Windrush! A word that means so much to some and absolutely nothing to others.

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West Indian immigrants arrive at Victoria Station, London, after their journey from Southampton Docks. Original Publication: Picture Post - 8405 - Thirty Thousand Colour Problems - pub. 1956 (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)

To the older generations above me, it’s what made “Britain Great” and to the younger generations, they think “it’s when the wind rushes at you” (and there’s absolutely no shame in not knowing). 

To those that don’t know, the HMT Empire Windrush (aka the MV Monte Rosa) brought the first wave of mass Caribbean migration to the UK after World War II, these people are referred to as the Windrush Generation. What is rarely told to the public (but known in the community) is that the main reason for the mass migration is because Britain was so damaged, broken and in need of repair after WWII that they had to depend on the help from the countries they colonised; inviting them to do the jobs that no-one else wanted to do such as cleaning, construction, nursing, manual labour, agriculture and more. This was achieved by marketing the UK as the land of “Milk and Honey” where the roads were “Paved with Gold” especially as the Caribbean was so pillaged, damaged and run down through said colonialism that it made the choice seemingly obvious. Regardless of the fact that the Caribbean Windrush migrants were invited to the UK, they were still subject to abuse, discrimination and racism as they were seen as nothing more than uninvited illegal immigrants, despite perceiving themselves to be citizens of empire. Never before in History has Britain urgently needed help like this, especially from a region that it perceived as “lesser” than itself. However this, as well as the contributions of people of colour during the war, is widely overlooked in society, often avoided in history lessons and mysteriously absent during Remembrance Day and other WWII memorial events. 

On 22nd June 2017, the first ever memorial to Black Afro-Caribbean armed services personnel, the “Windrush Memorial” (WM), was unveiled in Brixton. When I first went to the memorial next to the “Black Cultural Archives”, I met a black veteran who spoke of how disgusting it was that every other community has a plaque in and around London, yet it took 70 years for this small amount of recognition. Worse still is its position and location which is afforded little respect from young skater boys who are often seen skating off the memorial when the gates are opened. To further prove the point, the animals of war have their own memorial plaque in the middle of Park Lane next to Hyde Park which was erected in 2004 (an incredible 13 years before the WM), but where then are the memorials for the black commonwealth contributors prior to the WM? This is not only disgraceful but also dangerous as we are on the verge of forgetting the contribution of our ancestors to history; many Black Britains, descendants of these people, as I mentioned previously, are unaware of what the Windrush actually is, it’s not too late as there is always time to learn but we must act quickly.  

Throughout history, the feats and achievements of the black community have been constantly overlooked and disregarded (recently the British public was shocked being shown evidence confirming that the first Britain, known as the Cheddar Man, who was previously perceived to be white is black), so to progress as a people we need acknowledgement, not only from external forces privy to our community but our community itself.  

With the Windrush Generation still living amongst (including my own grandmother) it gives us the perfect opportunity to document, enjoy, archive, analyse, and learn from their experiences, lives and stories for future generations to use to strategize for the future. 

The Brexit vote has confirmed to various ethnic communities of what many already knew; the main reason the country voted to leave the EU was because of immigration and wanting to “protect the borders”, which in other words means keep Britain white and immigrant free. Many voted not out of economic reasons but for racial cleansing, keeping the borders up and other discriminatory reasons. I dare you to ask any Brexit voter their opinion on the pros and cons of the various issues including the Single Market or European Human Rights laws as many will be clueless and were led not by their minds, but their hearts, through tactical unethical propaganda and scaremongering similar to the Windrush, which speaks volumes for Britain. On the week of the Brexit vote a young relative of mine was told to “Go back to African now we voted Brexit” on three separate occasions at school, no child should be told that, especially by another child, which shows that not much has changed regarding racism in schools through the generations. 

When looking at immigration today, compared to immigration during the Windrush Era, immigrants today although not invited to do so, still play a pivotal part of holding up the infrastructure of the UK in key jobs such as cleaning, construction, nursing, manual labour, agriculture and more (sounding familiar?). Filling many of the positions previously held by the Windrush Generation, due to this it is very clear to see why certain members of the community voted to leave in the Brexit vote. 

My biggest fear for Brexit internationally is that Britain will again rely on the “Commonwealth” they previously enslaved and colonised without supporting, repaying or acknowledging their contribution to Britain’s wealth and prosperity. I hope the countries in the current and former Commonwealth don’t fall for what can only be described as a new wave of Colonialism by taking lessons from the past and learning to negotiate on equal terms. By again relying on external support from the UK or accepting detrimental trade deals for their nation will come at a cost to the countries progression, this could take the individual countries back decades as well as leaving those nation’s future generations “indebted” to Britain AGAIN! 

Regarding Brexit nationally, I have no fear of racism and discrimination rising because it has never stopped! As a wise woman once told me, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and history has already shown me the hand of those leaning on the right, the only difference between pre and post Brexit is that the cards are laid out on the table, plain for everyone to see. As the grandson of Windrush Caribbean migrants, I am proud of the contributions that our ancestors made in changing this country, we as a community need to embody the courage and bravery of our ancestors to venture towards a brighter future for the community with their same spirit… 

…as a “Black Britain” I have “no country to go back to” as this IS my country as my ancestors built up this land (unlike migrating communities today) and we will be acknowledged. 

As I put the final touches writing this article the nationally known “Brixton Market”, home of the bustling cultural hub for Afro-Caribbean goods and services since the Windrush era in the 1960’s (slowly killed off by “regeneration”), was just sold onto an Irish Property Tycoon on the 22nd Feb 2018. This symbolizes not only the death of Brixton, the historic cultural hub, but the ushering away of the Windrush Generation in London. This also shows how much this country truly appreciates the toil and hard work of our ancestors. So I turn to the community on the anniversary of the Windrush, coinciding with the rise of in-your-face racism from Brexit, alongside widespread gentrification removing the BME community from the cityscape; to demand and campaign for acknowledgement of the Afro-Caribbean contribution to Britain. Whilst it is important to campaign are we really going to wait for our community to be acknowledged? It is crucial that we acknowledge ourselves and teach the next generations about the collective experience so we can plan for tomorrow. Remember, as the next move is up to us. 

Windrush By Joshua Street 

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