50 Years Ago: Behind the Race Riots

 Recent disturbances in Nottingham and London have brought up the question of the attitude between people of different colour; as if there must always be a fundamental difference in outlook and conduct between people with differently coloured skins. Although on the surface the feeling associated with the recent disturbances is anti-white and anti-colour, and the rougher elements on both sides have taken the opportunity to turn this feeling into an occasion for rioting, the origin of the feeling has a deeper cause than just anti-colour. The origin of the conflicting attitudes is fundamentally economic. Out of economic relationships arise emotions that take many forms which do not appear to have any connection with the relationships and are transformed into a variety of beliefs; for example, the false belief in the mental and moral superiority of people with white skins. The conditions of capitalism produce a mental, or intellectual, atmosphere in which many conflicting attitudes flourish and older attitudes are modified. For instance, a pro-war and anti-war, a pro-religious and anti-religious, a pro-nationalist and anti-nationalist, and so on. When the West Indians and Nigerians first came here in force there was no particular antipathy to them; there was only some amusement and admiration of their liveliness and colourful clothing, as well as the customary patronising attitude that is generally displayed towards any “foreigner,” whatever his skin colour. Labour was scarce then and unemployment was practically non-existent. However, when unemployment began to grow and the housing question remained acute, sufferers, and prospective sufferers, looked around for something to blame their troubles on and newcomers, as always, appeared to them to be an obvious part cause of their sufferings. In these circumstances the general attitude towards coloured people began to change and they became scapegoats for a failure of capitalism to meet society’s needs. (from front page article by Gilmac, Socialist Standard, October 1958)

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