Bobbies in Babylon: Colonialism, Racism, and British Policing
British police, we’re sometimes told, are the “envy of the world.” Popularly imagined, the British bobby is armed with nothing more than a baton, a notebook, and common sense. Policing by consent, they seem a breed apart from their more militarized counterparts in the United States. However, behind the benign image of the British bobby is a history of policing that stretches back for well over a century, and whose prime locus was not the British mainland, but Britain’s colonies. To police colonised populations, British police employed techniques of surveillance, control, and militarised violence, fostering in the process ideologies and systems of police racism that well predate Black Lives Matters, the Brixton “riots,” the Notting Hill Carnival, and the Windrush docking in 1948. What does the colonial history of British policing mean, not only for an analysis of the police, but also for the ways various domestic populations are conceptualized, racialized, and made subject to discipline and control?
This course offers an interdisciplinary overview of the racism of British policing and its colonial roots. Using archival footage and texts, we will begin by investigating how colonial policing presented itself as a battle for “hearts and minds,” uncovering hidden histories of surveillance, violence, and collective punishment which disrupt popular perceptions of a peaceful end to Empire. We’ll focus on how racialised technologies of control were imported to the mother country, to control the “coloured” immigrants for whom a more confrontational form of policing was needed. We’ll draw on the work of Stuart Hall, as well as media reports from the 1970s and 1980s, as we explore the concept of the “mugger” and analyze the “sus” (suspicion) laws which led to the urban rebellions of the 1980s. Lastly, we’ll turn our focus to the 21st-century “war on terror” and “war on gangs,” charting the influence which racialised ideas and tactics of colonial policing on policing today. Why, to echo the Black Lives Matter slogan, is the UK “not innocent”?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30PM GMT
October 27 — November 17, 2020