“Yuh mudda nuh want yuh no more!”
It has been 73 years since the His Majesty’s Transport Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury docks in Essex. The 22nd June 1948 marks the era of the Windrush generation and their descendants. Like me, Cecelia, Rita, Carol and many others both here in HCGC and outside of this place Windrush descendants live all over the United Kingdom, this United Kingdom we call home. The Windrush story is a story of many parts, a construction and culmination of many black histories and world histories including Britain’s, spanning hundreds of years.
The Empire Windrush set sail for Australia in 1948, stopping off in sunny Kingston, Jamaica 492 ex-servicemen together with passengers from the colonies embarked and made the journey of their lives. They travelled almost 5000 miles to a place they did not know but felt they knew in their hearts. The British Nationality Act 1948 had given status of citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies to all British subjects, including the Caribbean Islands. There were over 1000 passengers, with a large contingent from the Caribbean on board bound for The Mother Country. Now I’m going to put that into context for you. Money context. The Caribbean helped by giving funds to the Allied War Effort. In addition, £50.000 was given as a free gift along with higher taxes imposed on the colonial citizens. The African continent gave £1.5 million. The financial contribution given by the colonies amounted to £23.3 million in gifts, £14 million in low interest loans, £10.7 million in interest free loans (Yes, I said interest free). I have done the math for you and that is a total of £49.5 million. Today the equivalent in pounds sterling is £2,747,881,188.12 (2 billion, 7 hundred and 74 million, 8 hundred and 81 thousand 188 pounds and 12p. So not only did the former Caribbean colonies sacrifice their physical lives, mental health and family life but they also sacrificed their economic health to support and to help the Mother Country fight the war which threatened our way of life.
So, I tell you this part of our recent British History, which was only 82 years ago, to give you the context of the second wave of peoples of African descent settling in the United Kingdom. We are not merely a novelty here but we have generations of families who call Britain home. We call it home despite the cruelty, unchristian behaviour, hostility and ignorance many met from white citizens, but more importantly from the British institutions, when they arrived and continued to arrive in numbers up until the 80s. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the story of the signs put outside homes “No Irish, No coloureds and No dogs” note black people are wedged between the Irish and dogs. But our forefathers were resilient and perhaps more importantly hopeful that they would be met with kindness and Christian love. They would find work, somewhere to live and raise their families and make a valuable contribution to Britain, after all this was The Mother Country; they believed in and had lived by the British Values before they had set foot on that ship. But the reality was, for many and I don’t mean just a few, but many was hostility. After having fought for democracy, justice, fairness; the fight was now one of survival.
The Windrush Scandal in not a new story – it is an old tale of struggle, that we were reminded of on Monday the 23rd April 2018. London was bathed in glorious spring sunshine and at around 4.30pm David Lammy stood up in the House of Commons and unleashed a river of cruel truths on the Conservative government but in particular the Home Office featuring Amber Rudd and previous HWIC, head woman in charge Theresa May. Lammy called Amber and her crew out for their cold and calculating policy and the creation of what we now know as a Hostile Environment. The Windrush Generation and their descendants, like me, and Cecelia, and Rita, and Sharon, Pam, Carol and others whether consciously or unconsciously recognise this hostility and our collective consciousness comes to the surface when we perceive the threat.
Can you imagine sitting around a table discussing the issue of immigration in this country and coming up with the idea of creating a Hostile Environment for a specific group of people to suffer through. Then stacking the deck against them, as much as you can so that you can trample on and wipe out the lives of thousands of law-abiding citizens, law-abiding black British citizens, who are tax payers, indeed nation builders. A creation that you can use to reduce their years of a built life full of pride to tears and anguish. A creation you can use to strip my people of their dignity, deport them and send them back to where they came from. Those we elected to power weaponized this hostile environment and subjected our black citizens, black tax payers and black nation builders to acts of terrorism which for some resulted in their untimely death and I remember Paulette Wilson at this point. I’m going to ask you some tough questions now. Have you been complicit in this horror? What have you done to rectify this reprehensible situation? Have you stood up and said no. This has to stop? Are you calling out racism when you see or hear it? Have you approached your elected officials and demanded answers and fair and just solutions? What is the value you place on me, my aunt Stephanie, my brother, Nicholas, my friend’s mom Mrs St. Hilaire? Is it merely how much we can or should produce to swell Britain’s wealth, or is it the value of being human?
When the news broke, I can’t lie I was enraged. Me, Dolores Michelle Parson of the Cranston Family, whose mother and father and those I respectfully call my elders ventured almost 5000 miles to the Mother Country to answer the call, “Your Mother needs you” and build a better life for their families. Their coming was a noble, Christian and dutiful response to a mother crying out to her children. Quite simply they stepped up to the plate. The Windrush Generation, their ancestors and their descendants have proved that we are a resilient people, strong and proud people. We are a people of dignity with a long history and culture that spans millennia. And here we are again in another battle for our survival in what is now an openly hostile environment. We are forced to fight a monolith created by a people who are disconnected from the people who have to feel and endure the punishment of that monolith.
It is the everyday stories of people, our elders, parents, cousins, aunties and uncles and what they endured and fought against so that makes me look heavenward and ask why? From our freedom fighters through the centuries such as Paul Bogle, Olaudah Equiano, Mary Seacole, Darcus Howe and the Mangrove protestors, Sybil Phoenix and The New Cross Fire Protestors in 1981, to last year when Debs, Sue and myself marched because Black Lives Matter. It is these stories of a peoples, who continue the fight to be seen, heard, and treated with dignity, as human beings by institutions in the charge of the white man that mek water come from mi eye. In recent days those ignorant phrases, “you are not welcome.” “This is not your home go back to where you came from” have been
repeated by social media trolls against our heroes Raheem Stirling, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho, after England lost against Italy last month in euros 2020.
What has underpinned this treatment of a particular group of God’s children is the Western construct we call racism bound in white privilege. Why are we are still having these conversations? We are having them because we all have to. How far have we come? We have struggled, we have battled, we have protested and we have even brought some of you with us. This journey towards justice, fairness, recognition of our humanity is not an easy one. At times I feel we have taken many steps backwards, but our resilience, patience and God’s guidance motivates us to put one foot in front of the other and walk this rocky road for those coming after us.
I’m going to end with a quote from Aime Cesare who wrote Notebook of a Return to the Nativeland.
“No race holds the monopoly of beauty, intelligence, of strength. There is a place for all at the rendezvous of Victory.” And so, in our fight for justice I respectfully paraphrase Bob Marley’s beautiful lyrics, One Love, one heart let’s get together and do what’s right.”