, reversion to a race-based definition

132 For a discussion of the labor disputes of the early 1920s, see James E. Cronin, "Coping with Labour, 1918-1926," in Conflict and the Political Order in Modern Brit- ain, ed. James E. Cronin and Jon Schneer (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1982), pp. 113-45.

133 Quotes are from Rich, Race and Empire (n. 2 above), p. 122. While Rich has aptly criticized many historians' tendency to see in interwar Britain's race policy a monolithic and unmediated racist impulse, Rich errs when he asserts that "middle opin- ion"-"central, informed" popular thought-was able to "cushion the general exten- sion of systematic racist doctrines" (pp. 4-5, 122).

134 Quotes are from ibid., pp. 122, 126; also see n. 10 above.

of British nationality might not have been a reflection of retreat at all; rather, it might have been an effort to reinforce the inequalities that made the British empire profitable for influential sections of Britain's elite.135 Viewed in this light, the episode has broad implications for the pattern of Black migration and of state control in late twentieth-century Britain, when the relationships among race, nationality, and migration remain fraught with conflict and ~0ntestation.l~~

For racial conflict in Britain was and is a legacy of British imperial- ism. Discounting the imperial experience when examining British race relations perpetuates the view of Black British subjects as outsiders to the British system rather than recognizing them as a section of Britain's global workforce who were kept structurally separate to en- sure their enhanced exploitability. The difference between migrants from elsewhere in Europe and Black migrants from the overseas em- pire was the absence of a preexisting and ongoing relationship of struc- tural interdependence and inequality of which "racial" difference was merely a signifier.I3' Black migrants were simply attempting to shift their position within this global system, and it was this that made their presence in Britain especially threatening. In addition, ignoring Britain's ongoing imperial project in the early and mid-twentieth cen- tury effectively absolves British elites, who controlled both national institutions and imperial structures, of their critical role in constructing racial categories through economic and political as well as cultural

practice^.'^^ Excluding this wider context and confining the focus to

'35 For a discussion of who benefited from imperialism, see Davis and Huttenback

(n. 20 above); Cain and Hopkins (n. 22 above).

136 The cultural dimensions of this "recolonization" process in post-1945 Britain have frequently been articulated, but its material and structural dimensions have re- mained largely unexplored. See, in addition to Gilroy (n. 17 above) and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, The Empire Strikes Back (n. 22 above), John Rex, Race, Colonialism and the City (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), pp. 79, 85-88, 107; Banton, White and Coloured (n. 102 above), esp. pp. 59, 69; For structural analyses of post-1945 migrant labor, see Stephen Castles and Godula Kosack, Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe (1973; reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985); Ceri Peach, West Indian Migration to Britain: A Social Geography (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1968). For a discussion of the persistence of imperial links beyond formal decolonization, see Miles Kahler and respondents, "Europe and Its 'Privileged' Partners in Africa and the Middle East," Journal of Common Market Studies 21, nos. 1 and 2 (SeptemberIDecember 1982): 199-226.

"'This is not to discount Britain's structural relationships with other European states and how they might have influenced the reception of European migrants; on the contrary, these too require scholarly exploration.

I39n British imperialism since the First World War, see Darwin, "Fear of Falling," and "Imperialism in Decline?" (both n. 23 above); and Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire (n. 22 above).

relations between Black and white working people in Britain perpetu- ates the assumption that conflict is a product of difference alone.

The history of the Coloured Alien Seamen Order calls into ques- tion the assumption that racial difference is natural and a natural source of conflict. In interwar Britain, the definition of who was Black and to what this entitled him was shaped by domestic, labor, and imperial politics. This history might encourage us to seek material, institutional, and historical bases for racial conflict. We must under- stand racial difference as a product of structural inequality and racial conflict as one of many forms of conflict-along lines of gender, class, ethnicity, age, and skill-that result from inequality rather than create it. Then it becomes clear that racism is not a universal human frailty but a power structure that oppresses all people regardless of race.

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