Notting Hill: A Pretty Place with an Ugly History

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As ignorant as it sounds, I was never conscious that racism is universal. I learned about the Holocaust and civil rights movements, but I did not realize that black civil rights movements took place all over the world. I lived in a sheltered bubble until I started learning about Great Britain’s history of imperialism and its global influences. Earlier this week, a tour guide took us around Notting Hill and Portobello Market, an area known by tourists for its pastel flats and market stands. He taught us about its Afro-Caribbean influences and historical inequality after immigration. Now, I cannot help but wonder what other histories of oppression can be seen throughout London and the places I have been to.

Pastel flats along Portobello Market.

After World War II, Great Britain faced a labor shortage, so they passed the Immigration Act and invited people from the Caribbean to come get jobs. Those who sailed over are called the Windrush Generation which was named after the ship. They did not receive the same treatment as the British. The Windrush Generation were payed less and could not find jobs equivalent to their education and years of experience because of their skin color, typical effects of immigration. Our tour guide also shared with us stories of segregation in the 1970’s. Those with dark skin did not receive the same quality of education and were not allowed in pubs because the British wanted to “keep Britain white.” There were protests for equality in honor of those who died from hate crimes. Does any of this sound familiar to what you know of United States history? Racial discrimination in Great Britain was happening decades after the United States started passing laws for equality, like desegregating schools. What I do not understand is how the British oppressed the Caribbean when they were the ones who needed help.

The far-right British would vandalize black residents’ property to declare their superiority.

The discussion with our tour guide reminded of my friend who got turned away from a bar in Prague because of his dark skin color just last week. I also thought about the racist moments I have personally experienced so far in London that I have never encountered before in the United States.  Hearing about the history of inequality in Notting Hill, along with what I have been experiencing and learning about colonialism and oppression, has me questioning the current racism around the world. Even though London is diverse where there are over 300 different languages spoken, and the most popular dish is chicken tikka masala, I wonder how much Londoners are aware of their implicit racial bias. I wonder if Londoners of color still experience racism, especially in rural areas of England. I am even more curious, and I hope to become more aware of my surroundings when I roam around London for parts of history that explains the diversity here.