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Family connections with London's East End inspire DMU academic's research into race in England

Dr Fatima Rajina has always been fascinated by Tower Hamlets in the East End of London and the way it has shaped communities across England.

Fatima's maternal grandfather arrived in the area from Bangladesh in the 1960s before the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was made law.


The 1962 Act was announced by the then Conservative government to tighten controls on immigration for anyone arriving in the UK from a Commonwealth country, despite them all being subjects of the British Empire. The Labour opposition leader at the time, Hugh Gaitskell, had called it 'cruel and brutal'.

Fatima's family connections with Tower Hamlets, and the circumstances that brought her grandfather to the UK, are now fuelling her studies as a Legacy In Action Research Fellow at the Stephen Lawrence Research centre.

The centre, at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), has just appointed three new fellows to take a national lead in helping Britain better understand the complexities of race and racism.

Fatima said: "These sorts of fellowships are so rare in academia. It is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity - however cliched that sounds - and the work of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre really resonates with me. I want to be a part of what it is trying to accomplish."


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Tower Hamlets was home to London's famous docks and was a hub of British immigration for centuries. It saw the arrival of the Protestant French Huguenots escaping persecution in the 18th century, thousands of Yiddish speaking Russian Jews arrived from the 1880s and Irish immigrations was a constant as their country continued to suffer the effects of the Famine.

The Bangladeshi community had been arriving since the establishment of trade relations between Britain and India through the East India Company, an English shipping organisation set up to import spice and, later on, cotton, silk, and tea from Asia. Many early Bengali migrants arrived as seamen or lascars on these ships.

Fatima said: "I am fascinated with the East End of London and I want to look at the relationship between the Bangladeshi and Somali community. It is interesting to see how the Bangladeshi community constructs notions of blackness and how this construction unravels vis-a-vis the Somali community.

"Blackness is usually interpreted to include people from West Africa and the Caribbean islands only. It does not often refer to East Africa, apart from Ethiopia and its connections to Rastafarianism. So there is a lot of research to be done to understand why that is.

"I am interested in finding out more about how these communities get on with each other and how they have established elsewhere in the UK.

 "Almost every Bangladeshi can trace their relationship with Britain back to the East End of London through at least one relative. The Bangladeshi communities that grew in Luton and Birmingham were a result of someone in the East End knowing someone else who worked in those cities and could find them a job, whether it was in the local factories or Vauxhall in Luton."

Fatima is passionate about languages. After all, through language, and the way it has developed, we learn so much about our history and where we come from.

She is fluent in German, Spanish and Bengali and can also read and write in Arabic. Due to growing up with Bollywood, Fatima can also speak and understand some Hindi and Urdu.

On top of that, she is currently learning Japanese.

"I was always good at languages at school," she explains. "I want to learn a language from regions around the world that intrigue me most culturally. I would like to also learn Russian, because of the connections with central Asian countries, and then I can travel along the Silk Road and speak a language in each country"

Read more about the Legacy in Action Fellows Programme

Posted on Wednesday 28th October 2020

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