Race, motherhood, and multiculturalism: the making of female identities in the British inner city, c. 1970-1990

  • Jessica White

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis recovers the lives and identities of women who lived in Britain’s inner cities in the late twentieth century. Building on a variety of source material, including oral history testimony, personal memoir, and grassroots publications, it looks closely at the experiences of women of colour who came to be concentrated in Britain’s inner cities, but whose lives have evaded historical interrogation. This thesis also explores representations of inner-city women in the tabloid press, drawing on Benedict Anderson’s concept of ‘imagined communities’ to tease out the connections between race, inner-city womanhood, and national identity in the late twentieth century. It argues that, far from being one-dimensional recipients of social and geographical misfortune, inner-city women had multi-faceted identities made up of personal, inter-personal, and transnational experiences, which transcended the environmental and temporal realities in which they lived. Chapter 1 reflects on how women’s experience of motherhood adapted to urban changes in the late-twentieth century, and how ethnicity played a role in determining these experiences. It argues that while the inner city provided opportunities for personal and community development to mothers, these opportunities were not always available to Black women, who had to look elsewhere for companionship. Chapter Two in turn closely examines Black women’s centres and groups in urban areas during the 1970s and 1980s, exploring how they provided women with the space and time to nurture their personal experiences of sexism and racism, achieve a sense of self-sufficiency, and celebrate their heritage. Chapter 3 uses the British Caribbean carnival to examine the way in which Black women’s identities were affected by state-aided project of ‘multiculturalism’. It argues that while carnival processions and costumes enabled Black women to project a positive image of Black womanhood and the Black community, the tabloid press often overwrote these assertive forms of identity work. Chapter 4 continues this analysis of media forms, by examining the representations of Black womanhood in the tabloid press following the Broadwater Farm Disturbances of 1985. It demonstrates that while British national identity was channelled through the gendered and racialised depictions of both Black and white women, inner-city Black residents used their own form of cultural expression to challenge and contort these hegemonic representations. Overall, this thesis makes significant contributions to the study of race and gender in late twentieth-century Britain.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCharlotte Wildman (Supervisor) & Eloise Moss (Supervisor)


  • race
  • gender
  • Britain
  • urban

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