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Fri, 4 December 2020

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This year's Windrush celebrations must be a moment of deep national reflection

This year's Windrush celebrations must be a moment of deep national reflection

We must engage communities across the country in learning about their own history, even when it is painful, says Helen Hayes MP | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

It is easy for celebration of the Windrush generation to become sentimental. Yet, that is to ignore the hardship and racism they suffered.

In 2018, to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury, 22 June was designated Windrush Day, an annual day of celebration of the enduring contribution of a remarkable generation to the UK following a campaign led by Patrick Vernon. 

This week sees the third annual national celebration.

I am proud to represent a constituency with one of the strongest connections to the Windrush. 

Around 200 of the original  Windrush passengers made their way from Tilbury to Clapham, and from Clapham to the Labour Exchange on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton in my constituency where they found work with London Transport, in the construction industry, and at King’s College Hospital at the other end of Coldharbour Lane.

Here they settled and became a community whose identity became inextricably linked with the identity of the Brixton of today.

It is easy for celebration of the Windrush generation to become sentimental, commemorating the positive story of people who came at the invitation of the British government and helped rebuild a country decimated by the Second World War, and establish the NHS. 

Yet, that is to ignore the hardship and racism they suffered – the signs in homes to rent which read ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ and the humiliation of bus conductors whose passengers would leave their fares on their seat to avoid contact.

This Windrush Day must be both a celebration of the contribution of the Windrush generation to our communities, culture, economy and public services in the UK and a moment of deep national reflection. 

The first official Windrush Day took place against the raw open wounds of the Windrush Scandal. 

The Home Secretary had resigned, and the government had promised to right the wrongs that so many had suffered. 

Two years on, and only 60 Windrush citizens have received compensation from a government scheme which is complex, hard to access and far too slow to deliver.

The government has yet to respond formally to the recommendations of Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned review of the Windrush scandal, or the Lammy Review on over-representation of black men in the criminal justice system, still less to begin to implement them.  And those same Windrush citizens and their descendants have died from coronavirus in disproportionate numbers.

Earlier this month thousands took to the streets in a heart-cry for justice and reform in response to the horrific death of George Floyd in the USA, because his death resonated so powerfully with their own experience here in the UK.

This Windrush Day must be both a celebration of the contribution of the Windrush generation to our communities, culture, economy and public services in the UK and a moment of deep national reflection. 

We must reflect on how, more than 70 years since those first Windrush citizens began to work in our NHS, BAME health workers have died in disproportionate numbers as they administered treatment and care during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The government must end the hostile environment and reform the history curriculum so that every child learns about British history as a story of migration and is taught about the UK’s shameful role in the transatlantic slave trade. 

We must engage communities across the country in learning about their own history, even when it is painful, and find ways to ensure that our town squares and public spaces reflect the diversity of our communities, including moving statues which glorify shameful periods of our history from public spaces to museums where they can be contextualised as artefacts from the past.

The government must deliver a functioning and effective compensation scheme for victims of the Windrush scandal and commit to implement the recommendations from Wendy Williams and David Lammy. 

We must see meaningful action to protect BAME frontline workers from coronavirus and address the underlying health inequalities which left them at risk in the first place. 

The government must end the hostile environment and reform the history curriculum so that every child learns about British history as a story of migration and is taught about the UK’s shameful role in the transatlantic slave trade. 

Windrush Day is a national celebration, but also a day for the redoubling of our efforts to create a society free from racism and discrimination where everyone’s contribution is fully recognised

 

Helen Hayes is Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood and shadow minister for the cabinet office.

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