Windrush shows us how hope can win over hate

Rosie Carter - 22 06 18

June 22nd marks 70 years since the MV Empire Windrush docked. This date is now to be commemorated as Windrush day, a day to honour the contribution of those who arrived between 1948 and 1971, to celebrate Britain’s diverse history, as well as our future.

The ship, once a vehicle serving the Nazi party in pre-war Germany, arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex, bringing 500 people from the Caribbean to make their home in the UK. Windrush became a powerful symbol of multicultural Britain, not just of the Caribbean migrants arriving on the ship, but of everyone who came to the UK from the Empire, who became British subjects, contributed to the very formation of the nation’s welfare state, and made Britain the place it is today.

The Windrush generation struggled against adversity, though the era of ‘No dogs, blacks or Irish’, and Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. Despite playing a pivotal role in rebuilding and transforming post-war Britain, and supporting key services like the NHS, many struggled to open bank accounts or get mortgages, and faced racism at work and on the street. The Windrush generation fought hard against this, to create a new concept of what it means to be British.

While we have progressed as a country, there is a long way to go until Britain is an inclusive place for everyone. Racism and discrimination still hold Black and minority ethnic groups back from opportunities across society.

Moreover, Windrush has been making the headlines for the last couple of months for quite different reasons. Many of the Windrush generation and their children, many of whom had thought they were British citizens, have had their immigration status disputed. Around 5,000 people are thought to have reported their case to the Home Office, though there are estimates that 50,000 people may be affected.

The unlawful detainment, deportation and denial of access to housing and public services for the Windrush generation under the hostile environment policy has outraged the nation. Even the Daily Mail, notorious for its anti-immigrant screeds, has backed their cause.

In this context, some have claimed that Windrush day is being used as a ‘fig leaf’ to cover up the government’s less than excellent record on race relations, and will not go far to appease those who have had their lives torn apart by the scandal.

But celebrating the Windrush generation as an essential part of our history is important.

Recent polling for HOPE not hate revealed a gulf between perceptions and realities of multiculturalism and diversity in modern Britain. We found widespread pessimism about community and race relations. 41% of people told us that Britain’s multicultural society isn’t working and different communities generally live separate lives. While 43% of our poll felt that Britain is a successful multicultural society, this group is heavily concentrated among highly educated people, Remain voters and Liberal Democrat supporters.

43% of respondents think that relationships between different communities within the UK will get worse over the next few years, with just 14% believing things will get better. Even more worryingly, many feel that these tensions will lead to violence. A shocking 40% of people felt that Enoch Powell’s dire predictions of social breakdown and violence in his Rivers of Blood speech proved accurate, while only 41% believe he was wrong.

This pessimism sits at odds with reality. Yes, integration has been an uneven success, but we are a far more cohesive society than our polling would suggest. Rivers of blood has not come true, and we are on the whole, a respectful, tolerant, and cordial society. The public outrage at the Windrush scandal, which we found even amongst people with the most hostile attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism, tells us that being British is about more than where you or your parents were born.

In the face of such profound pessimism, we need to highlight our success and celebrate the hope in modern Britain. Positive action should not be tokenistic, and we should not need to stop fighting ongoing injustice. Windrush day gives us an opportunity to celebrate diverse Britain as it really is, and to use hope to challenge the more dominant narrative that ‘multiculturalism has failed’.

We have a long way to go until all people are equal in society. But the legacy of the Windrush generation shows how at odds negative perceptions of multiculturalism are with our reality. Windrush shows us how hope can win over hate.


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