Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Thoughts about the Windrush

On 1 July I was one the members of the Panel at the final event at the David Lean Cinema in Croydon's Windrush Commemoration organised by a group led by Cllr Patsy Cummings, the Council's BAME champion. Another member of the Panel was campaigner for justice for the victims of the Windrush scandal and Patrick Vernon.    
I gave the following reflections.
I am one of  many people like Patrick working to ensure that British history reflects the long history of the Black presence.
When I moved to Norbury in July 2011 my next door neighbour was the wife of the Jamaican RAF ex-serviceman Alex Elden who was on the Windrush, Alex being in residential care.
As I sat at the dinner at Selsdon Park Hotel I thought of the 18th and early 19thC owners who exploited the enslaved on their West Indies plantations and whose profits helped fund the development of the building and its estate, as I have shown in this publication (hold up). How they must have been turning in their graves given the large number of the descendants of the enslaved there enjoying the meal and entertainment.
White Britons of my age have led parallel and interconnected lives with the Windrush Generation. In my case it has been through work, community and political activity, such as advising people of their welfare and housing rights, of helping to change Wandsworth’s housing allocation rules to end the built in exclusion of members of the Generation, assisting the establishment of a housing project for homeless young people, of working for a housing association which was chaired by the Jamaican Eric Smellie, and which specialised in improving housing conditions in areas where members of the Generation lived.
As Secretary of the Community/Police Consultative Group in Lambeth and the Panel of Lay Visitors to Police Stations I worked closely with Astel Parkinson, Hector Watson, George Greaves, Rene Webb and Neil Flanigan. Neil is a serving member of the RAF from the Second World War and has supported several of the Windrush events in Croydon and who is interviewed in Croydon resident Marc Wadsworth's film Divided by Race.
But that interconnection goes back earlier to my parents having a Jamaican lady as a lodger whose son was in the RAF and my mother teaching the piano to children, one of whom is a concert pianist in the United States. My personal interest in black history stems from my childhood hero the African-American actor, singer and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson. (Hold up pamphlet) And of course Black music, including from the West Indies, has been part of the sound track of our lives.
The arrival of the Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury symbolises many things about Britain at the end of the War.
·       The return of Caribbean ex-servicemen who had contributed to the wartime effort against Hitler and the Nazis.
·       The arrival of people from the West Indian colonies wanting to contribute to the re-building of a shattered Britain.
·       The irony of having been a ship used to provide Hitler Youth with holidays around the Baltic before the war.
·       The fear in some quarters that was generated by what the Daily Graphic called ‘invasion ‘of just under 500 people, representing imperial racist attitudes.
If you have seen David Olusoga’s TV programme on the Government attitude to the Windrush and immigration then you will have been shocked by the long roots of the hostile environment which has been so damaging to members of the Generation. It has been a reminder that far from being welcoming and liberal Britain has been divided between racists and anti-racists with a large bloc in between of people whose views were and are based on fear, with unscrupulous politicians exploiting the tensions that are created.
So it is important that we continue to research and tell the story of the Black contribution in Britain like my pamphlet on Croydon before the Windrush (hold up) throughout every year with a particular focus during October’s Black History Month and on the annual Windrush Day. This includes the fact that Ivor Cummings, the Anglo-African Government welfare officer who met and helped the Windushers had grown up in the Croydon area in the 1920s. It is also important to tell the post Windrush story of anti-racism and for white Britons to reflect on their parallel and inter-connected lives and what the impact of the Windrush Generation has been on their lives.
The exhibition of Windrush Generation artifacts from the 1940s & 1950s including a Caribbean front room with Glassfish, Paraffin Heater, Gram, Grip etc, are on display at the Croydon Museum in the Clocktower until 31 October - Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10.30am-5pm.

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