It has been more than 70 years since the first Windrush migrants from Britain’s commonwealth countries made their way to settle in the UK and it is hardly ever spoken about. Having grandparents who migrated from India in the early 1960s really broadened my historical perspective, however, most individuals of colour, and even those who are not, are not so informed of the period. It is no secret that the Windrush generation faced pangs of prejudice, painful humiliation, and poor living conditions, but why is it that these facts are almost obliterated from the nation’s profound and prideful sense of what is meant by its glorified history?
The narrative is twisted and grey. It rips individuals of their grand or great-grandparents’ culture and portrays a bleak image of outsiders who find refuge in the country but do not help to build it up. Children are therefore argued to be cut off from seeing themselves and those who resemble them from what is construed and painted as ‘British’. It is suggested by advocates for racial equality that one does not have to be so much as an eagle-eyed individual to observe that schools are failing students of colour on this account. However, the full effects of broadening the curriculum only became understood by larger cross-sections of society in the summer of 2020 following pleas to change the way that history is taught due to the cold and brutal murder of George Floyd. At the time, one Twitter user wrote “The #British school #History curriculum needs to broaden its scope to be more comprehensive and relevant.”
Unfortunately, petitions and campaigns for the broadening of the British curriculum are just not seen enough and this is observed to be an even deeper concern for minorities in London, with 41% of its population, and more than half of its students, being from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Analysis from Demographic Changes and a report from Access HE equally suggest London to be witnessing ‘hyper-diversity’. Access HE goes on to argue that we can expect 75% of all students in London to be ethnic minorities by 2030. So why is it that statues inspired by periods such as the Windrush do not hold such a raised value as that of the Beatles statue in Liverpool? Did the extent of post-war labour which helped to rebuild the nation mean so little to those who venerate its name?
Either way, it is difficult to not read the involvement of historiography as a microaggression, particularly as many have taken to Twitter to express their deep hatred for the way that Windrush migrants and their families are being treated by Priti Patel and the government at large. One individual wrote, ‘Claimants need to speak out at the @ukhomeoffice, stop letting the fear they built up over the years, with their threats scare you now’. This comes after recent years of individuals from African descent sharing their harrowing experiences of prejudice which entails children of the Windrush generation having to prove their British nationality despite their living in the country legally for over 50 years. In 2018, the scandal provoked a short uproar as hundreds of individuals were threatened by the Home Office with deportation and in the case of at least 83 people who were completely devoid of legal rights, deportation became the reality.
Yet the fight for the preservation of historical roots continued in December last year amidst the owners of the Old Truman Brewery venue seeking to develop a five-storey office building and shopping mall in Brick Lane which saw the settlement of Bangladeshi communities in the 1950s and 60s. Due to the anticipated gentrification, it is feared that their unique history and the history of the location’s working-class labour will not be indelibly marked with its Bangladeshi footprint for long. The situation recalls the moment in 1970 when Bangladeshi residents lay their bodies down in defying the feared and brutal takeover of white supremacists which is also not relayed in schools as a significant historical moment or rather a historical moment at all.
However, one way to attempt to close the gap on a lack of shared historicism is through reading and informing. There are many published works whose influence is completely lost on society and one which sparked my interest in the Windrush generation was the novel, The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. It is a fictional tale that is heavily influenced by working-class black individuals and is therefore heavily credible. Gripping and comical, it allows one to really sympathise with the alienation felt by many. Part of it reads, ‘As if the boys laughing, but they only laughing because they fraid to cry’ and that is quite the set tone of the novel. It should be deemed incumbent that this sort of book is read at schools, allowing for more understanding and more of an appreciation for the nation’s past. Only then, can we move a step closer to attaining equality.
Featured Image Credit @andrewtneel on Unsplash