The Windrush generation: what can we learn from their treatment compared to migrants today?

In the summer of 1948 in Essex, a ship passed through the rough waters lapping at its bow, heading to the UK faced with massive scepticism and fear from the media, as well as politicians who dispersed this feeling to the general public. There were even calls to even turn the ship back as it docked, ready to unload its passengers to a nation they had hoped could provide them a new safe home.

Many were promised and spoke of the British Isles as having streets of gold – an assumption shown by the gleaming faces of passengers as they neared the shores that they had once associated with scenes of unparalleled splendour and beauty. The UK had long been presented to those from Commonwealth nations as a worthy cause to fight for and a land steeped in beauty and history. Still, when they landed upon gritty shores covered with grey cloudy skies, crisp air, and grubby concrete streets, it must have really revealed, just by looking, how viscerally underwhelming it was here. As well as this, the environment was the worst yet to come, and presented itself as some sense of pathetic fallacy for the experiences of migrants in the face of native reactions and the press, as well as the looming arms of the state that would do everything they could to make these migrants’ lives as difficult to live as possible.

Migrants are still treated as if they are dispensable, even as their importance economically is a felt one 75 years after Windrush

In some ways, however, Windrush, in its ability to have 802 peoples from the Caribbean become somewhat accepted among a very closed-off nation, was revolutionary in this effort and provided a platform for a new way forward. It ultimately set the precedent for 500,000 who would come later on between the date of the Windrush ships docking until 1971, a massive number of people from Commonwealth nations from all various corners of the globe. Furthermore, it shook the idea that people from the Commonwealth who were seen as fit to fight in the war were not necessarily people to work or live alongside with, putting this notion to rest but with incremental progress. And in the present we face still greater issues with ministers, excited by bills which suggest dropping refugees to the governmentally assured safe country of Rwanda. It just shows that while progress has been drawn to ensure equal opportunities for migrants, they are still treated as if they are dispensable, even as their importance economically is a felt one 75 years after Windrush. Integration into the nation and migrants’ importance economically was felt as necessary to the success of nationhood, which now led to the need to draft legislation that in some way attempted to protect them, such as the Race Relation Act in 1965. The Immigration Act in 1971 was the first that provided protection specifically for those of the Windrush generation arriving before 1973.

Protection legally for Windrush immigrants was, however, revoked in 2014, which would have allowed easier deportation to be acted against them, removing this sense of security and safety from this generation of migrants. Moreover, in 2018, 164 were founded to be incorrectly deported in Britain.

This should’ve been something very fleshed out in my earlier education

In regards to teaching this subject and how we remember Windrush in generations removed from when it happened, I remember learning briefly about Windrush during college. It was hardly a fleshed-out exploration of a topic that was made tricky by omission of many key details, and this subject, in particular, is a massive omission in the British education system generally. It feels as if this should’ve been something very fleshed out in my earlier education. It’s something that is hardly spoken about. Despite being an enormous, if embarrassing, part of the history of this country, with the first massive televised and talked about, this wave of immigration to the UK helped to kickstart the economy, particularly in the industries concerned with National Rail and the NHS, which were hurt with a lack of workers and funding in the post-war period and faced massive economic downturn.

This necessary immigration, however, was not without significant controversy. And controversy that should be examined and realised by students. Migrants, for example, received harassment and disgruntlement from citizens who felt these migrants should respect their standing in the nation the citizens saw as belonging to them. This subject being taught, though, can allow children to be more accepting of those from other nations and reduce prejudice that is felt towards immigrants. Though this is also perpetuated through media, with a rigorous education curriculum these attitudes can be fought off with logical thinking and examining of historical missteps.

Often both media and politicians influence such opinions within the population. One politician staunchly against the Windrush movement was MP Enoch Powell, as shown by his inflammatory language displayed in his infamous Rivers of Blood speech proclaiming migrants needed to be sent home and the borders permanently shut. He said that soon “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”, and he was lauded for such reactionary claims intent on sparking fear among a British public that was already insecure about immigrants coming to the UK. There were, of course, the infamous signs with the crass words plastered on white backgrounds in the post-war era arguing for no more “West Indians”. Inscribed on many public places, these fostered this sense of immovable and irreplaceable self-imposed segregation.

It’s the wrong culprit so many are looking with searching eyes to find

Policies deporting those of the Windrush generation are nothing more than appeals to reactionary calls to scapegoat immigrants for structures leading to unemployment and lower quality of life through new methods of privatisation and corporatism that further saw the need for immigrants. Conservatives are doing much the same now, bowing to feelings that were set and continued throughout the Windrush era up until now. Although immigrants have been able to add culture and lift the economy, they are still viewed with scepticism. And the themes in the verbal adage ricocheted against them in some way, attempting to rock their credibility as ordinary people of different backgrounds or religions.

Immigrants have added so much to British culture now, and they are not the burden they are made out to be. Without immigrants, the UK would not have nearly been able to rebound as it did with their assistance.

Immigrants are often dehumanised when they have so much more in common with the average person who wants to make something of themselves, provide for a family, and be in a safe place. In some ways, certain groups are scapegoated as the cause of blame for mass tragedies, such as the notion that the great financial crisis was the onset of a need for a mass exodus of migrants from the UK and immigration too was a cause for the UK leaving the EU. It’s clear such radical thinking is supported by disturbances to the living standards of individuals who should instead be pointing the finger at both the government in charge of implementing austerity, as wages stagnate, to reduce inflation while inflation in fact soars, as well as to the economic structure that pulls the strings and leads to the booms and massive busts. Therefore it’s to the wrong culprit so many are looking with searching eyes to find.


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