Last week I had the privilege to go to Windrush – Movement of the People.
It was produced to celebrate the 70th anniversary of SS Empire Windrush arriving which marked the start of Caribbean migration and the growth of multiculturalism in Great Britain. It is particularly poignant as it is being performed against a background of those ‘Windrush immigrants’ facing a challenge to their status as British citizens.
I happened to see the production in the week that was also the anniversary of the racist, hateful murder of Stephen Lawrence and found myself overwhelmed with emotion, tears pouring down my face. I realised I had been studiously avoiding thinking or engaging in the Windrush Home Office fiasco and all the various media pieces on the legacy created by Stephen’s death.
The part of the performance that particularly affected me was the depiction of the boat journey itself accompanied by the spoken words:
You called, and we came
You called, and we came
Remember you called.
Upon hearing this, I realised that many deep-seated, well-buried fears had been revived… fears that I don’t belong, that one day I might also be ‘sent back’.
I am British Born. I hold a British Passport. I have never lived anywhere else. Both my parents are immigrants. Technically, my Dad is probably one of the “Windrush people”, having come here from Trinidad in the 60’s to train as a mental health nurse. So these fears are not unfounded. My youth gave me many indicators that I didn’t belong, from friends who wouldn’t invite me over because their parents didn’t like ‘blacks’, to being called a “Paki” in the street, the soundtrack of family telling me to work hard as I would never be accepted, to the Tebbit test (which, for the record, I fail. I’m a straight out West Indies fan).
In recent years, those childhood fears have come back around with renewed force. While I don’t practice a faith, my mum is a Muslim. Yet in an increasingly Islamophobic world, who knows when being half Muslim could become a part of an identity that defines me and affects me or my family’s safety – history shows us that these are very real possibilities.
Sitting in the theatre, all of that hit me. My mum and dad, what might their parallel paths have been? Why did they choose to come to the UK? Why did they choose to endure the ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ years?
It’s 2017 and people just like my parents are facing the possibility of being “sent back”. As I look back through my life and think about my family – married to a white man and our mixed-race children – I keep asking myself, when will it end? When will the fear of the difference of my heritage and the colour of my skin stop destabilising my life? I fear the answer is never.
It’s all these thoughts, feelings, issues that makes education and efforts to tackle race and religious hatred ever more important. I am so glad that King’s stepped up to participate in the latest Office for Students efforts and that we have been awarded a £50,000 grant to expand our current work on the It Stops Here campaign to look at religious-based hate crime. This gives us an opportunity to expand our established work around prevention and responses to bullying and harassment to better recognize the needs of religious communities within King’s, particularly focusing on incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.