Back in June of this year, on the heels of the Brexit vote and given its unfolding xenophobia-tinged (or is it soaked?) fallout, I wrote a post entitled Unchanging Immigration-related Signs in the UK Over the Decades. One issue discussed in that post was newly arriving migrants in post-War Britain being denied housing on the basis of their race, circa the 1950s. I feel the need to revisit the issue in this new post given a recent incident (article in French) in France of a rental agency in the Paris area posting an ad for a flat that literally said “French nationality mandatory. No blacks allowed”.
The background context that led to the post was that signs had begun popping up in England to the effect that Polish people were vermin and should now leave the United Kingdom. The campaign on the Leave side was run partly on the promise that purportedly “out of control” EU migration would be curbed. As such, the Vote Leave triumph was taken as a sign by many who had a distaste for foreigners – in this case Poles – that they could now be overt with their views. There was a litany of other racist offences at that time.
I drew a parallel between the 2016 anti-foreigner signs and anti-Europe outbursts and eerily similar expressions of rejection of the other in mid-20th century Britain. Feeling swamped by mass arrivals of Commonwealth citizens – who were entitled to settle in the UK as British subjects just as EU citizens now are under the bloc’s freedom of movement provisions – working class Brits of the day in particular resorted to retreating into themselves and shunning the new arrivals, if not through physical confrontation, by using indirect tools at their disposal to keep the undesirable populations at arm’s length.
One discriminatory practice was that of landlords explicitly stating their refusal to rent their property to foreigners, as can be seen below.
Hindsight is always 20-20 and one would always bear the context in mind when looking back on the British case described above so as not to see it through contemporary 21st century eyes. The French case, however, occurred mere days ago, now in December 2016 so it is safe to say that no deference must be applied when discussing the utterly revolting nature of it. The rental agency has spoken out saying that the property owner included the racist detail on an internal form that was not meant to be publicised, and that a careless staff member had neglected to do due diligence, and had copied and pasted the internal form wholesale onto the ad meant for the general public.
The employee is said to be “no longer with the agency”. Mere happenstance or were they sacked because of this? Who knows? The property owner has, as one would expect, denied this version and said that they did not include the race-based detail anywhere in the forms they had filled out. They are now threatening the rental agency with legal action for libel. The image of the ad and a close-up on the offensive section can be seen below.
As an interesting side note, it appears that there aren’t any black police officers in France; perhaps the young black WPC killed by one of the terrorists in the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015 and the black officer dubbed Kung Fu Cop and awarded a promotion back in the spring of this year for fending off violent protesters attempting to set his police car on fire are the only 2 in all of France? But I digress.
Since the alarm was raised on social media by someone who visited the flat and was shocked to see the particulars of what the landlord was looking for in their ideal tenant, associations working for equality have announced that they are looking into what, if any, legal action may be taken on their part against whoever is found to be behind the offensive message.
Amid the widespread popular resentment of immigrants in British society in the mid-20th century, the no foreigner message brazenly advertised by property owners in the 1940s and 50s found expression as it were in official government policy from the 1960s onwards, when successive immigration laws (1962, 1968, 1971) were enacted to restrict access to UK residence to citizens of former British colonies; “no blacks, no Asians and very few Irish”, in effect.
With a presidential election highly likely to put a bullishly anti-immigrant centre-right or far-right candidate in the Elysée Palace looming in April / May 2017, this French instance of housing discrimination may yet end up being echoed in national immigration policy: “French nationality mandatory. No blacks (or Syrian refugees) allowed”.
60 years ago Britain must be somewhere looking at December 2016 France and feeling proud as punch; imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.