Global village

‘Global village’ is a phrase coined by Marshal McLuhan in the 1960s. He argued that electronic technology had turned the whole world into a single village because information could be transferred around the globe instantaneously. One effect of this has been to heighten our awareness of our responsibility to fellow humans around the world. No longer can people claim ignorance of the conditions in which others live.
Since McLuhan's time the development of the Worldwide Web and the Internet have intensified this process. Many people are involved in complex community networks stretching across cities, nations and oceans. At a national level, this has meant that the United Kingdom has felt a sense of moral responsibility to people around the world who are experiencing hardship and has been willing to accept significant numbers as UK citizens.

Racial tensions

A patchwork population

The United Kingdom is a nation of immigrants. Even people who can trace their ancestry in the British Isles over many centuries are a mixture of the various races (e.g. the Romans, Germanic tribes, Vikings and the Normans) who invaded the country in the period up to the eleventh century. In the following centuries, individuals and small groups settled in the British Isles. Most came for the purpose of trade or because they were fleeing persecution. Because their numbers were small, they integrated, for the most part, without great racial tension.
The rapid collapse of the British Empire in the twentieth century, particularly in the years after the Second World War, saw immigration on an unprecedented scale (see Colonialism and post-colonialism). Citizens of the British Empire and Commonwealth were given the legal right to settle in the United Kingdom. From the 1950s to the 1970s, successive waves of immigrants came, predominantly (but not exclusively) from the West Indies and the Indian sub-continent. 

Ignorance and prejudice

These newcomers to Britain often faced prejudice and discrimination from native inhabitants. Many Britons had never seen people with different-coloured skin and were wary and suspicious of their cultural and religious practices. They also complained that immigrants were taking jobs which should be reserved for UK-born citizens and that immigrants were often given preferential treatment in the distribution of welfare benefits. The situation was not helped by the tendency of many of the newcomers to live close together in particular areas of towns and cities, often isolating themselves to a large extent from the native population.


Periodically there were race riots e.g. in Notting Hill, London, in 1958. Racial tensions were aggravated by the rise of small but often violent political groups which opposed mass immigration. Two such examples are the National Front and the later British National Party.

New sources of immigration

In the later years of the twentieth century, immigrants also started to flow into Britain due to two key social changes.

Membership of the EEC

The United Kingdom joined the European Common Market in 1973. This gave citizens of member countries the right to settle freely in the United Kingdom. Once former Soviet bloc European nations joined the EEC, the disparity between Eastern and Western economies meant that many came seeking employment and opportunity who would formerly not have had right of entry

Asylum seekers

The instability and despotic leadership of a number of developing nations meant that many refugees came to Britain from areas of conflict. One example is Asian people who were expelled from Uganda in the 1970s. Conflict and civil war in a number of countries has increased the stream of people seeking sanctuary in the UK, relying on its reputation for tolerance, democracy political security and economic stability.

Ethnic diversity

By the end of the twentieth century, the United Kingdom was a more etnically diverse country than it had ever historically been. The racial mix was assumed greater complexity with inter-racial marriages and relationships. Second and third generation descendants of immigrants forged a new identity which reflected their genetic cultural heritage as well as their place of residence.
Although relations between different ethnic and racial groups were far from perfect, in general the United Kingdom avoided the levels of conflict between ethnic groups which still characterises areas of the United States (principally due to the legacy of slavery).
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