Race and riots in Thatcher’s Britain

In 1980–81, anti-police collective violence spread across England. This was the earliest confrontation between the state and members of the British public during Thatcher’s divisive government. This powerful and original book locates these disturbances within a longer struggle against racism and disadvantage faced by black Britons, which had seen a growth in more militant forms of resistance since the Second World War. In this first full-length historical study of 1980–81, three case studies – of Bristol, Brixton and Manchester – emphasise the importance of local factors and the wider situation, concluding that these events should be viewed as ‘collective bargaining by riot’ – as a tool attempting increased political inclusion for marginalised black Britons. Focusing on the political activities of black Britons themselves, it explores the actions of community organisations in the aftermath of disorders to highlight dichotomous valuations of state mechanisms. A key focus is public inquiries, which were contrastingly viewed by black Britons as either a governmental diversionary tactic, or a method of legitimising their inclusion with the British constitutional system. Through study of a wide range of newly available archives, interviews, understudied local sources and records of grassroots black political organisations, this work expands understandings of protest movements and community activism in modern democracies while highlighting the often-problematic reliance upon ‘official’ sources when forming historical narratives. Of interest to researchers of race, ethnicity and migration history, as well as modern British political and social history more generally, its interdisciplinary nature will also appeal to wider fields, including sociology, political sciences and criminology.


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