Louise Shore: Race and Gender

Shore had grown up in Jamaica, surrounded by black people. There are no mentions of racism in any form, physical, verbal or emotional in the earlier part of Shore’s memoir whilst she’s still living in Jamaica so moving to the UK, where she suddenly became part of an ethnic minority, must have been unsettling for Shore. Immigrants from Jamaica and other islands within the West Indies were classed as British Citizens as a result of the British Empire and many were invited to the UK to help with the post war effort. However, although they had been invited, many were greeted with isolation, discrimination and verbal and physical racial attacks from the white Britons.

Keep Britian white

Photograph taken in the 1960s of a slogan that was very common at the time.

 

Because many Britons had strong opinions about the influx of black people, it became very difficult for black people to get jobs or suitable housing. Although many had impressive work experience they found they could only get the most lowly of jobs in the UK: “Often they were forced to accept jobs which they were over-qualified for, or they were paid less than other white workers” (The National Archive). They were doing the exact same jobs as white people possibly to even better standards sometimes and yet were being paid less because of the colour of their skin. Housing was also a big issue, there was a large group of landlords or landladies that refused to rent out their rooms to black people: “They would be confronted with insulting signs in house windows that said ‘Rooms to Let: No dogs, no coloureds’” (The National Archive).

Shore herself, suffered from racism on numerous occasions. Sometimes people would slam the door in her face and some would see her through the window and would not even answer the door. Some, although not as rude or abrupt, were just as discriminating: “They have the room; they say it’s all gone…But some say, ‘Sorry’. Some of these people they always sorry” (Shore, Pure Running, page 35). This suggests that some landlords wanted to rent her the room but were too afraid of what others would say or do to them if they were seen to be associating with a black person. Shore also suffered gender discrimination along with the racial discrimination. Several of the landlords explained: “it’s only white, but if it is a black man, they take the man, they don’t want a black woman. I don’t know why” (Shore, 35). Many people saw Shore, a black, unmarried woman as a vulnerable target and tried to take advantage of her naivety and unconscious knowledge of social standings in London life. Shore slowly learned of the class, race and gender divisions in 1960s London but sees very little change in how people react to and treat her. Although by the end of her memoir she has a steady job and a place to call home, she has seen no real improvement in her standard of life and this is mostly down to her being pigeon-holed because of her race and gender: “I no better and no worse. I still the same. My way of life is still the same” (Shore, 63).

Hamilton, Davina. Can You Excuse Casual Racism?, The Voice. 2012. http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/can-you-excuse-casual-racism

The National Archive – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/bound-for-britain/

Louise Shore, Pure Running: a Life Story, Hackney Reading Centre at Centerprise (1982). Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:707.

 

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