Written by:
Patrick Vernon

Celebrating the Windrush generation at 75

Read time:
5 minutes

Celebrating the Windrush generation at 75

Today’s national Windrush Day marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the passengers of the Empire Windrush to the UK from the Caribbean. It is a chance to both celebrate the profound contribution of the Windrush generation, who came from across the Commonwealth, to British society and redouble our efforts to challenge the ongoing injustices they continue to face, writes social commentator and activist Patrick Vernon.

The 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in Essex on 22 June 1948 gives us an opportunity to reflect on the history and struggles of the Windrush generation.

There has been a long-standing Black presence in this country going back more than 2,000 years, but after the Second World War the 1948 British Nationality Act created a greater opportunity for people from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth – from Africa to South and East Asia – to come to Britain. They have helped to shape the country over the last 75 years.

Within that contribution, the Windrush generation has played a key role. Its members have made major contributions to the NHS, the manufacturing industry, the transport and retail sectors, sports, art, entertainment, politics, education and every other aspect of public life in this country.

Despite facing hostility – from the ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ mantra and the colour bar to structural racism – the Windrush generation has fought, strived and shown incredible resilience. But this comes with consequences.

They have endured hostile environment policies and the Windrush scandal’

There was a huge impact on those who were classed as educationally ‘subnormal’ and those who lost their homes when councils compulsory purchased the land for redevelopments. They have faced discriminatory ‘sus’ laws and police stop-and-searches, as well as over-representation in the mental health and psychiatric care system. The list goes on and on.

They have also endured hostile environment policies and the Windrush scandal, in which thousands were caught up in a dragnet and declassified as being British. The post-traumatic stress this caused has led to the deaths of more than 23 people, while thousands are suffering from depression and have still not been properly compensated and/or had a resolution to their legal status.

Instead, the government has misappropriated the ‘righting the wrongs’ slogan – which was used during the Jim Crow era in the USA and by the civil rights movement – and talk of restorative justice in an attempt to brush the scandal away.

The Windrush scandal is yet another example of the structural racism and anti-Blackness that runs through British history.

As we mark the 75th Windrush anniversary, it is important that we recognise these injustices’

We need to remove the Windrush scandal compensation scheme from the Home Office and have an independent agency oversee a revamped scheme that is fair and meets all of the financial and emotional needs of those affected. We also need an immediate health-and-wellbeing action plan, so Windrush survivors and family members can access culturally appropriate therapeutic services and regular health checks.

The Windrush Taskforce needs to grant immediate citizenship status to victims, rather than prolong their agony. The burden of proof should not be on first-, second- and third-generation members of the Windrush generation to prove that they are British. We also need to review all of the deportation cases and bring back people sent to the Caribbean so they can be with their loved-ones in the UK. These are some of the examples of how the wrongs of the Windrush scandal could be righted.

As we mark the 75th Windrush anniversary, it is important that we acknowledge these injustices and continue to fight against racism, particularly anti-Blackness. But we must also recognise the history, legacy and contribution of the Windrush generation.

The Windrush generation played a key role in shaping anti-racist legislation in the UK’

I worked for several years campaigning for a national Windrush Day, which we got as a result of the Windrush scandal. As well as acknowledging the injustices, the day is about celebrating the wider Windrush generation, whose contributions have still not been properly recognised and appreciated as part of British history.

Yes, we need to make sure this is reflected in the national curriculum, the arts and culture sectors, and the media. But, more importantly, it is about effectively implementing the Public Sector Equality Duty, which requires public authorities to consider how their policies and decisions affect people who are protected under the Equality Act.

The Windrush generation along with South and East Asian communities and white allies have played a key role in shaping anti-racist legislation in the UK, as well as equality, diversity and inclusion across the public, private and charity sectors. 

From the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott to the establishment of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) the following year. The work of the Runnymede Trust and the West Indian Standing Conference, formed in 1958 to promote the interests of the Black community. The Mangrove Nine, the Race Today Collective and the Black Power movement. These campaigns, events and organisations led to the Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976, while the murder of Stephen Lawrence led to the 2000 Race Relations (Amendment) Act. 

So, let's remind ourselves on Windrush Day and during the 75th anniversary year of both the contribution made by the Windrush generation and, more importantly, the ongoing history of anti-racism and the struggle for social justice.

Professor Patrick Vernon OBE is a Windrush campaigner, convenor of the Windrush 75 network and co-author of 100 Great Black Britons. He played a key role in campaigning for a national Windrush Day.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Runnymede Trust.

Join the fight for racial justice: support the Runnymede Trust’s work by making a donation.

Photo © Alamy

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