FROM WINDRUSH TO BUM-RUSH
In this months CEO Notebook, Paul talks about Windrush and how that impacted him growing up in the London in the late 1960s.
There are of course many who assume the first Black people to live in Britain were the 492 Jamaicans who stepped off the Empire Windrush and onto the Tilbury Dock on 22nd June 1948. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Black people have been living in Britain for 500 years or more. In his seminal book “Staying Power” Peter Fryer reminds us, “there were Africans in Britain before the English came here.” Now, thanks to Chris Van Dusen, and Shonda Rhimes for their Netflix production Bridgerton that thought may at least challenge that assumption.
My father is a Jamaican. I don’t know him, so I don’t know how he came to be here, or how he got here, but I can guess why he came here. He and his family were invited here to rebuild the post-war motherland. I know that he would have been eight years-old when the Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury.
The wide-eyed optimism of my grandparent’s generation, quickly turned to pessimism and disappointment. The vast majority of the “Windrush Generation” were qualified people. Yet they found themselves having to settle for jobs of a lower status than they had enjoyed at home.
"The wide-eyed optimism of my grandparent’s generation, quickly turned to pessimism and disappointment."
In the 1950s more than half the male West Indians in London had lower status jobs than their skills and experiences fitted them for [you may well ask what has changed…? Not a great deal some would argue]. In many industries white trade unions resisted the employment of black workers, or insisted on a quota system limiting them to a token handful generally about 5%
My generation were born here – but never treated as though we were from here. We were born (for the most part) into inequality. I was born in a Rachman House in North Kensington in 1960, as those were the only ones available to an Irish woman with a half-caste child (as we were known back then). It was less than a year since West Indian carpenter named Kelso Cochrane was stabbed to death in North Kensington his murderer was never found – that couldn’t happen today could it…? #StephenLawrence.
"My generation were born here – but never treated as though we were from here."
The writer Ambalavaner Sivanandan wrote “West Indian children were consistently and right through the education system treated as uneducable and as having ‘unrealistic expectations’ together with a low IQ. [ I can testify to that – when I was 16 years-old I met with my careers officer and when I told him that I wanted to be a barrister he asked me if I’d ever thought of becoming an electrician or working in the building trade]. Consequently, they were ‘banded’ into classes for backward children or dumped into ESN (educationally subnormal) schools and forgotten. [I can testify to that too. I was to be sent to such a school but thanks to my plaintiff appeal I managed to get the case dismissed].
But nothing in my darkest dreams prepared me for what happened eight years ago when the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, who I have met and sat and had coffee with (12 years ago for the record) declared that the UK (the home from home my father was invited to) would hence forth be a hostile environment for “illegal immigrants.”
My late sister-in-law would have been about eight years-old when she arrived in the UK with her mother and two siblings to join her industrious father, who had answered the call from the motherland. It was about eight in the morning one Saturday in June of 2018 when my sister-in-law called my wife, totally distressed, she had received a deportation notice. She was given seven-days to report to a deportation centre where she was to be sent “back home” to Jamaica.
So, finally the Empire gave us the “Bum-Rush…” we sadly have been considered lowlifes and freeloaders and it was time for us to be forcibly removed from the premises. The Guardian newspaper chronicled the story (it seemed they alone thought it merited column inches) dystopian tales of deportation ghost flights. David Lammy’s article captures the moment well.
In the aftermath of the scandal which saw Amber Rudd who had replaced Theresa May as Home Secretary, walked the proverbial plank and in March 2020 independent Windrush Lessons Learned Review was published. Wendy Williams who led the review concluded that the Home Office had shown "ignorance and thoughtlessness." For those of us who have followed the Stephen Lawrence case we could not fail to hear echoes of Macpherson who defined the characteristics of institutional racism as seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
So here we were 20 plus years on from the apparently paradigm shifting Macpherson Report and what must we conclude, everything must change in order that everything can stay the same. You can hardly be surprised that even the most generous commentators doubt even after the murder of George Floyd that we have truly crossed the rubicon. As Williams put it, "While I am unable to make a definitive finding of institutional racism within the department, I have serious concerns that these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism."
"So here we were 20 plus years on from the apparently paradigm shifting Macpherson Report and what must we conclude, everything must change in order that everything can stay the same."
I am and will always believe the best of a person, I have said repeatedly that the greatest impediment to creating a culture of inclusion in the workplace is not that our organisations are populated by bad people, they are flooded with busy people. It is, I say, busy-ness that gives rise to thoughtlessness and thoughtlessness is an enemy of inclusion.
But we must also face the uncomfortable truth that we can publish reports and change policies but in the final analysis how we behave with each other is a consequence of what we believe about each other. Psychologist Eric Knowles, “people may fail to report the influence of race on their judgements, not because such an influence is absent, but because they may not be aware of it - and might not acknowledge it even if they are aware of it."
"It is, I say, busy-ness that gives rise to thoughtlessness and thoughtlessness is an enemy of inclusion."
My sister-in-law was fortunate, she had my wife for a sister, and so not only did she manage to get the deportation order rescinded, she is one of a meagre 5% of victims who managed to get compensation. But no amount of money can compensate from being told that you don’t belong here. We were a very long way from Kitchner’s refrain. Further away even than the Caribbean islands themselves: “To live in London you are really comfortable, because the English people are very much sociable, they take you here and they take you there, and they make you feel like a millionaire. London that’s the place for me.”
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