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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

Abstract  This article examines a controversial report that focused negatively on mixed heritage children born and raised in the city of Liverpool. The official title was: Report on an Investigation into the Colour Problem in Liverpool and other ports. The social researcher was Muriel E. Fletcher, who had been trained in the Liverpool School of Social Science at The University of Liverpool in the early 1920s. The report was published in 1930 amid controversy for its openly stigmatizing content of children and mixed heritage families of African and European origin. It could be deemed the official outset in defining Liverpool's ‘half castes’ as a problem and blight to the “British way of life” in the city.

What it is to be Black and British has always been problematic to define, regardless of whether referring to the individual or cultural make-up of Britain (Christian 2002a: 59–77; Rich 1986, 1994; Yeboah 1988; Young 1995). However, when one considers ‘race’ as a variable (Banton 1977), alongside geographical space and the city of Liverpool, what it is to be British provides an even greater conundrum (Law and Henfrey 1981; Rich 1984; Small 1991; Christian 1995, 1997, 2000; Brown, 2005). This article is concerned with the historical stigmatizing of a social group, known in contemporary times as Liverpool-born Black (Christian 1997). In relation to the British Empire and its concomitant ingrained racism (Christian 2002a: 59–77), the term ‘half-caste’ was to become negatively synonymous with Black people of mixed heritage in Liverpool (African descent and white British. By the end of World War I (1918) the city had a well-established Black community that was viewed as a ‘problem’ for the city (Christian 1998; Costello 2001; Gifford et al. 1989; Fryer 1984; Small 1991, 1992; Brogden 1991).

In the late 1920s the Association for the Welfare of Half-Caste Children and the University of Liverpool supported a report by one of its graduates from the newly formed Social Work department, Muriel E. Fletcher, to look into the problem of mixed heritage families in the city's South End area, or where the majority of Black families resided. The main aim herein is to give an account of what came to be known as the ‘Fletcher Report’ (1930) and to show how its legacy impacted negatively on the Liverpool Black experience. There can be little doubt that many of the stereotypes concerning the make-up of Liverpool's Black community could be traced back to this report. To put it another way, her report cemented the derogatory term ‘half-caste’ (see Christian 2000: xxix) into the social perception of the city, along with previously held stereotypes about Black families and gave them credence via a seemingly ‘objective’ and unbiased analysis. Indeed, a recent study by Jacqueline Nassy Brown, although problematic in terms of its historical comprehension of the Liverpool Black experience, confirms that ‘Black Liverpool’ is inextricably interwoven with the ‘ghost of Muriel Fletcher’ (see Rich 1984; Christian 1995, 2000; Brown 2005: 187–214).

Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

According to Fryer (1984: 299–304), in June 1919 ‘an anti-Black reign of terror raged in Liverpool’. Black people were brutally beaten, stabbed and even murdered by white mobs of up to 10,000 strong. The property of Black people in the South End of Liverpool was also vandalized leaving many homeless.

By 1919 the Liverpool Black population was estimated to be in the region of five thousand (Fryer 1984; Law 1985: 95). May and Cohen (1974) provide a suitable foundation for the examination of the 1919 anti-black riots in Liverpool. Through an appreciation of May and Cohen's analysis, it suggests how the term ‘half-caste’ became synonymous with Black presence in Liverpool being defined as a social problem in the post-World War One era due primarily to Black-white unions.

In relation to the 1919 outbreak of white hostility toward the Black community in Liverpool, May and Cohen (1974: 115) put forward four explanations as to why it occurred. First, they argue that there was apprehension among the white population regarding ‘sexual competition and the fear of miscegenation’; second, because Black settlement in Liverpool was confined primarily to the South End of the city, Black people represented ‘a readily identifiable minority’ and were therefore open to attack; third, the prevalence of white thugs – the ‘hooligan element’– just out for the sake of wanton destruction may have been the cause of the violence; and finally, the ‘competition for employment’ between the Black and white communities engendered hostility from the white community.

It is fair to suggest that all the above explanations may have played a part in the outbreak of white hostility toward the Black community in Liverpool during the Spring and Summer of 1919. Yet the first explanation which May and Cohen (1974) put forward, ‘sexual competition and the fear of miscegenation’, appears to have had greater significance. Indeed May and Cohen felt it important enough to name it as the number one explanation regardless of the dire unemployment and poverty that existed in the city of Liverpool at this time.

It appears that job competition did play a role in the increased white hostility toward the Black community in Liverpool, yet it is evident in much of the social commentary of this era that sexual relations between Black men and white women carried a stigma and became the subject of such a major social taboo that it would engender the wrath of the white community if violated (King and King 1938: 127–128; Rich 1984, 1986).

In a letter to The Times (14/6/1919: 8) a contemporary on ‘race relations’ and the former colonial administrator, [Sir] Ralph Williams, offered his ‘objective’ rationale only to reveal the extent of his ‘horror’ associated with the idea and practice of sexual relations between Black men and white women:

Every one of us has, probably, many friends among the coloured people, whom we bear in kindliest remembrance. It does not, either, I think, arise from any feeling of social superiority. The cause is far deeper. It is an instinctive certainty that sexual relations between white women and coloured men revolt our very nature . . . Large numbers of black and coloured men have been gathered together in the Mother Country. They are here without their women, and it is not wonderful that their passions should run high after a long period of abstinence. These men now find white women of a certain temperament encouraging their attentions, and allowing themselves to be taken as paramours, or sometimes as wives. What blame to the coloured men if they take advantage of it? And what blame, too, to those white men who, seeing these conditions and loathing them resort to violence?

Numerous ‘intellectual’ views held by white commentators, either consciously or unconsciously, or even a mixture of the two if we take the example of Ralph Williams, related to racialised discourse and they appear to have had a strong bearing on the complex nature of the anti-Black riots in 1919 Liverpool. An outcome of this was to further stigmatise Black-white sexual relations in which the offspring of those liaisons were effectively branded as less-than-human, degenerate, only to be despised and scorned by mainstream society. Again, imbued in the rhetoric, was the notion of hybridity between Black-white unions being anomalous, which echoed the philosophy of the Eugenics Movement in Britain (Park 1930; Searle 1976: 43).

Racialised antipathy, it can be said, has grown and been nurtured out of a whole complex of socio-psychological misconceptions ingrained in the history of Liverpool and Black settlement in the city. Understanding the nature of the 1919 anti-Black riots involves both a class dimension and one of ‘race’ and racism. The class dimension was two-fold. First, a so-called ‘intellectual’ class had an array of pseudo-scientific theories and explanations for the supposed inferiority of Black people (Christian 2002a: 59–77; Fryer 1984: 133–190, 1988; Searle 1976: 34–44; Rich 1984, 1986; Yeboah 1988: 54–59). Second, a white working-class, which ordinarily gleaned their ideas and attitudes regarding ‘race relations’ from British imperial/colonial folklore disseminated mainly through the growth and development of popular culture, having its origins in the Victorian era (Bolt 1971: 1–28).

The anti-Black riots in 1919 Liverpool did much to strengthen and give and an outlet to the racialised antipathy toward the Black community from most sections of the white community. Indeed it has been documented that the Liverpool police, media of communication, and magistrates were overtly biased against the Black community during the 1919 unrest (Fryer 1984; Julienne 1979; May and Cohen 1974; Murphy 1995: 28–42; Walvin 1973: 208). Fryer (1984: 302) cites a contemporary and ‘experienced’ police officer who infused his analysis of the ant-Black riots with a display of paternalism and racial mythology:

The people here [in Liverpool] understand the negroes . . . They know that most of them are only big children who when they get money like to make a show . . . The negroes would not have been touched[beaten]but for their relations with white women. This caused the entire trouble. (Italics my emphasis)

The police officer cited above fails to give a hint of the other possible social factors that resulted in anti-Black riots (which took the life of a young Black sailor from the Caribbean named Charles Wootton, aged 24 years; see Fryer 1984: 300; Julienne 1979). Those social factors such as high unemployment and widespread poverty in Liverpool during the interwar years are overlooked and deemed insignificant according to the ‘experienced’ police officer's analysis. Rather, he prefers to only use the ‘Black-white sexual relations’ angle. For the police officer it was the emotive notion of ‘white-male-jealousy’, caused by relationships between Black men and white women in Liverpool that brought on the anti-Black rioting. The implicit message is: no Black presence, no violence.

This aspect of racialised antipathy and categorisation gives an insight into those members of the Liverpool white community, who, as public officials, created the notions of Black-white sexual relations being a social evil that had to be curtailed for the moral good of society. Moreover, the potential offspring of such relationships, ‘half-castes’, were deemed as a serious social problem for the city of Liverpool that could not be condoned (see Brogden 1991: 150). In this sense, as the social tension increased regarding Black-white sexual interaction, the mixed origin population in Liverpool was progressively more marginalised and the stigma grew to be more entrenched.

The aftermath of the anti-black riots in 1919 saw the problem of ‘half-caste’ children in Liverpool take on greater significance and the issue developed into a much discussed and analysed topic (King and King 1938; Rich 1984, 1986; Wilson 1992). The debates engendered ‘intellectual’ legitimisation of racialised ideology that effectively produced a climate of opinion that sought to reduce the sexual interaction between Black and white people. The corollary of this was to further stigmatise the mixed heritage population as a social problem that society had to be rid. Some of the key racialised stereotypes associated with the term ‘half-caste’ will be made clearer through an examination of key Liverpool-based philanthropic organizations, which were set up to deal specifically with the ‘social problem’ caused by the progeny of Black and white relationships.

The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

The interwar years in Liverpool saw a marked increase in the growth of the stigma related to its mixed origin population. Various ideas were discussed publicly to ensure the prevention of further social interaction between predominantly Black men and white women (Rich 1984, 1986, 1994; Wilson 1992). According to Rich (1986: 122–30), during the 1920s and 1930s the social tensions brought on by the Black presence in Liverpool (the presence of white racism was conveniently not put on the agenda) and their competition as job seekers in an area with dire unemployment, led to systematic efforts by organisations such as the National Union of Seamen, backed by government legislation, to restrict Black settlement.

The 1925 Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, for example, provided greater constraint on Black seamen entering Britain as they were ordered to carry documentation proving their rights as citizens of Britain. Also, they had to register with the local police (Fryer 1984; Rich 1986; Walvin 1973: 209). This gave the Police more powers to control the Liverpool Black community. In addition, it gave the National Union of Seamen the power to control Black labour and to further discriminate at will in favour of white seamen (Fryer 1984: 298; Rich 1986).

One of the major political reasons put forward to legitimate the Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order was again associated to the notion of minimising the numbers of ‘half-caste’ children being born in the city (Rich 1986: 130). Along with the political and social constraints on interracial liaisons being allowed to form, there developed an ongoing debate in the field of anthropological studies (eugenics) relating to the impact of miscegenation in Britain's major seaports (Rich 1994: 85–128). Pseudo-scientific theories had dominated the latter part of the nineteenth century and in most British universities many of the fallacious ideas still held sway (Fryer 1984).

In the case of Liverpool the anthropological spotlight focused on the mixed origin population via a local ‘philanthropic’ organisation: the Liverpool University Settlement. This establishment was founded in 1908 at Nile Street and catered mainly for the needs of poor white working-class (Wilson 1992: 62). However, after World War One the settlement was getting increasingly more involved with sociological investigation and by the late 1920s it was at the forefront in tackling the ‘problem’ of a ‘half-caste’ population in Liverpool (King and King 1938: 127–134).

In December 1927 a meeting was called at the Liverpool University Settlement in order to address the issue of the ‘welfare of “half-caste” children’. Rachel M. Fleming, an anthropologist who specialised in the study of ‘half-castes’ or ‘hybrids’ (see Fleming 1930), addressed a committee comprised of local Liverpool dignitaries who represented education, the police, the church, and an array of welfare agencies (King and King 1938: 127–8). Fleming's argument, related to the social and psychological pathology of ‘half-castes’ in Liverpool, convinced the committee of the need to ‘scientifically’ research the plight of those ‘wretched’ beings. It was paternalism of the highest order and the creation of the Liverpool Association for the Welfare of Half-Caste Children was founded. It is fair to suggest that the activities of this ‘philanthropic’ organisation did more harm than good to the long-term socio-economic well-being of Liverpool's mixed origin population. This can be illustrated through an analysis of a report that the Liverpool Association for the Welfare of Half-Caste Children sponsored. It was research and written by a graduate of the University of Liverpool's School of Social Science: Muriel E. Fletcher. She was at that time employed as a probation worker and given the task to investigate the socio-economic plight of ‘half-castes’. The social research played particular attention to the family structure of the ‘half-cast’ population in Liverpool.

Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

Arguably, in relation to the Liverpool Black experience, the pivotal stigmatising report to be published in the history of poor ‘race relations’ in Liverpool was in regard to mixed heritage children and their family structure. Muriel E. Fletcher (1930), who had the full backing of Ms. Rachel Fleming, a prominent eugenicist (Jones 1982), and other contemporary pseudo-scientific intellectuals, conducted the research on behalf of the Liverpool Association for the Welfare of Half-Caste Children and published in 1930 a document entitled a Report on an Investigation into the Colour Problem in Liverpool and other Parts. It is a sociological report produced in the late 1920s and can be regarded as a nadir in the Liverpool mixed heritage population's struggle to secure a positive social identity. This ubiquitous racialised stigma was grounded in the eugenicist tradition of Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) and the Eugenics Society. The society viewed humans in terms of being ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ in stock (Jones 1982), and it is an overt philosophy throughout the report. Using eugenicist techniques, it is apparent that Fletcher attempted to study the physical and mental quality of ‘half-caste’ children. Implicit in the research is the idea that the African and white British/European offspring were an anomaly in terms of human breeding. Eugenicists believed selective breeding could improve the physical and mental quality of humans by, e.g., ‘controlling’ the spread of inherited genetic abnormalities (which led in this era, 1920–1930s, to eugenics being abused by the Nazi Party in Germany to justify the extermination of thousands of ‘undesirable’ or mentally and physically ‘unfit’ humans).

The research conducted by Fletcher professed to be concerned with the ‘welfare’ of mixed origin children and their families, but in hindsight, there is no evidence to suggest it enhanced their quality of life. In fact it could be said that the report may have worsened their life chances and existence in the city by branding the offspring of mixed racial relationships as ‘genetically abnormal’. In point of fact, the report contains and cements the ‘fears’ brought on by racialised mythology and sexual taboo in regard to Black-white sexual relations (May and Cohen 1974; Rich 1986; Small 1991; Wilson 1992). Indeed the very title of the report suggests that Fletcher was endeavouring to prove through ‘scientific investigation’ that there was a colour problem in Liverpool.

Due to the significance and major ramifications of the Fletcher Report to the mixed heritage experience in Liverpool, it is necessary to examine in greater detail some of the racialised stigma embodied within the document. It is also important because the ideas and analysis contained in the report still can be found ‘echoing’ in the contemporary Liverpool Black experience relating to the complexity of ‘Black identity’ in the city (Brown 2005; Christian 2000).

There are five main areas of investigation upon which Fletcher focused her study, and they are as follows:

  • 1
    The history and extent of the perceived ‘colour problem’ in Liverpool.
  • 2
    The ‘half-caste’ family structure.
  • 3
    The role of women in those families.
  • 4
    The analysis of ‘half-caste’ children in order to find out the level of their intelligence compared to white children.
  • 5
    The chances of ‘half-castes’ obtaining employment in Liverpool.

The report can be regarded as being ingrained with the racialism of nineteenth century pseudo-scientific and biological racism. Gill (1995) and Young (1995) have made significant contributions to the broader context of how British colonialism folklore disseminated the pseudo-science that deemed white people as superior (Christian 2002a: 59–77; Fryer 1984). In this sense, the social context in which Fletcher produced the report inevitably impacted on her methods of inquiry and findings. It is unlikely that one can be ‘objective’ under the weight of British colonial white supremacist ideology; and it could be that Fletcher was a victim of her times.

If one rationally considers the report, its recommendations were not particularly conducive to an impartial evaluation in order to improve the quality of life for Black families in Liverpool. Indeed it could be argued that the report doubled up as a para-political tract since it contained the proposals of a manifesto implicitly stating the need to repatriate the resident ‘Black community’ in Liverpool (Rich 1986). Moreover, there was a recommendation to control the migrant patterns of Black labour into Liverpool via the shipping industry. The importance of deconstructing the Fletcher Report, in relation to the historical development and growth of the mixed heritage population's social identity in Liverpool, will be apparent in the next section as it critically considers its content in detail through the use of the report's original chapter headings.

A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

A recent researcher has stated, in relation to the Fletcher Report and its author, ‘. . . I will not dignify it by repeating its so-called findings’ (Sherwood 1994: 13). This type of intellectual consideration of the Fletcher Report is not rare (Small 1991: 528); indeed in my research I have yet to come across a detailed critique of its findings. It is understandable, to an extent, that contemporary researchers may find its contents unworthy of academic credibility. Yet due to the significance of its impact in Liverpool and beyond, and in respect to lives of the Black persons of mixed heritage, it should be considered and responded to thoroughly, if only for the historical record.

I) History of the Colour Problem in Liverpool

In relation to this section it is fair to suggest that Fletcher's analysis is to seek a sociological explanation regarding the world of mixed heritage family culture in Liverpool – or to use her term, ‘half-caste’ family life and conditions. To do this she employs a brief historical overview of the extent and impact of Black settlement in Liverpool. In paraphrasing her summary, the analysis reveals three main arguments and the writer concludes that; one, the history of Black presence in Liverpool has caused a major social problem; two, Black people in Liverpool were essentially responsible for the 1919 ‘race riots’ due to their social interaction with local white women; and finally, due to the social pathology of Black settlement in Liverpool, there is a need to strengthen the existing immigration policy to keep them out of Britain.

II) The Extent of the Problem

This aspect of the report is concerned with finding concrete methods to be able to repatriate Black (British) seamen from Liverpool, UK. It is clear from her analysis that she is frustrated with the existing immigration laws that gave the right to Black seamen to enter Britain lawfully. Indeed Fletcher is adamantly unconvinced of the British Black seamen having gained a bona fide right to their British citizenship. As she points out (1930: 9):

Their claim to British nationality, however, can hardly ever be substantiated, and many are, in fact, Liberians or at the most, British protected subjects.

It is somewhat odd that Fletcher does not manage to provide any evidence that the British Black seamen holding, to all concerned officialdom, bona fide British passports are in actual fact, as she professes, Liberian. This then is another example of her flawed analysis and a classic example of the researcher impinging her own values on the data, even when the evidence runs contrary to what she wants to prove.

Fletcher goes on to discuss the way in which she attained her sample of ‘half-caste’ families and it is here where the weaknesses in her research methodology are explicitly revealed. There are, for instance, a number of methodological errors which need to be highlighted now and will become more apparent further in the discussion. Out of an original number of 450 ‘half-caste’ families Fletcher states that 91 were observed (1930: 10). Therefore in percentage terms the sample of ‘half-caste’ families said to be observed represented just over twenty percent of the original figure. On face value this is a fair sample to observe from the original number of 450, but later in the report we find no evidence of all the 91 families who were supposedly studied. Indeed this study will later reveal that in actual fact there happened to be less than three percent (13 in number) of ‘half-caste’ families observed by Fletcher that happened to have had a white mother.

Second, the sample was not random due to the number of ‘half-caste’ families having been selected by her through local welfare agencies in Liverpool. Agencies such as the Diocesan Board of Moral Welfare, the Child Welfare Association and Infant Welfare Clinics were contacted in order to provide Fletcher with her sample. However, the problem with this method of obtaining a population sample is that it begs the question of how representative a reflection of the group being researched it is. In this particular case, Fletcher as a social scientist failed to account for a wide-range of mixed heritage families residing in Liverpool at that time (Wilson 1992) and preferred to examine only the poor working-class ‘half-caste’ families who were in contact with the local welfare agencies (Sherwood 1994). Further, the narrow scope of such a research design was bound to yield a set of data that revealed ‘half-caste’ families in dire poverty-stricken conditions. Indeed during this era in Liverpool's history there was also widespread white working-class poverty (see O’Mara 1993/1934; Members of Merseyside Socialist Research Group 1992).

One cannot overestimate the lasting damage done to the mixed heritage population in Liverpool due to the narrow manner in which Fletcher conducted her research and fieldwork. In an interview for this research, I was informed by Margaret Simey, a prominent figure in Liverpool local politics and a classmate of Muriel Fletcher when they attended the University of Liverpool's School of Social Science in the mid-twenties, that she was actually ‘stabbed and ran out of the city’ after the report was published.1 This gives an indication to the extent of bad feeling the Black community had at the time in relation to the report (see Rich 1986: 134). In point of fact, my fieldwork, in terms of talking with elders of the Liverpool Black community, has revealed the ‘folklore of resistance’ concerning the Fletcher Report. A woman respondent for this research actually recalled Fletcher visiting her family home. She stated that Fletcher betrayed the trust of Black people with ‘that report’.2

III) The Coloured Man

a) Employment

Here Fletcher argues that the employment, unemployment and unemployability of Black seamen in Liverpool present a grave social problem. The idea of white racism and discrimination against Black seamen is completely overlooked in her analysis. Rather, her examination starts from the premise that it is only the employment opportunities in seafaring that encourages Black settlement in the dockland and adjacent areas. Yet by her own admission Black presence in Liverpool dates back as far as two generations and this has meant many Black people have been ‘absorbed in various kinds of labour in this port’ apart from seafaring (1930a: 7). As such to imply that in order to solve the ‘social problem’ of ‘half-caste’ children in Liverpool would be merely a matter of stopping British Black seamen from entering their field of employment was analytically misleading and narrow in scope, as by Fletcher's own account they also occupied other areas of employment. Nevertheless, this line of reasoning in her research findings gave an effective excuse to control Black settlement in Liverpool and other seaports, such as Cardiff (Rich 1986; Wilson 1992).

Fletcher is also critical of those shipping companies in Liverpool that provided living accommodation for Black seamen, as this ‘appears to be considerable inducement of some kind for the men to settle in this country’ (1930: 15). In addition, Fletcher makes the assumption without providing the hard evidence that:

In their own country they are not allowed to mix freely with white people nor to have relations with white women. Once having formed unions with white women in this country, they are perhaps loath to leave England . . . (1930: 14) (italics my emphasis)

Fletcher here reproduces the same emotional rhetoric as that of the police officer in his summation of the 1919 anti-Black riots. It can be argued that this is to prevent Black seamen from ‘contaminating’ white British women. Indeed it is difficult to find Fletcher's analysis as a valid interpretation of the social facts surrounding Black seamen and their employment patterns. Moreover, the report's interpretation and analysis of Black-white relations does not in any sophisticated sense camouflage the overt ideological bias of its researcher and backers. In this sense it is important, in fully understanding the report, to comprehend its historical setting. It would be unwise, therefore, to isolate Fletcher's study beyond her own values as a white researcher, especially with the benefit of hindsight. After all we are all products of a particular time and historical context (Millis 1959) and cannot reduce social phenomena merely to individual interpretation. Fletcher grew out of an ingrained social order based on the notion of superior/inferior human beings, and this should not be overlooked in the modern context of reading her report.

b) The Health of the Coloured Man

Here Fletcher draws heavily on the pseudo-scientific racism of her contemporary R.M. Fleming (1930) in examining the health of ‘half-caste’ families. According to Fletcher ‘coloured’ men are susceptible to poor health and this ‘heredity’ factor is passed on to their offspring, ‘half-caste’ children. As Fletcher states:

The children seemed to have frequent colds, many were also rickety, and several cases were reported in which there was a bad family history for tuberculosis. It was therefore decided to enquire into the health of the coloured man, so that some idea could be formed of the constitution, which the half-caste children were likely to inherit (1930: 15).

Primarily, therefore, Fletcher analysed the causes of illness found in ‘half-caste’ children not in the lack of vitamins (such as is the case of the ‘half-castes’ found to be ‘rickety’, which was probably caused by vitamin D deficiency), but in the inherited genes from their ‘coloured’ fathers.

Along with this form of biological investigation based on scientific-racism, dubious statistics were provided in order to support an argument that venereal disease (VD) was found in Black seamen more than twice the rate it was found to be in white seamen. The underlying theme was that Black seamen were alleged to be more promiscuous compared to their white counterparts. In short, due to heredity factors Fletcher found that Black seamen were the cause of their ‘half-caste’ offspring being prone to particular types of illnesses, and they were also stigmatised through the report as being inherently promiscuous.

c) Social and Recreational Facilities

The five ‘white’ recreational centres, whilst legally on offer to all seamen in Liverpool, did not actively encourage Black seamen to join. Fletcher found this out through her interviews with three of the five superintendents of the centres. Her conclusion rests on the views of the superintendents, who argued that there were two reasons for the dislike of Black seamen by their white counterparts. One, white seamen felt that Black seamen were the cause for the high levels of unemployment; and two, due to a ‘strong local resentment’ against sexual relations between Black men and white women (1930: 17). Conveniently for her underlying argument, Fletcher offers no balanced or alternative view from that of the superintendents. That is, in terms of the real reasons for the high rate of unemployment in Liverpool: namely the world-wide economic slump. This certainly had little or nothing to do with the presence of Black seamen in Liverpool seeking social and recreational facilities that were due to them legally as British seamen. Essentially, evidence has shown by and large that Black seamen were an extremely exploited labour force and socially marginalised in all areas of life during the interwar years (Law 1985: 86–92; Rich 1986; Sherwood 1994; Wilson 1992).

Fletcher goes on to give a cursory description of the recreational centres catering apparently solely for the good of Black semen in Liverpool. The African and West Indian Mission and the African Hostel were both situated in the main area where Black people resided – the South End of the city. According to Fletcher, these two institutions provided social welfare facilities for the Black seamen, primarily for those employed by the Elder Dempster shipping firm. However, with the benefit of hindsight and recent research it has been argued that the African and West Indian Mission, in particular, was merely a paternalistic institution which based its ethos on Victorian values regarding the African as an inferior. Hence it was founded in order to segregate and control Black seamen in Liverpool and not, as it is put forward by Fletcher, to cater for the social well-being of them (Wilson 1992: 55–6).

Moreover, it appears that when Fletcher as a researcher came across any form of Black self-determination it was either ignored in her analysis or derided as worthless. For example, she mentions a society named the Florence Mills League, which was organised by Black folk in Liverpool in order to enhance Black enterprise in business and the creation of employment. Yet Fletcher gives no more details about this society, i.e., address, membership and length of existence. Instead, she concludes knowingly that the league was:

Originally run by a white man, it is now managed entirely by the coloured people, but appears to do little more than hold dances (1930: 19).

(italics my emphasis)

Fletcher leaves the reader in no doubt that Black people are incompetent and can only organise ‘dances’. There was no focus on how the Florence helped provide social welfare for those who needed it, along with the effort to secure self-development and an economic base. Fletcher instead focuses on the social or entertainment role of the Florence, in turn, stereotyping the ‘coloured man’ as an unreliable, hedonistic, philanderer who lacks organisation and thrift. This is a theme that will be highlighted through an examination of the next section of the report.

d) The Coloured Man's Attitude to White Women

In terms of the ‘ideal type’‘coloured man’ in Liverpool, Fletcher describes him as having these essential characteristics:

Usually well dressed, generous with what money he has, a good singer and dancer, he is able to make a good impression on the girls in the neighborhood (1930: 19).

When one considers that the above was written by a social scientist in 1930, it would be a productive exercise to measure in some way the durability of such racialised categories of stigmatisation and the extent to which they have remained in the realms of popular culture in Liverpool. Indeed an examination as to how far removed is this description above of the ‘ideal type’ Black man in 1930 different from that in the mid-2000s? The point here is: ideas related to the power of racialised stigma, and its concomitant discrimination process in Liverpool, are deep-rooted and need to be assessed as such.

In addition, historical events and issues are necessarily difficult if not impossible to subject to quantitative measurement. Yet neither are they clearly understood in terms of qualitative research because this requires understanding at the level of meaning. As the meaning is often inaccessible to those who did not live contemporaneously, the researcher in the modern context should be ever alert to impinging his/her values on the text and try to embed it within its historical setting. This is an important consideration in re-assessing the content and implications of the Fletcher Report.

The bias and distortions contained within the Fletcher Report have been noted and criticized by other researchers (Brown 1986; Gifford et al. 1989; Law and Henfrey 1981; Law 1985; Rich 1984, 1986; Sherwood 1994; Small 1991; Wilson 1992).

However, none of these writers have fully accounted for the roots of this systematic stigmatisation of Liverpool's mixed heritage population. It is generally agreed by writers that the roots of racism in Liverpool are as deep-rooted as the city's participation in the enslavement trade, but in terms of the institutionalised stigmatisation of the mixed heritage population in Liverpool, they tend to go back no further than the Fletcher Report and its negative stereotype portrayal of Black people and their culture in Liverpool during the late 1920s. In short, the ‘coloured man’ was made the scapegoat for the cause of a supposedly degenerate ‘half-caste’ population that suffered dire socio-economic conditions. However, the issue of white racism and discrimination did not enter into the analysis as a central area of cause-effect relativity. To be sure, Fletcher never discussed the possibility of the victimisation of Black people in Liverpool.

IV) The Women Who Consort with Coloured Men

Fletcher's key theme in this chapter of the report is the proposition that Black seamen ‘consort’ with both white and ‘half-caste’ women. Moreover, the white women inevitably come to realize the mistake that they have made in having a Black man as a partner. The use of racialised mythology is an integral aspect of her analysis, as the citation below confirms:

[White women] . . . almost invariably regret their alliance with a coloured man, and realizing that they have chosen a life which is repugnant, become extraordinarily sensitive about their position. [In addition,] . . . their sexual demands impose a continual strain on white women (1930: 21).

In terms of ‘objectivity’, it is phrases such as ‘they have chosen a life which is repugnant’ and ‘their sexual demands impose a continual strain’ that indicate the ideological bias of the report and its propensity to consolidate the stigmatisation of the ‘coloured man’ and those who interact or ‘consort’ with him. It also reinforced the myth of Black male sexuality and the need to control it.

Fletcher argued that ‘half-caste’ women were particularly vulnerable in Liverpool as they naturally consort with ‘coloured men’. She maintains that ‘half-caste’ women were regarded as virtual social outcasts whose only escape from a life of perpetual misery was to marry a ‘coloured man’. As the opportunity in marrying a white man was, for a ‘half-caste’ woman, a near impossibility. Again Fletcher points out:

Only two cases have been found in Liverpool of half-caste girls who have married white men, and in one of these cases the girl's family forced the marriage on the man (1930a: 21).

It should be pointed out that this negative reflection of ‘half-caste’ girls in Liverpool is a major theme throughout the Fletcher Report. Certainly the experience of mixed heritage women would require and deserves a study in itself, if only due to the significance and importance of highlighting the perspective of mixed heritage women in the history of Liverpool. However, what is important here and central to this historical social research is to provide an insight into the racialised stigma that has impacted all individuals of mixed heritage in the Liverpool Black experience in terms of their collective social identity in the context of the city.

Fletcher (1930: 22) went on to give four classes of white women who ‘consorted’ with ‘coloured men’ in Liverpool:

  • 1)
    Those who took the step because they had an illegitimate child by a white man who refused to marry them, or because they had an illegitimate coloured child.
  • 2)
    Those who were mentally weak.
  • 3)
    Prostitutes.
  • 4)
    Younger women who make contact in a spirit of adventure and find themselves unable to break away.

There are a number of methodological weaknesses with the above ‘classes’ of white women. First, Fletcher states that out of the thirty-six families which were ‘known best’, six white women had consorted with a ‘coloured man’ due to having had an illegitimate white child, and seven had consorted due to them having had an illegitimate coloured child. It is not stated whether the ‘coloured’ children were ‘half-caste’– however we are left to assume that they were the illegitimate children of white women and Black fathers. For in the popular parlance of the 1920s and 1930s: ‘coloured’ equaled Black, and ‘half-caste’ was defined fundamentally (as it still is today in some circles of Liverpool society) as a person being ‘half-white’/’half-Black’. Therefore if, as Fletcher states, the sample relates to those ‘classes’ of white women who consort with ‘coloured men’, one can logically assume she made an error in her interpretation of the data.

Second, the analysis becomes more nebulous as it develops. For example, nine of the women are said to be ‘half-castes’. Yet the central ‘classes’ of women referred to them being white (as stated above). The problem of methodology here relates to sample size and whether it is a representative one. Indeed out of the meager ‘known best’ thirty-six families only twenty-two (14 ‘known best’ families are actually not referred to) are accounted for, and out of the twenty-two, nine of them happen to be ‘half-caste’ women.

Third, the methodological weaknesses contained in the sample of the ‘thirty-six best known’ families are profound per se, however, when one considers that the original sample of ‘half-caste’ families to be investigated by Fletcher was put at four hundred and fifty, and out of this figure only ninety-nine were said to actually have been observed by Fletcher (i.e. 91 equals only 20 percent of the original 450 ‘half-caste’ families), the research report becomes even more narrow in focus. Therefore, so far the figure of four hundred and fifty ‘half-caste’ families has been reduced to ninety-one, then from ninety-one to thirty-six, and from thirty-six to twenty-two. Leaving a sample that was problematic and unlikely to be a ‘general’ picture of a ‘mixed’ family.

Yet the problem of sample distortion does not end here, that is if we restrict our analysis to white women as a definite ‘ideal-type’ partner in a ‘half-caste’ family, for out of the figure of twenty-two emerges nine women defined by Fletcher as being ‘half-caste’. That means only thirteen of her original ‘thirty-six best known’ families happened to be headed by white women. Therefore, if the correct figure of thirteen is put into percentage terms, against the original sample figure of four hundred and fifty ‘half-caste’ families, the sample of white women who are accounted for, in terms of empirical data, and of which are considered to have ‘consorted’ with ‘coloured men’ happens to be just under three percent.

In terms of this sample distortion, the practice of Fletcher basing her findings of ‘white women consorting with coloured men’ on less than three percent of the original population (which was also distorted in terms of it not being random) reveals a highly selective and manipulative empirical base. Nevertheless, the outcome of the Fletcher Report was to stigamatise not only the contemporary generation of the mixed heritage population, but those that have followed. After all, dead ideas live on even if they have no credibility in the realms of scientific logic and moral reason (Banton and Harwood 1975; Banton 1977; Fryer 1988; Yeboah 1988).

V) The Family

In this chapter Fletcher attempts to breakdown the average ‘half-caste’ family using income as the main variable. However, Fletcher's use of nebulous diagrams supported by weak interpretation continues to confuse rather than clarify the state of the so-called ‘half-caste’ families under academic scrutiny. In deciphering the analysis it can be summarized as this: ‘half-caste’ families are poor and have generally a low standard of living. This is fundamentally due to Black seamen being unable to support their families independently from the state, and because the lives they lead as seafaring, transitory, fellows is ‘lacking in moral standards’.

Beyond the above summary, there is little from Fletcher to inform the reader about the average standard of life that a Black seaman had along with his family structure in the Liverpool context. The Black man's family is merely a poverty-ridden and immoral institution. It appears again that Fletcher was rather selective in her appraisal and failed as a social scientist to give even a cursory insight into the multidimensional reality of the Black family in Liverpool.

b) Family Relationships

Fletcher begins this section with a phrase echoing her mentor Rachel Fleming:

The children resulting from unions of the West African fireman and the white women lead very disharmonious lives (1930: 25).

Fletcher gave reasons for the dsyfuntionality of ‘half-caste’ children caught in a union between Black and white parents as being due to the fusion of different outlooks and cultures. Again implicitly in this argument is the notion of degeneracy and it fits the main theme of the report. The child is seen as an unfortunate wretch who is trapped within a vicious cycle of poverty and a disunited, abnormal, family structure. Fletcher gives another superficial analysis that appears to be emotive and selective. The analysis is littered with an array of generalizations:

There is little harmony between the parents, the coloured men in general despise the women with whom they consort, while the majority of the women have little affection for the men. They regret their union with a coloured man but stay with him for the sake of the children. The mothers are generally good to the children, while they are small, but later resent the fact that they cannot get work. They grudge having to keep them when there is no money coming in, and are continually telling them so. The children find their lives full of conflict both within themselves and within the family, and all the circumstances of their lives tend to give undue prominence to sex. These families have a low standard of life, morally and economically, and there appears to be little future for the children (1930: 26).

The above passage is in line with Fletcher's previous interpretation and appears to offer little in the way of ‘objective’ social science research. Indeed the lion's share of the analysis supposedly related to the average ‘half-caste’ family seems to be one-sided. For example, ‘all the circumstances of their lives tend to give undue prominence to sex’ is an overt generalization as Fletcher fails to account for this assumption empirically. Nevertheless, regardless of its flaws, it was a highly inflammatory explanation which merely, in the words of Colin Holmes (1988: 157), ‘reflected and fuelled White antipathy’ toward interracial sexual liaisons. Back men were a ‘danger to our women’, the ‘enemy within’, who were only interested in the sexual contact with white women. Black men had no morals and those white women who socialized with them were of the ‘low order’.

c) The Children (up to 14)

This section refers directly to Rachel Fleming's (1930) work as an anthropologist, specializing in eugenics. Fleming examined the ‘physical characteristics of Anglo-Negroid children’. This type of academic investigation was popular during the era of the report's conception. It was a distinctly racist form of biological science in which its followers by and large regarded without question the notion of superior/inferior ‘races’ (Searle 1976; Stepan 1982). In particular, white superiority over Black, brown, red and yellow peoples was a key theme in the Eugenicist Movement in Britain. The notion of the offspring between Africans and white (Anglo-Saxon) Europeans being pathological was not only confined to Britain, the United States of America had leading social theorists such as Robert E. Park (1930) endorsing ‘Hybrid Pathology’. In this school of thought, Fleming gave a description of mixed heritage children categorising them in terms of skin colour, eye colouring, lip-size, nose width and their general appearance. Below is a description of the ‘eye colouring’ of half-castes’ in which Fletcher approvingly cites Fleming's racialised account:

30 percent had English eyes and the remaining 70 percent had the peculiar velvety bluish brown negro eye. “There were several instances of a grayish rim to the eye, which had the appearance of a rim due to age, and in two cases cataract had developed.” Miss Fleming [argues Fletcher] suggests that this may be due to the fact that the eye, having developed its intensity in tropic conditions, may not be suited to the cloudier conditions of this country (1930: 27).

It would be interesting to find out how Fletcher and Fleming come to distinguish the English thirty percent part of the eye from the seventy percent ‘Negroid’. However, if the ‘eye analysis’ of ‘half-castes’ appears unconvincing, the section singled out for an examination of the ‘lip-type’ may prove even more enigmatic:

About 12 percent [of ‘half-castes’] had lips like the average English child, 50 percent, had the wide everted lips of the negro, and the remainder had one lip wide and everted and one English in type.

And for the nose:

70 percent had the broad flat negro nose, and 70 percent showed negro features in the slimness of the bone and bulbous appearance of the joints.

In terms of the general appearance:

43 percent immediately gave the impression of being distinctly Negroid, 5 percent might have passed as for English children, and the remainder were half-caste in appearance (1930: 27).

Again there is little offered in the way of evidence relating to the numbers of children examined. Also, in terms of coherence, it is unclear as to the reason Fletcher inserts the work of Fleming into the heart of her report, apart from its relating phenotypic variations and characteristics of mixed heritage children in the Liverpool context, it appears to have little significance. Unless Fletcher employed this to suggest the ‘inhuman’ quality of the ‘half-caste’ persons; of whom a number were said to have ‘bulbous’ noses? Indeed there is a strong element of Eugenicism inherent in the analysis whereby the ‘superior race’ examines the peculiar physical and mental characteristics of an ‘inferior race’. In addition, the analysis is in line with the historical setting that put an emphasis on distinct ‘racial types’. It was this form of ‘scientific’ inquiry that was found to be a worthless pursuit in subsequent years (Banton and Harwood 1975; Montagu 1972).

Fletcher ends this section with another dubious analysis by comparing ‘half-caste’ children in terms of health, mentality, character and clothing with that of their white counterparts. It is said that thirty-three schools were sent questionnaires to be filled in by all the teachers and heads of departments that came in contact with ‘half-caste’ children in order to ascertain the comparisons. Most of the schools contacted were in the Black community and surrounding poorest districts, as Fletcher points out:

The schools attended by the largest number of half-caste children are in the district where most of the coloured people live and are classed as “Poor District Schools,” and in these, therefore, the children are compared with a low type of white child (1930: 28).

The above extract reveals another insidious aspect of Fletcher's ideological make-up. That is, not only is she convinced of the inferior nature of the ‘half-caste’ children in her study, but is prepared to acknowledge the ‘low type of white child’ (inadvertently displaying her middle class bias). However, the use of the ‘low type’ white children is not portrayed in order to balance and give breadth to the analysis. On the contrary, the ‘low type white child’ is merely used as a barometer to show just how low and inferior the ‘half-caste’ child is. In other words, Fletcher readily acknowledges that there are ‘low type’ white working class children, however, ‘half-castes’ on average, in terms of their mental capabilities, physical attributes and character traits are, in all of these, ‘lower’ or more inferior than the lowest, ragged white child she observed. Again, in keeping in line with her overall analysis, Fletcher tries to persuade the reader by way of ‘objective’ rationale of the innate inferiority of ‘half-caste’ children, which stems inevitably from hereditary factors. Fletcher put it this way:

With regard to intelligence and special aptitude, the majority of the replies received indicated that the half-caste children were below average [in intelligence] . . . Nothing startling emerges from this enquiry. The half-caste children on the whole appear to be below the average [of the ‘low type of white child’] . . . (1930: 28–29).

The weakness in terms of research methodology relates again to the sample and the possibility to have it verified again by another researcher. For example, although Fletcher informs us that thirty-three schools were contacted and out of which eighty school teachers participated, there is no list in the report relating to the schools involved nor the schools where the eighty respondents were employed.

In addition, the questionnaire that was sent out is problematic in the sense that Fletcher assumed that there was a homogeneous consistency in both groups of white and ‘half-caste’ children. In other words, there existed a proposition that implied the white and ‘half-caste’ children were as groups made up of equal elements, yet in comparison to each other they were mutually exclusive. The idea that heterogeneity exists both within and between each group was not considered.

Another weakness of the analysis relates to its lack of clarity. For example, Fletcher used the case study of a young ‘half-caste’ aged about eight years old, who lived outside the main Black community, to indicate her not having a happy state of mind due to illegitimacy and having white parents:

The child was said to be unhappy and very conscious of her colour (1930: 29). (italics my emphasis)

However, in the same paragraph (although concerning a different point) Fletcher states that ‘half-castes are not, at this period, conscious of any colour handicap’. In terms of clarity this section fails to give an adequate explanation as to why and how some children may have a high level of consciousness, while others do not, relating to the colour of their skin. The Fletcher Report is therefore a lesson not only in inaccurate methodology and analysis, but it also gives an insight into what can happen if research is unclear and interpreted from the view of an ‘outsider’. In the case of the mixed heritage population in Liverpool, it is in the historical and contemporary stigmatisation of their social identity where Fletcher's study has found its greatest legacy. Although it is more than difficult to actually measure today the extent that the report has played in establishing a negative stigma-image of mixed heritage persons born and raised in Liverpool, nevertheless, the subsequent research and oral history of the Black community suggests that it played a significant role.3

VI) The Juvenile (14 Years and Onwards)

a) General Conditions

Fletcher's final chapter in the report focuses on the ‘half-caste’ juvenile over the age of fourteen years. In 1930 this was the school leaving age and Fletcher points out that by their fourteenth year the ‘half-caste’ has developed an outcast mentality. This has a series of knock-on effects. For example, finding employment is a hazardous experience for both ‘half-caste’ boys and girls. However, it is the girls who are considered the major ‘problem’ due to their inability to find work. Again, Fletcher states frankly that it is due to the inferior hereditary and family structure, along with the low moral standards, of ‘half-caste’ families that is the root of their socioeconomic poverty-stricken condition:

All the circumstances of their lives tend to give undue prominence to sex; owing to the nature of the houses in which they live their moral standards are extraordinarily low, and owing to the persistence of the men it is practically impossible for the coloured girls to remain pure even should they desire to do so . . . those mothers of a better type regretted the fact that they had brought these children into the world handicapped by their colour (1930: 33) [italics my emphasis].

Again Fletcher appears to be generous in her explicit regard to the racialised stigma pertaining to the ‘half-caste’, but in doing so she fails in the logical quality of her analysis. For example, there is now something, which the reader has not been aware of through the previous findings in the report: ‘a better type of mother’ actually exists for ‘half-caste’ girls. Indeed Fletcher's inconsistency defies logic at times in terms of its evident inaccuracies. Yet the use of a ‘better type of mother’ suggests to the reader the seriousness of the ‘half-caste’ girls plight, because ‘the better type of mother’ regrets her child's very existence. Not only are the ‘half-castes’ outcasts in society and ‘mentally suspect’, they are now portrayed by Fletcher, without any hard empirical evidence being offered, as the unwanted births of their parents. In terms of the Eugenics Movement, in which the report's philosophy echoes, this passage could imply the need for the sterilisation of white women who ‘consorted’ with Black men. In point of fact, the argument for sterilisation of ‘degenerate humans’ in the Eugenics Movement in Britain and the United States of America was influential and not superficial postulation (Searle 1976: 93–96).

b) The Labour Prospect of Half-Caste Juveniles

Fletcher provides the results of an inquiry into the prospects of ‘half-castes’ finding work having written to a total of one hundred and nineteen firms in the Liverpool area. Out of these there were sixty-three non-replies, and out of the remaining fifty-six, forty-five gave negative replies. There is no accounting for the remaining eleven from this figure-she does not state whether they gave positive, negative or neutral replies (it is also important to note that the appendix IV, which relates to the ‘detailed’ analysis in this section, does not methodologically match up with the set of figures produced here). Overall, employers were said not to be interested in employing ‘half-castes’ because white employees would probably refuse to work alongside them (1930: 33).

In her final analysis, there was little prospect of ‘half-castes’ finding work in Liverpool. However, the problem was examined as being the fault of the ‘half-castes’ themselves and not anything relating to discrimination, racial prejudice and a global economic slump. Moreover, Fletcher offered little in the way of recommendation that would curb racial discriminatory practices by potential white employers. Instead the report overtly sympathised with the prospective employer's position relating to the hiring to ‘half-castes,’ viewed by both parties as fundamentally unemployable.

c) An Experimental Training Scheme and it Results

The final section relates to two superficial work experiments carried out in order to enhance the skills of ‘half-caste’ girls in handicraft. Ostensibly, it is put forward as a potential way of alleviating the problem of high unemployment among the girls in Liverpool. However, when we examine the way the girls were trained we find flaws in its structure and this raises the question of the genuine commitment to the scheme. For example, just two hours per week were given to actually training the girls in the skills of embroidery. Fletcher (1930: 36) below describes the work in such a negative manner and it suggests that the ‘half-caste’ girls may well have been set-up to fail:

The scheme was continued for three months, but was not a success, the girls worked very slowly and did not complete a single article. They were hardly ever less than fifteen minutes late and generally half-an-hour, which, out of an hour's class, was a considerable loss. Several factors appeared to contribute to this unsatisfactory state of affairs:

  • 1)
    The mothers grudged the girls going out, as they did not earn any money, and often kept them working in the house or running errands.
  • 2)
    The girls themselves have little regard for punctuality, and incentive to work.

It appears that Fletcher overlooked the ‘better type of mother’ in her analysis of this aspect of the report. Now it appears that the ‘mother’ begrudges her child's growth and development and once again we have the distinctly ‘poor mother’ of a low disposition who chastises her ‘half-caste’ child. Also, the ‘half-caste’ girls’ response to the ‘training’ is with a lack of punctuality and attendance. It is necessary to point out that Fletcher also implies here that the four‘half-caste’ girls who took part in the scheme are a microcosm of all‘half-caste’ girls. In short, judicious assessment of the work experiment reveals what appears to have been an insidious scheme to set-up four ‘half-caste’ girls to fail. In line with the entire report this chapter imparts a coherent theme: there is a growing ‘half-caste’ problem in Liverpool and it represents a serious social problem.

The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

It is fair to suggest that the report written and researched by Muriel E. Fletcher between 1928 and 1930, backed by the Association for the Welfare of Half-Caste Children and the University of Liverpool, negatively portrayed the social identity and life style of the mixed heritage population in Liverpool (Brown 2005; Christian 1995, 2000; Law and Henfrey 1981; Liverpool Black Caucus 1986; Rich 1984, 1986; Sherwood 1994; Small 1991; Wilson 1992). In regard to this point it should be noted that the report was highly acclaimed by the committee in charge of it and other influential contemporaries of Fletcher. The chairperson of the committee set-up to support the work, Professor Roxby of the University of Liverpool, states in the foreword of the report:

Fletcher was not only commended in Liverpool for her work, on the national level she also gained praise for her insight. In particular, John Harris of the Anti-Slavery Society regarded the ‘Fletcher Report’ as an ‘extraordinarily able document’ containing ‘the most impressive and authoritative detail’ (cited in Rich 1986: 135).

As such, the report encouraged people like John Harris, who has been regarded as a paternalistic racist (Rich 1986; Wilson 1992), to nationally highlight ‘half-caste communities’ as a social evil in British society and something which must be tackled systematically in other dockland areas the way Fletcher has proposed.

On 16 June 1930 the Daily Telegraph newspaper gave notice to the Fletcher Report being published and its findings were reported as a ‘social menace’. The headlines read, ‘Colour Problem in Britain’, ‘Menace of Mixed Unions’. This again gives an indication of the way in which the report's findings had the potential for stirring up social tension and ‘moral panic’ about interracial sexual partnerships via the media.

As mentioned earlier, the contemporary reaction to the Fletcher Report from the Black community in Liverpool was fierce and Fletcher had to effectively leave the city after the report was published (Rich 1986: 134), yet this was rather too late in the day as the damage caused by the report to the social identity of the mixed heritage population had already taken root in the public domain.

A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

It was not until 1940 that there was a more detailed response to the Fletcher Report. This came, nearly ten years on, from a local social scientist based at the University of Liverpool: D. Carradog Jones. The report is entitled The Economic Status of Coloured Families in the Port of Liverpool and the initial statement reads:

The existence of a colour problem is brought to our own door in Liverpool as it is in other ports of the United Kingdom. Miss M.E. Fletcher's account of her investigation of the subject in 1930 aroused so wide an interest that it seemed desirable to re-examine the position in the light of changed conditions. This department [Social Science] has been closely concerned in the new enquiry, and it is appropriate therefore that the results should be published as a survey report (Caradog Jones 1940: 4).

Unlike the Fletcher Report, however, Caradog Jones ‘studiously avoided a pathological view of black living standards in Liverpool’ (Rich 1986: 144). He also produced a more balanced analysis by comparing the socio-economic conditions of Black families with white families in Liverpool. Among the comparisons, the report revealed that over the ten years since the Fletcher Report, Black seamen continued to be unemployed far more compared to their white counterparts. Out of the 225 families surveyed it was found that only forty percent of Black seamen were in employment, compared to seventy-five percent in a survey of 134 families of white seamen (Caradog Jones 1940: 14). In essence, Caradog Jones analysed the alleviation of ‘Black poverty’ in terms of the need for a more comprehensive ‘welfare state’. This is in contrast to the view of the Fletcher Report that suggested the poor social condition of Black families in Liverpool was due to their own inherent inferiority. Caradog Jones did not point explicitly to racial discrimination in the workplace being the cause of Black unemployment. Nevertheless, it has been noted that it was more thorough and balanced compared to the Fletcher Report (Gifford et al. 1989: 31; Rich 1986).

In terms of the ‘half-caste’ problem in Liverpool, Caradog Jones (1940: 19) continued to highlight this theme drawing on the ‘insight’ and view of the Fletcher Report's findings. Although not as harsh, compared to Fletcher, in his analysis toward the mixed heritage population in Liverpool of age 14–20 years, he did give an implicit indication that they were a social group that was suffering the hardship of ‘blind alley occupations’ or high unemployment compared to their white peers. Indeed the theme of the problem of ‘half-caste’ adolescent is inferred within the Caradog Jones Report of 1940, but not as explicit as what Fletcher portrayed in 1930.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References

Although nearly 80 years have passed since the Fletcher Report was published in 1930, there is documented evidence that its impact on the city and its ‘Liverpool Black’ population persists (Brown 2005; Christian 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000; Nelson 2000; Small 1991). Moreover, the systematic social and political dis-empowerment of Black people is a reflection not only of racialised discrimination, but also the entrenched notions of what it is to be British and accepted as such. Studies in racial politics in the city have confirmed the continued marginalisation of Black communities in Liverpool (Liverpool Black Caucus 1986; Gifford et al. 1989; Nelson 2000).

The fact that the City of Liverpool in 1999 formally apologised to its Black communities for the role it played in the enslavement trade era and subsequent decades of institutionalised racism is an important landmark, but much more has to be done to improve the socioeconomic condition relating to Blacks of mixed heritage in Liverpool (see Christian 2002b: 184–186).

The legacy of the Fletcher Report continues to feed stereotypes of mixed heritage Blacks (Christian 2000). How can this form of historical stigma change? Well, one can argue that things have improved on the intellectual front. The fact that scholars like Stephen Small (1991) and Marika Sherwood (1994) refuse to give Fletcher any academic credibility is noteworthy. Yet is this enough? We know that often what is comprehended in the academic world may not necessarily filter into the mainstream of society. Moreover, sometimes academics actually play a role in the disempowerment of powerless and marginalised groups like Liverpool Born Blacks. Brown's (2005) ethnographic study of Black Liverpool is an example of an anthropological voyeuristic voyage into historical amnesia by an ‘outsider’ researcher who fails miserably in understanding the struggle Liverpool Born Blacks have encountered in forging a positive ‘Black’ identity beyond the Fletcher Report.

Indeed, as another example, have the stereotypes of the Irish being apt to a fight and a drink changed over the centuries that it has been embedded into the consciousness of the British? Not significantly. In turn, stereotypes of Black mixed heritage persons in Liverpool exist due to historical factors and persistent forms of racialised discrimination.

Crucially, in hindsight, what may well be most important is for those in the present to learn from the past in order not to repeat it. This analysis of the Fletcher Report is therefore an examination in how not to research a racialised social group. Moreover, it has profound implications that go beyond the geographical space of Liverpool and its complex Black mixed heritage experience.

Notes
  • 1

    Interview with Margaret Simey in Liverpool: 23/11/1995.

  • 2

    Focus group interview with ‘pensioners club’ members at a centre in the Liverpool Black community: 20/9/1995. Also Rich (1986: 135) cites Ernest Adkin of the African West Indian Mission, which was based in the heart of the Liverpool Black community, who state that it would take ‘months, or even years to repair the damage the publicity of the report has carried’. Adkin further states that some ‘of them [Black families] said that they could never trust a white person again’.

  • 3

    Confirmed by Margaret Simey in an interview with the researcher: 23/11/95.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Historical Context: 1919 Liverpool anti-Black riots and the term ‘half-caste’
  4. The Growth of Philanthropic Racism in Liverpool during the Interwar Years
  5. Who is Muriel E. Fletcher?
  6. A Critique of the Fletcher Report Using Its Original Chapter and Sub-Headings
  7. The Immediate Impact of the ‘Fletcher Report’
  8. A Response to the ‘Fletcher Report’: 10 Years on
  9. Conclusion
  10. Author's Note
  11. References
  • Banton, M. and Harwood, J. (1975) The Race Concept, Newton Abbot: David and Charles.
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