Legislating against hatred: Meaning and Motive in Section Six of the Race Relations Act of 1965

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The Race Relations Act of 1965 has been remembered by historians as one prong of a governmental strategy to deal with the impact of black and Asian post-war immigration to Britain, an attempt to improve inter-group relations at the same time as efforts were being made to restrict Commonwealth immigration. This iconic Act was the first to criminalize racial discrimination and outlaw the incitement of racial hatred. This article focuses on the creation and use of one part of this new law, Section Six, the incitement clause. It argues that early patterns of prosecution under this legislation reveal a government agenda which was not solely focused on the protection of black and Asian Britons but instead on longer-running issues relating to the tolerance of political violence. Far from simply outlawing racism, this article argues that the incitement clause ultimately enabled a re-articulation of racial discourse, tweaking the linguistic parameters of racist agitation while consciously allowing for its continuation. In doing so, it reflected a nation which was still unsure about the merits of multiculturalism, where it remained largely acceptable to argue that black and Asian Britons did not belong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-275
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number2
Early online date29 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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