To mark Windrush Day, Hannah Gordon, a first-year English student at King`s College London, remembers the legacy of the Windrush generation and their contribution to Britain.
Waving hands and smiling faces spill out of the Empire Windrush as it approaches Tilbury Dock. A new generation of hopeful arrivals determined to make their mark in the ‘mother country’ and build a better life for them and their families back home. Unbeknownst to them, they would face racism, inequality and discrimination that would define British race relations for years to come.
The Windrush generation, as most are known, have become the face of the dynamic global hub, which is Britain. In 2018, the Windrush Scandal became headline news with numerous cases of wrongful detentions and deportations of these migratory pioneers, who were invited by the British government to live and work. This scandal prompted widespread condemnation but more importantly, a conscious drive to honour the contributions of the Windrush generation. Subsequently, every year on the 22nd of June we celebrate Windrush Day commemorating their indelible sacrifice to Britain.
Both my grandparents were part of the Windrush generation. My grandmother was a night shift nurse in the NHS for 40 years and lived in Ladbroke Grove during the Notting Hill riots. My grandfather was an auto- electrician and then a machine operator- spanning 30 years. So, as we approach Windrush Day, what better time to learn more about the effort, resilience and duty of this generation who helped mould Britain into the cultural powerhouse it is today?
Contributions to the Public Sector
The NHS is a cultural institution to Britain. It embodies ideas of equality and accessible rights to all – regardless of circumstance. No wonder it took a staring position at London`s 2012 opening ceremony- think Britain think NHS. Today, 20 % of the NHS’ workforce is from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds and it is the most diverse workforce in the whole of Europe. Caribbean nurses from the Windrush Generation played a massive part in building the NHS helping to fill the labour shortage. Despite experiencing racism and discrimination, they pursued in their roles demonstrating dedication to their job, family, and Britain.
Many of the Windrush generation also worked in Transport for London. Transport for London actively recruited in the Caribbean and by 1956 they had enrolled dozens of workers – both men and women. Around 20% of TFL workers are still from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds today. This transport network, iconic to London, still bears the Windrush imprint.
Contributions to Music
Music has been long associated with the Windrush generation. From the sound systems, which became a vocal point for black youth seeking identity in hostile Britain, to genres like Reggae, Dub and Ska. Dub, which remixed records, became the premise for modern day genres like drum and bass as well as house music.
Contributions to Literature
As the conversation surrounding race in fields of education and literature becomes more prominent. Writers like Zadie Smith, Malorie Blackman, Sam Selvon and Benjamin Zephaniah are more widely recognised. Walk into waterstones and their books are in some of the most noticeable displays. The influx of diverse literature was a massive contribution of the Windrush generation. Writers like Sam Selvon helped popularise the creole voice in writing and his subversive style is often adopted by ‘contemporary figures like Zadie Smith’. Other mobilising movements, like the Caribbean Arts Movement and the Caribbean Voices helped attract an audience to these new styles of writing.
I have only scratched the surface of the Windrush Generation’s achievements. There are so many more exciting stories and experiences to share. We must continue to read, educate, and honour the debt they paid for this country as Britain`s builders.
- Serrant, Laura. (2020) You called, and we came: Remembering Nurses of the Windrush Generation. Available from https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/the-windrush/called-came-remembering-nurses-windrush-generation/
- Brown, Staynton. (2018) London Underground`s Windrush generation. Available from https://www.railstaff.co.uk/2018/07/10/london-undergrounds-windrush-generation/
- Marre, Jeremy. (2011) Reggae Britannia [Interview] (11 th February 2011). Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQXyK1uxTps&t=8s
- Llyod, E. (2018) Caribbean Arts Movement (1966-1972). Available from https://www.bl.uk/windrush/articles/caribbean-artists-movement-1966-1972
- Newton, D. (2008) Calling the West Indies: the BBC World Service and Caribbean. Available from https://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/diasporas/conference/pdf/calling_the_west_indies.pdf
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