Black history is still largely ignored, 70 years after Empire Windrush reached Britain
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The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks on June 22, 1948 marked a watershed moment in the recent history of immigration to Britain. The day before the ship arrived from the Caribbean, the Evening Standard sent an airplane to photograph the vessel as it approached Britain. The photo appeared on the front page under the headline: “Welcome to Britain! Evening Standard plane greets 400 sons of Empire.” But the reception of the new arrivals was far from unequivocally positive.Now, 70 years and three to four generations later, the legacy of those who arrived on the Windrush and the ships that followed is being rightly remembered – albeit in a way which calls into question how much their presence, sacrifices and contributions are valued in Britain. The “sons of the Empire” came not as immigrants, but as British subjects exercising a form of “freedom of movement” within the borders of the British territories. They came invited – job adverts regularly appeared in local newspapers – to rebuild Britain after the devastation of World War II. The British Nationality Act in 1948 imparted the status of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC status) to all British subjects connected with the UK or a British colony.
Read more: Windrush generation: the history of unbelonging
Caribbean communities were quickly established in areas such as Brixton in south London, St Pauls in Bristol, Handsworth in Birmingham and St Anns in Nottingham. Today, London’s Notting Hill Carnival, established in 1959, is one reminder of the distinctive and vibrant Caribbean presence in Britain. Yet the carnival began as a way to counter rising racial tension which came to a head in the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots. For many Caribbean migrants at the time, discrimination based upon the colour of their skin was a way of life. Poor working conditions, lack of decent accommodation and stigmatisation at school are all amply documented. They kept working, but they also fought in many ways to gain better treatment in British society – for example through the 1963 Bristol bus boycott, which led to the ban on ethnic minorities working on Bristol’s buses being overturned. Further lobbying for laws to penalise racial discrimination resulted in a series of Race Relations Acts in 1965, 1968, 1976. The recent Windrush scandal has been a stark reminder of this contested history of settlement, integration and exclusion. Hundreds of people who had come to the UK with CUKC status as children faced immigration detention and some have even been deported.
Read more: Hostile environment: the UK government's draconian immigration policy explained
British Caribbean communities were especially appalled that after such long periods of service to Britain, they were seen as disposable, at risk of being kicked out of a country they deemed as their own and forced to go back to places they could barely remember. The scandal has highlighted a deeper truth about the remaining obstacles to the inclusion of British Caribbean communities – and other non-white Britons – into the dominant imagination of what it to be British today.
Erasing black Britain
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You can listen to a longer version of the conversation between April-Louise Pennant and Nando Sigona on what it means to be British in the University of Birmingham’s Unfiltered podcast. April-Louise Pennant, PhD Researcher, University of Birmingham and Nando Sigona, Reader in International Migration and Forced Displacement and Deputy Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.