Looking back to all those years from the late 20s until probably the 50s, I can’t believe how insensitive we were to the feelings of others, when we were happily living in our little bubble which was Briton. Today, young people would find it difficult to imagine a Britain where, apart from the docks, or the centre of capital cities, one rarely saw a foreigner of any sort. This was Briton pre-WW2. Living in Africa under the British Raj, I unquestioningly absorbed its attributes. During the War I met African Americans on an American warship tied up near mine, and later in Belfast as part of the Second Front. That was about it.
So, the first time I encountered the sensitivity of the ‘coloured races’ was in about 1950 when at afternoon tea in Belfast, I met a student from the Indian Sub-Continent. We were talking generally and I referred to our servants in Africa as ‘boys’. At that point the calm afternoon was disrupted irrevocably. In Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia, now Maramba, Zambia, we had servants who lived in a collection of mud and reed huts at the bottom of our back garden. Up until the tea party I had taken the situation in Africa as the norm, it was our way of life, and everyone of us, Brits, referred to the staff as ‘boys’, and accepted the arrangement without thought.
This simple teatime opened a can of worms which has bothered me ever since. Forever, dignitaries of every creed and colour, together with empires generally and the British Colonial Empire in particular, have been, and it seems, still are, effecting changes in world harmony. The religious orders for whatever reason disrupted irredeemably the way of life in countless countries and it seems still are. The Brits tried to build a little Esher in every part of the world they ‘colonised’, without regard to the effects on the local cultures. It is no wonder that indigenous members of the Empire resent our past. One aspect of those early days, was the legacy of the Victorian music halls which we took for granted, enjoyed and were amused by, but we never really questioned the basic root, nor the possibility it could give offence, I refer to the Black and White Minstrel Show, and especially the gollywog. What house in the 30s had no gollywog in some form or other, even if it was only a label on a jar?
Partly through the class war within our own society, where now, menial jobs are hard to fill, we are now being invaded ourselves, and our legislation is being altered to take account of the ‘sensitivities’ of the invaders as we steadily move to a fully multi-racial society; but not without some reciprocal resentment. As if to somehow redress the balance, there are those, who can afford to, who are now invading Europe and other Continents, to buy a second home abroad, a holiday home, or are seeking an investment for their old age, Just a thought – will global warming have a deleterious affect on the success of these ventures, as their purchases will have on the young people on the housing ladder on those continents?