Migration, racism and sexual health in postwar Britain

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The British Nationality Act 1948 conferred citizenship on Commonwealth subjects, granting them the right to settle in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of New Commonwealth migrants made use of the Act. Almost immediately, opponents began criticising the health impacts of immigration, citing diseases like syphilis and gonorrhoea as reasons to impose controls. More than any other migrant group, Black British men from the Caribbean became implicated in debates over venereal disease. Vilified as ‘vectors’ of contagion and as antithetical to an imagined racialised British identity, these men were presented as a danger to young white women and, by extension, the nation itself. Racial stereotypes and the rhetoric of white vulnerability were grafted on to the specific challenges of sexual health. This article explores how, in their efforts to construct specific narratives around migration and venereal disease, politicians, health workers and journalists cherry- picked health data that pandered to white prejudices and presented Black men as the most significant sexual- health threat in postwar Britain. In so doing, this article creates a more nuanced picture of the institutional racism and health inequalities that have shaped, and continue to shape, sexual-health experiences and outcomes among BAME and migrant communities in Britain.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory Workshop Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Not yet published as of 11/05/2022.


  • Black British History
  • Immigration
  • Institutional Racism
  • Sexual Health
  • Health Inequalities


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