Policy paper

Black skin, Whitehall: Race and the Foreign Office, 1945 to 2018

This History Note attempts to document the history of race at the Foreign Office on how present-day approach towards non-white staff developed.



Using oral history and archival documents, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Historian James Southern tells the story of non-white British diplomats since the Second World War. The FCO has come a long way since the 1940s, and this History Note aims to begin a conversation about the history of race in the Diplomatic Service to continue to build a tolerant, inclusive and representative organisation.

It covers:

  • the pre-1939 context before examining Foreign Office’s responses to the beginning of the era of Commonwealth immigration in 1948
  • the 1960s and 1970s, and the global impact of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States as well as the domestic impact of Harold Wilson’s first Labour government
  • the rise of ‘diversity’ at the FCO, from the first explicit pledges to improve ethnic diversity in the 1980s through to the networks, schemes and initiatives designed to increase representation
  • interviews with current and former staff on race in the Foreign Office in the present day, and how it might develop in the future
Published 4 October 2018