Once upon a time, a ship crossed the sea to bring the avant-garde of people full of hopes from the West Indies to a land that needed much of it. WWII had only ended a few years before, and the UK needed rebuilding from the ground up. As often with unsung heroes, their achievements were too often rewarded with spitefulness and segregation. As often with unsung heroes, they responded with hard work, a smile and a contagious positive vibe.
As Jeremy Corbyn twitted on this 22nd of June 2018, “The first members of the Windrush Generation arrived 70 years ago on that day at Tilbury Docks”. By providing a hard-working workforce they also provided invaluable services and helped to build the country they decided to make theirs. In addition, they played a key role in enabling the creation of institutions that are indispensable nowadays, such as the NHS.
Despite their achievements, they had to endure discrimination and even some form of segregation at the time. The creation and success of the Notting Hill carnival however shows how they didn’t respond in kind. It also shows how bringing communities together is always the best way to build bridges between people.
Unfortunately, this 70th year since the Windrush Empire landed, is also the year we discovered how fast a country can forget, or at the very least, how fast its elected leaders can forget. The “hostile environment” pushed by the then Home Secretary and current Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party, is evidence, if needed, that there is still much work to do.
The life chances of people with a BAME background is rarely a source of envy. There is plenty of evidence going from the unconscious biases that contributes to an under-representation in political, business and media spheres of influence, to “over-representation” in anything to do with negative discrimination such as jail sentencing, ill-judged stop and search, and so much more.
Instead of seeing immigrants as the positive contributors to society that they are, they are too often portrayed as people taking advantage of the system to the detriment of the “locals”. Instead of seeing their children as citizens of the country by grew up in by birth, they are too often treated just as badly as immigrant populations.
Thus, being Black, and therefore more readily classed as immigrants, the Windrush Generation and their children became victims of an “hostile environment” that shouldn’t have been acceptable in the first place. As we look in the future, it is important for Labour to change the narrative around immigration and to the everyone living in the UK how positive it is.
Just like we are celebrating the 70th year of the landing of the Windrush Empire by remembering the stories of those who travelled through space and time to bring us closer together. Let’s celebrate immigration and the positive impact and human resources it brings to the UK through the stories of the people who came and how much they have contributed.
I therefore invite any Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic person to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and get in touch so we can record their stories, that of their parents, that of their great grandparents, that of their great great-grand parents or anyone else who wishes to share how they helped shape the UK into this great country where we all live.
Even if you don’t feel like sharing your stories, let’s support Labour to building a more tolerant society for all of us. Let’s meet and discuss how we can influence the Labour Party, and when it wins the next general election, influence the whole country. Let’s create ways for more of us to become more active members, Councillors and Members of Parliament.
In short, while it is important to remember the stories of the immigrants and their children that built our present, it is also time to write the stories of their descendants and the next waves of immigrants who will help to build our future.
Start by joining the conversation on our Twitter page, our BAME Facebook group for members of the Labour Party, and our BAME page for non-members. The Facebook page aims to become a hub for all that is BAME related in Reading and open to all ethnicities, so share it wide and far, share your thoughts, link your own groups, promote your events and services, in short, own it.