BLACK SKIN, WHITEHALL: Race and the Foreign Office 1945-2018
Written by James Southern and published by FCO Historians as History Notes issue 21
An interesting survey/analysis of the ‘history of race at the Foreign Office’ which is not a history of empire or British policy but an account of the absence of BAME staff at the FCO in post-war period. It's a history of race discrimination in recruitment for the diplomatic service, with many eloquent quotations from FCO archives.
In 1965, for example, Dennis Fowler of Diplomatic Service admin branch was in favour in principle of admitting three male civil servants who applied for transfer to FCO. One born in Barbados, then a clerical officer in Ministry of Housing; one born in India then working with Atomic Energy Authority; and one born in Guyana working for the Colonial Service. All were denied transfer on the ground that they might ‘still be susceptible to Indian and West Indian influence. Mr Chin [born in Guyana] has a Chinese name and the inherent nationalism of the Chinese is such that he may even be susceptible to Chinese influence’. In 1988 there were 88 ‘ethnic minority’ staff in the Diplomatic Service,, with just one in the senior rank alongside 1118 whites and at the lowest levels 66 among 2326 total. The careers of high-flying Noel Jones and Robin Chatterjie are examined; sadly, both died prematurely so their own accounts are not available, but both appear to have felt the need to ignore or deny their exceptionality.
The latest material cited in the text are interviews conducted by the author in summer 2018. In a contribution to the survey, Fouzia Younis and Muna Shamsuddin from the FCO’s BAME Network write ‘this year we celebrated the first black female career diplomat being appointed to an ambassadorial post; over 23% of graduate entry intake is from a BAME background; and we hope to see the first BAME member appointed to the FCO Board in 2018.’ At the same time, when they accompany overseas visitors in the UK, their hosts often mistake them for being in the foreign delegation, not the home team, and ‘we still do not have enough black applicants being successful when applying for Fast Stream posts.’
Black Skin, Whitehall has many statistics, citations and observations of interest. It doesn’t have publication details or reference number, but gives just ‘gov.uk/fco’ as its origin, so let’s hope it is easily available via that route.