Charlotte Williams, Neil Evans, and Paul O’Leary (eds.), A Tolerant Nation? Revisiting Ethnic Diversity in a Devolved Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2015)
Charlotte Williams, Neil Evans, and Paul O’Leary (eds.), A Tolerant Nation? Revisiting Ethnic Diversity in a Devolved Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2015)

When the first edition of this book was published in 2003, it was greeted as an important volume that had the potential to speak to wide audiences – points touched upon by Vaughan Gething AM in his preface. The present edition presents several changes: gone is the division between a primarily historical part one, and a contemporary part two, instead the book’s fourteen chapters are laid out without division. Several of the chapters have undergone revision and some have disappeared altogether: Neil Evans’s ‘A Turbulent Decade’ which travelled across the Tredegar Riots of 1910, the anti-Chinese riots in Cardiff in 1911, and the race riots of 1919 which affected Cardiff and Newport as well as Liverpool and Chicago that year. This chapter now extends from 1826 to 2014. In the previously identified ‘contemporary Wales and multiculturalism’ section of the book, there are several new chapters and it is here that the second edition differs most obviously from the first. Of the seven chapters about half have a direct ancestor in the first edition. As with that edition, the collection is multidisciplinary and involves scholars working across several fields including social policy, history, political science, and heritage practitioners. This provides a broad span through which to examine – and re-examine – the question of tolerance and ethnic diversity in Wales.

Of the historically-inclined first half of the book there is little to add to earlier reviews, since much of it is the same. Given the change of subtitle, ‘revisiting ethnic diversity in a devolved Wales’, it would, however, seem legitimate to question the amount of space devoted to historical and literary analysis of diversity and tolerance in Wales decades (indeed centuries) prior to devolution. Given that most of these chapters were, originally, re-workings of previously published material, this is a curiosity. It is difficult to appreciate why Neil Evans’s chapter ‘Immigrants and minorities in Wales, 1840-1990’ needed to stand separately from his new chapter which covers much of the same period. They trample over similar ground and would have been far more effective merged together into a single, authoritative chapter. An opportunity missed. Of the sporting chapter contributed by Neil Evans and Paul O’Leary there remains an obvious gap, namely the organisation of black sporting activity in Butetown in the interwar years (chiefly, though not exclusively, cricket –some of the history is laid out in my PhD thesis, a photograph of the team can be seen in Neil Sinclair’s The Tiger Bay Story) and there is no engagement with St Clair Drake’s PhD thesis which details the generational conflict between the second-generation rugby players of post-war Butetown and the first-generation cricketers of who preceded them. The maleness of this chapter is rather more of a problem – what of sporting participation by women?

If the historical material treads old, familiar ground, and demonstrates the weakness of endless republication of the same pieces of writing, the contemporary analysis evident in the second half of A Tolerant Nation is more fruitful for its freshness. Glenn Jordan and Chris Weedon’s new chapter is, ironically, indebted to St Clair Drake’s doctoral work and to earlier research undertaken by Kenneth Little. But it weaves its own story, much of which will be familiar to those who have read Jordan and Weedon in other places. Of particular interest here are the photographs which serve as a direct reminder that for all the ‘differences’ that can be perceived, many aspects of life are the same: there are army medals, wedding photographs, passports. But the photographs carry a more important legacy, as Jordan and Weedon observe, ‘many aspects of the history of multi-ethnic Cardiff have to be reconstructed from photos, documents and oral history’. The irony here is that the chapter does not go beyond the parish boundary (as it were) – the materials discussed are those collected by the Butetown History and Arts Centre alone. In a book devoted to considerations of tolerance, this chapter missed a golden opportunity to consider the impact of the (white-British) state and the memories of multi-ethnic Cardiff that have survived in official archives. How do the photographs taken by the residents compare with those taken by the police, for instance? The chapter might easily be read as an extended advert.

Paul Chambers examines religious diversity in a chapter that shows its age. Although certainly interesting, much more should have been made of the wave of Polish, Portuguese and Spanish immigration in recent years, in thinking about religious diversity. Likewise, the rise of non-belief is surely a factor worthy of consideration given how prominent non-belief is in the poorest areas of Wales. The silence of this chapter on the rise of non-belief amongst ‘indigenous’ Wales (if such a term is palatable) is striking. Given contemporary political events in the Middle East and the manner in which debates surrounding British membership of the European Union have come to focus on the question of immigration, Alida Payson’s new chapter on refugees is of particular interest. Her consideration of the challenges faced by refugees in Wales is compelling, the dangers of the poverty trap, which does not discriminate, being only too real. A decade (and more) on, Paul Chaney and Charlotte Williams’s observation that the National Assembly expresses a white Welsh identity remains largely true, even though progress in transforming the way Wales is governed has been made. And so, belatedly, as Charlotte Williams concludes in the book’s closing chapter ‘a range of counter-publics, minorities old and new, have been engaged in challenging the myths of Welshness and in reworking the national story. […] Their presence, in a way that reflects a long history, places Wales in the global network on interconnections, movements and mobilities’ (p. 348). A fitting conclusion.

Overall, this is a welcome return to print for A Tolerant Nation, but it leaves rather more questions unanswered than its predecessor. For Wales has changed and this book fails to grapple with the implications of those changes in quite the same way as in 2003: a stark omission is surely the question of Eastern European immigration which has played such a role in shaping the contemporary politics of borders and others in the United Kingdom. The editors insist that the book ‘focuses primarily on issues affecting visible ethnic minorities’, but is that really sufficient to blind their endeavour to one of the dominant political questions of the early twenty first century? (These lacunae are evident in the historical essays too, but their scope is somewhat different.) The volume still remains somewhat lacking in coherence and despite careful effort in the introduction to set out a thematic scheme for the book, it is still not entirely apparent how everything holds together. The abandonment of the previous sections has perhaps made things worse in this regard. In the end it is difficult to escape the impression that this book looks backwards, not forwards, and speaks much better to the Wales of the start of the Millennium, than to the Wales that has the third decade of devolution in its sights.

[Note: This review was first published in the Welsh History Review.]

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