By the 1970s, the Caribbean carnival became a staple multicultural event in Britain's inner-city areas with large African Caribbean communities, such as Chapeltown in Leeds, Toxteth in Liverpool, and Moss Side in Manchester. This paper examines how photojournalistic portrayals of Black women at these carnivals conveyed Britain’s complex and contradictory relationship with multiracial difference in the late twentieth century. Scholars have noted the importance of newspapers in generating discourses of national identity around race in post-war Britain, often excluding people of colour from an ethnic absolutist idea of nationhood. However, this paper demonstrates that by the late twentieth century the press began to use photographs of Black women at inner-city carnivals to represent a new ‘acceptable face’ of multicultural Britain. By the 1970s, multiracial co-existence and acceptance was a fact that Britain had to incorporate into its national identity in a post-Nazi world, in which acceptable nationhood rested on projected denials of deep-seated societal racism. Placed in opposition to the ‘riotous’ Black male youth, Black women were portrayed as well-behaved, often photographed alongside police officers or performing an acceptable standard of modern femininity, in order to present an image of racial harmony in post-war Britain. Exploring these gendered photographs, this paper reveals how newspapers communicated a multicultural identity that did not undermine the supremacy of traditional British values, illuminating the complex relationship between gender, national identity and the ideological project of multiculturalism in post-war Britain.
Jessica White is a third-year PhD candidate in History at the University of Manchester. Her thesis, titled ‘Race, motherhood, and multiculturism: the making of female identities in the British inner-city, 1970-2000’, looks at the history of female identity in Britain’s inner cities from the 1970s, exploring the history of motherhood, feminism, race and multiculturalism.
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