British black lives matter

Patrick Vernon on learning the lessons from the Windrush scandal as part of the history of Black struggle in Britain

In April 2018, I launched the Windrush Amnesty petition which over 180,000 people signed and caught media attention contributing to lobbying and campaigning by the migrant sector, grass roots organisations, politicians, faith leaders, trade unionists, celebrities, politicians and the general public. In the face of the hostile immigration environment it helped to get justice for the children of the Windrush Generation and others from the Commonwealth to be recognised as British.

Six months on there has been some progress, with a task force trying to fast-track citizenship claims; a ‘lessons learnt’ review; two consultations on a Windrush compensation scheme; numerous apologies and admissions from the Prime Minster and other Government ministers, and  the adoption of a national Windrush Day with funding. However the critical issue around the scandal, based on  a government  commitment to sort out this mess, is that ministers are planning to introduce a cap on all compensation claims and will not consider any interim or hardship fund. That is why I have launched a new petition that the victims of the Windrush Scandal should have a fair and proper compensation scheme.

One of the biggest ironies of the scandal is that the public have learned more about Empire, Windrush and the Windrush Generation during April 2018 than in the previous 50 years. In 2018, as part of the 70th anniversary, we as a nation have failed in creating a substantive recognition of the contribution of the Windrush Generation, and other migrant communities who see themselves as British, to British society.

The Windrush Scandal is another episode in Britain’s history of racism. People forget the climate this comes in: in the 1940s, black people were banned from buying or renting houses, paid far less than their white co-workers and discriminated against and bullied in the workplace, as well as harassed by the police. We must remember Learie Constantine taking Imperial Hotel to court in Central London for discrimination during the height of WW2. This ‘colour bar’ was the catalyst for riots in Notting Hill and Nottingham in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, Paul Stephenson organised a boycott to force the Bristol bus company to stop discriminating against black people and Asquith Xavier took British Rail to court after being refused a job at Euston Station. That is why, since 1965, we have had a series of laws and government bodies tackling structural racism and discrimination due to the campaigning efforts of the Windrush generation.

By the 1970s, black men were regularly stopped and searched, despite not being suspected of any crime, simply because of their race under “sus” laws; the toxic legacy of this continues today. In the 1980s we had riots in Brixton, Tottenham, Bristol and Toxteth, where young black people rebelled against the police, discrimination and mass unemployment. The 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence led to major changes in race relations law.

In June this year the government announced that Windrush Day will be a national day of public recognition of the Windrush Generation and their descendants from June 2019. We must recognise this is a positive step – even though many may see it as political cover or sop by Theresa May. What is disappointing is that the Government did not consider the wider recognition of all migrants who have made Britain ‘Great’ – especially after WW2 – which makes Windrush Day potentially less inclusive.

Windrush Day exists in the current context of a hostile immigration environment and the rights of the children of the Windrush Generation have still not been fully resolved. For Windrush Day to be successful and valued we still need to campaign and change Government policy on immigration and citizenship and celebrate all migration, especially as we move towards Brexit.

It is very clear that in 2018 we are not in a post-racial Britain, with the Windrush Scandal, hate crime against migrants and LGBT+ community, over-representation of Black people in the mental health system, and rising stop and search against Black people. It is even more critical that we advance and promote the importance of Black British history and its connection to world history both past and present.


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