The Fugitive Underground of British Blackness

Insights from London’s ‘Riotous’ Geographies


  • Toni Adscheid Trier University


Fugitivity, Black Geographies, riots, archive, London


This paper historicizes the riotous geographies of British Blackness by focusing on three so-called “riots” in London’s post-World War II development, the 1958 Notting Hill uprisings, the 1981 Brixton uprisings and the 2011 pan-London uprisings. Mobilizing debates in Black (British) Geographies, I challenge state narrations of these events as illegitimate expressions of Black Britons’ political discontent. Based on archival research, I expose such framings as ongoing attempts of whiteness to render Black British geographies “ungeographic” within a supposed white British geography. Employing fugitivity as method, I show how these riotous events constituted possibilities for escaping racialized spatio-political categories of British state geographies. I consider British Blackness as political category and as a historically contingent discursive construction that mobilizes people from the African diaspora in specific ways but also stretches beyond them. Thus, I ask: How does Blackness continue to escape attempts of capturing it in and through British state geographies and in what ways does this escape constitute a transfiguration of Black British (un)geographies? The three historical cases I examine exemplify the struggles between the state’s efforts to enclose and exclude Black Britons and their efforts to forge an underground of British Blackness in the wake of Empire.


Andrews, Kehinde. 2016. “The problem of political blackness: lessons from the Black Supplementary School Movement”. Ethnic and Racial Studies 39 (11): 2060-2078.

Beckford, Martin. 2011. “'Attack' on teenage girl blamed for start of Tottenham riot”. August 8. The Telegraph (, accessed 15.08.2023.).

Belfast Telegraph. 1976. “Notting Hill carnival riots”. August 31. The British Newspaper Archive (, accessed 12.12.2019.).

Birmingham Daily Post. 1954. “The whole population can come over”. December 23. The British Newspaper Archive (, accessed 12.12.2019.).

Birmingham Daily Post. 1956. “Coloured Workers “Ostracized” by Trade Unionists”. November 12. The British Newspaper Archive (, 12.12.2019.).

Black Panther Movement. 1971a. “Summary of National Conference on the Rights of Black People in Britain May 1971”. In Black Panther Movement, ref. JLR/3/1/5. London: George Padmore Institute.

Black Panther Movement. 1971b. “We are on the Move”. In Black People’s News Service, ref. WONG/7/74. London: Black Cultural Archives.

Bledsoe, Adam. 2017. “Marronage as a Past and Present Geography in the Americas”. Southeastern Geographer 57 (1): 30-50.

Bloom, Clive. 2010. Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bonnett, Alastair. 2002. “The metropolis and white modernity”. Ethnicities 2 (3): 349–366.

Bressey, Caroline. 2002. “Forgotten histories: three stories of black girls from Barnardo's Victorian archive”. Women's History Review 11 (3): 351-374.

Bridges, Lee. 2012. “Four days in August: the UK riots”. Race & Class 54 (1): 1–12.

Brixton Defence Campaign. 1981. “Correspondence of the Brixton Defence Campaign to other black movements”. July 29. In Correspondence, ref. Gutsmore/1/2. London: Black Cultural Archives.

Brixton Neighbourhood Community Association. 1981. “Issued Statement on Brixton enquiry”. June 19. In Correspondence, ref. Gutsmore/1/2. London: Black Cultural Archives

Carby, Hazel V. 2019. Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands. London: Verso.

Centre News. 1981. “Centre News: Black community newspaper”. June. In Correspondence, ref. Gutsmore/1/2. London: Black Cultural Archives.

Charles, Monique. 2016. “Grime central! Subterranean ground-in grit engulfing manicured mainstream spaces”. In Blackness in Britain, edited by Kehinde Andrews, and Lisa Amanda Palmer, 89–100. New York: Routledge.

Community Care. 1994. “When your face doesn’t fit”. August 11-17. In Black support groups and individuals, ref. RC/RF/4/09/A. London: Black Cultural Archives.

Craig, Caroline. 2011. “No stop and search would be dangerous”. Police review 119 (6117): n.p.

Daily Worker. 1959. “Commons discuss Notting Hill”. June 5. In Race Relations in London in the years after the Notting Hill riots: personal correspondence, ref. HLG 117/122. London: National Archives.

Department of Environment. 1982. “Correspondence inside the Department”. December 1. In Lambeth Inner City Partnership, ref. AT 41/341/1. London: National Archives.

Dikeç, Mustafa. 2007. “Revolting Geographies: Urban Unrest in France”. Geography Compass 1 (5): 1190-1206.

Elliott-Cooper, Adam. 2019. ““Our life is a struggle”: Respectable Gender Norms and Black Resistance to Policing”. Antipode 51 (2): 539–557.

Florvil, Tiffany N. 2020. Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 1981. “Letter from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Home Office regarding the riots in 1981”. July 17. In HOME AFFAIRS. Civil disorder: disturbances in Brixton, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and London districts, ref. PREM 19/484. London: National Archives.

Gayle, Rita. 2020. “Creative futures of Black (British) feminism in austerity and Brexit times”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 45 (3): 525–528.

Genesis Elijah. (2011). “RE: UK Riots”. Youtube (, accessed 19.09.2020.).

Gentleman, Amelia. 2018. “Windrush scandal: Albert Thompson still in dark about cancer treatment despite May's promise”. April 19. The Guardian (, accessed 15.08.2023.).

Gilroy, Paul. 1987. There ain't no black in the Union Jack: the cultural politics of race and nation. London: Hutchinson.

Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Gilroy, Paul. 2011. “Paul Gilroy speaks on the riots”. The dream of safety blogpost (, accessed 20.08.2021.).

Gikandi, Simon. 1996. Maps of Englishness. New York: Columbia University Press.

Grant, Bernie. 1997. “Address in the House of Commons”. In Ministerial letters, ref. BG/P/3/4/10. London: Bishopsgate Institute Archives.

Grassroots. 1978. “Grassroots”. September-October. Ref. Libfront 1/1, London: Black Cultural Archives.

Grassroots. 1981. “Black community news: Uprising in na Brixton”. June-July. Ref. Libfront 1/1, London: Black Cultural Archives.

Grassroots. 1983. “Grassroots”. May-June. Ref. Libfront 1/1, London: Black Cultural Archives.

Greater London Council (GLC). 1976. ““Notting Hill riots No Surprise” – GLC Deputy Leader”. August 31. In GLC Press Releases, ref. GLC/DG/PRB/35/28. London: London Metropolitan Archives.

Griffiths, Melanie, and Colin Yeo. 2021. “The UK’s hostile environment: Deputising immigration control”. Critical Social Policy 41 (4): 521–544.

Hall, Stuart, Brain Roberts, John Clarke, Tony Jefferson, and Chas Critcher. 1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, Stuart. 1993. “What Is This "Black" in Black Popular Culture?”. Social Justice 20 (1/2): 104-114.

Hammond-Perry, Kennetta. 2016. London is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail. 1958. “Brixton streets peaceful for the coloured folk. 22 September”. The British Newspaper Archive, (, accessed 12.12.2019).

Hewitt, Guy. 2020. “The Windrush Scandal”. Caribbean Quarterly 66 (1): 108-128.

Hill, Clifford S. 2014. Free at last? The Tottenham riots and the legacy of slavery. London: Wilberforce Publications.

Hirsch, Afua. 2018. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. London: Vintage.

Hirsch, Lioba. 2021. “On being moved: Black joy and mobilities in (extra)ordinary times”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 46 (4): 818–821.

House of Commons. 1958. “Address in the House of Commons”. September 10. In Race Relations in London in the years after the Notting Hill riots: personal correspondence, ref. HLG 117/122. London: National Archives.

House of Lords. 1981. “Scarman: Home Secretary discussion on Scarman Inquiry”. Ref. HO 498/6. London: National Archives.

Howe, Darcus. 2011. “Darcus Howe BBC News Interview On Riots”. Youtube (, accessed: 20.08.2021.).

Interdepartmental Committee on West-Indians. 1959. “Notes of committee meeting”. May 28. In Measures to assist the assimilation of coloured immigrants, ref. HO 344/43. London: National Archives.

Johnson, Linton K. 1981. “Di Great Insohreckshan”. Poetry Archive (, accessed 06.09.2020.).

Joseph, Etienne, and Connie Bell. 2020. “Everything is everything: Embodiment, affect, and the Black Atlantic archive”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 45 (3): 520– 524.

La Rose, John. 1986. “Stop Operation Swamp”. In Race Today, ref. GB 2904 JOU/1/1/130: 11. London: George Padmore Institute.

Lennox, Sara. 2016. Remapping Black Germany: New Perspectives on Afro-German History, Politics, and Culture. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press.

Livingston, Ken. 1982. “Letter from Ken Livingstone to all Ethnic Minority Organizations in Greater London”. July 21. Ref. RC/RF/5/06/B/2. London: Black Cultural Archives.

Logic, Big Cakes, Cerose, and Badness. 2011. “Dangerous Times”. Youtube (, accessed October 19, 2020.).

London Metropolitan Police. 1958. “Internal correspondence concerning the Notting Hill riots”. September 22. In Race Relations in London in the Years after the Notting Hill riots. Official correspondence, ref. HLG 117/122. London: National Archives.

Lowkey, and Mai Khalil. 2011. “Dear England”. Youtube (, accessed October 19, 2020.).

McKittrick, Katherine. 2006. Demonic grounds: Black women and the cartographies of struggle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

McKittrick, Katherine. 2013. “Plantation Futures”. Small Axe 17 (3): 1-15.

Member of GLC. 1984. “Letter to Southall Black Sisters”. November 2. In Greater London Development Plan, ref. GLC/TD/GLP/01/003. London: London Metropolitan Archives.

Metropolitan Coloured People Housing Association Limited. 1958. “Memorandum relating to the housing problems of coloured people in London”. September 2. In Race Relations in London in the years after the Notting Hill riots: personal correspondence, ref. HLG 117/122. London: National Archives.

Ministerial Group on Urban Policies. 1977. “Policy issues: Designated Areas and Environmental Problems of Declining Urban Areas’ [Report on Inner Cities]”, ref. AT 53/50/2. London: National Archives.

Morgner, Christian. 2014. “Anti-social Behaviour and the London 'Riots': Social Meaning Making of the Anti-social”. In Anti-Social Behaviour in Britain: Victorian and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Sarah Pickard, 92–102. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Moten, Fred. 2011. “Necessity, immensity, and crisis (many edges/seeing things)”. Floor Journal (, accessed 15.09.2020.).

Nayak, Anoop. 2007. “Critical Whiteness Studies”. Sociology Compass 1 (2): 737-755.

Nkrumah, Kwame. 1968. “Message to the Black people of Britain”. In Black People’s News Service (Black Panther Newsletter), ref. GB 2904 New/17. London: George Padmore Institute.

Noxolo, Patricia. 2018. “Flat Out! Dancing the city at a time of austerity”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36 (5): 797–811.

Noxolo, Patricia. 2020. “Introduction: Towards a Black British Geography?”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 45 (3): 509–511.

Okoye, Victoria O. 2021. “Black digital outer spaces: Constellations of relation and care on Twitter”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 46 (4): 806–809.

Olusoga, David. 2017. Black and British: A Forgotten History. London: Pan Macmillan.

Pilkington, Edward. 1988. Beyond the Mother Country: West Indians and the Notting Hill White Riots. London, New York: I.B. Tauris.

Race Today. 1986. “Oh Dear That Criminal 'Minority' Again - Handsworth, Brixton, Tottenham”. Ref. GB 2904 JOU/1/1/130. London: George Padmore Institute.

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Shilliam, Robbie. 2013. “Black redemption, not (white) abolition”. In Claiming the International, edited by Arlene B. Tickner, and David L. Blaney, 141-158. New York: Routledge.

Shilliam, Robbie. 2018. Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit. Newcastle upon Tyne: Agenda Publishing.

Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2016. “Urbanity and Generic Blackness”. Theory, Culture & Society 33 (7–8): 183–203.

Sojoyner, Damien M. 2021. “You Are Going to Get Us Killed: Fugitive Archival Practice and the Carceral State”. American Anthropologist 123 (3): 658-670.

Solomos, John, Bob Findlay, Simon Jones, and Paul Gilroy. 1982. “The organic crisis of British capitalism and race: the experience of the seventies’”. In The Empire strikes back: race and racism in 70s Britain, edited by Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCS), 9-46. London: Hutchinson & Co.

Solomos, John. 2014. “Stuart Hall: articulations of race, class and identity”. Ethnic and Racial Studies 37 (10): 1667-1675.

Télémaque, Nathaniel. 2021. “Annotating Black joy on the White City Estate”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 46 (4): 810–814.

Voluntary Voice. 1986. “Voluntary Voice: GLC Press Ethnic Minority Unit Press”. April. In Greater London Council Ethnic Minorities Unit, ref. RC/RF/4/11/E. London: Black Cultural Archives.

West Indian World. 1985. “Brixton Four Year After”. August 28. In Black anti-racist organisations, ref. RC/RF/4/09. London: Black Cultural Archives.

White, Joy. 2020. Terraformed: Young black lives in the inner city. London: Repeater.

Wright, Willie J. 2020. “The Morphology of Marronage”. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 110 (4): 1134-1149.




How to Cite

Adscheid, T. (2023). The Fugitive Underground of British Blackness: Insights from London’s ‘Riotous’ Geographies. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 22(5), 1320–1341. Retrieved from



Special Issue: Fugitivity as Method