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Stuart Hall: 'He used his intellect to fight racism'


THE PASSING of world-renowned scholar, broadcaster and radical agitator Stuart Hall, is a sad reminder of the huge impact that our public intellectuals can have on both black communities and wider society.

Hall’s warnings of institutional racism in the media, the policing of black communities and the effects of Thatcher-inspired capitalism, both here and abroad, are a testimony to his profound intellectual insight.

But he was never content to sit back while others acted on his analyses.

A formidable force, whether through television appearances or activism on the streets of Britain, Hall could not be ignored. His life and work have helped many to understand the crises faced by black communities.

Stuart Hall was born in 1932 into a middle class, light-skinned Jamaican family. He could have taken the well-trodden route of other Oxbridge students who travelled to the ‘mother country’ from the Commonwealth: climbing the ladder of the British establishment or seeking office in his own country still trapped in dependence on its former colonial master.

Instead, Hall dedicated his life to resistance. Utilising the intellectual tools that his elite education had gifted him, he worked towards a clearer understanding of racism and capitalism, forces that have shaped the lives of black populations from 17th Century enslavement to 21st Century austerity. As a peace activist, the young Stuart Hall rallied for nuclear disarmament and an end to Cold War aggression. The issues may be different today, but they are no less pressing – however it is the 1960s-style protests which characterised Hall’s early career that are now absent.


When Thatcherism was unleashed on Britain, Hall wrote, spoke and organised across the country, working tirelessly to build resistance against the destruction of the welfare state and the dismantling of British industry. When ordinary working people wanting to remain employed under fair conditions took to the streets, Margaret Thatcher succeeded in undermining strikes by classing them as acts of social sabotage. Today, we see transport workers organise to resist widespread job cuts, and it is Britain’s black community in particular which will be most affected.

One of Hall’s most influential works was Policing the Crisis. Defusing the moral crisis generated by sensational press reporting of the ‘black mugger’ is as salient today as it was when first published in 1978. Much of what Hall said about the racist hysteria surrounding mugging in the 1970s came as no surprise to black communities.

He offered a sound intellectual analysis of life in black Britain during this period, set in its historical context. Today, it is clear that although much has changed, much is still very much the same. The word ‘mugger’, once synonymous with black youth, has been replaced with ‘gangster’ – the new media buzzword employed as a racist dog whistle to white Britain.

‘Gang’ is a catch-all term used to justify anything from school exclusion to stop and search to the killing of innocent members of the public. It is this fear of the gang which stokes the moral crisis shocking middle England, with black Britain implicitly held responsible.

But Hall wasn’t satisfied with a simple critique of media racism, he sought to make interventions in the mainstream press which not only presented black people in a more positive light, but also unravelled the derogatory representations to which many of us have grown accustomed. Using his position in the Open University, Hall brought black intellectual thought into the living rooms of Britain, criticising the tabloids which had caricatured black Britain for so long.


The power of culture, from Rastafari to the blues and beyond, has long accompanied black political resistance, and Hall was determined that black culture in all its richness and complexity should be more widely respected.

He established the first cultural studies department in a British university, which gave academic ‘respectability’ to popular culture and its impact on political life.

With many black British actors, writers and academics currently leaving Britain to pursue careers in the US and elsewhere, Hall’s work can help us understand how the struggle for a positive cultural impact still mirrors the wider political issues we face.

With the study of culture came the necessary examination of multiculturalism or how different cultures interact, something that the current British prime minister insists has failed. What Hall taught us is that multiculturalism can’t fail – it’s here to stay. What hangs in the balance is how multiculturalism is played out.


Hall should be remembered not just for being a successful black academic, but as an individual who took on the establishment and inspired such widespread support that he couldn’t be ignored. With so many of the issues he raised still plaguing our communities, Hall's legacy can be best respected through the continuation of the struggle to which he dedicated over half a century of his life, and by acting on the principles for which he stood.

Adam Elliott-Cooper is a PhD student at the University of Oxford. His research explores how black communities defend themselves against police discrimination

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