Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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The Legacy of the Windrush generation

On the 22 June 1948 the ship Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks bringing over 500 people from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom. 73 years on Sociologist & Civil Servant, Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall (PhD) reflects on the impact and legacy of the Windrush generation on Britain.


Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of the SS Windrush arriving at Tilbury Docks.

When the England football manager, Gareth Southgate, and his team walked out on the pitch for their opening match of the current UEFA Euro 2020 tournament, they were already part of an ongoing controversy.  The manager had announced that his players would continue to “take the knee”.  This is the gesture that many sportsmen and sportswomen have been participating in, which is kneeling for a few seconds before the commencement of their game(s), in support of racial equality.  Started by Dr Martin Luther King and his colleagues during the civil right movement in the US and revived by Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, in 2016, it has now been fused with the BLM movement, since the murder of George Floyd.

As this event unfolded, I was reminded of the birth of the UK Black power movement of the 1960s when people such as Frank Critchlow, Darcus Howe, Olive Morris, Farrukh Dhondy and many others were forced to stand up to multiple injustices that they faced at the time (whether from the police or their neighbours), particularly when they were wrongfully charged with inciting the Mangrove “riots” and rightly acquitted by the courts.  Some of those people were among the group of immigrants who set sail on the SS Windrush in 1948, leaving their homes, their families and their loved ones, thinking that their journey would take them to the Motherland for a better life but they were not prepared for the challenges of injustice and inequality that awaited them.

Their activism of the 1960s and 1970s is widely seen as a template by their descendants, utilising some of those strategies to deal with similar issues that are still being faced some 60 years later.

As the awful events of the summer of 2020 unfolded, once again Black people took to the streets.  Like the Mangrove protestors, the descendants of those “Windrushers” – third, and in some instances, fourth generation – demonstrated that they possess the tenacity and determination to deal with new battles.  For example, the “Windrushers” dealt with hostility, direct discrimination and exclusion in all spheres of life, now we have to deal with subtle, indirect discrimination and micro-aggression, in the main.

Has nothing changed, then, I hear you ask, dear reader?  Of course, there have been significant changes. We have more anti-discrimination legislation than any country in Europe, we have Black history month, we have more Black people on TV, more MPs from diverse backgrounds in prominent roles in government, we have an Asian Mayor of London and a Windrush descendant as Mayor of Bristol.   The Windrush descendants are living a life that very few of those Caribbean passengers, who disembarked from the SS Windrush at Tilbury Docks on that June day in 1948 were able to.  But they laid the foundation for Black Britons today – from their service during WWII, the Bristol bus boycotts, signs reading “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”, protests and challenging unfairness through the courts. Nonetheless, there are still challenges to be met, three generations on.  When England’s Black footballers walked out on the pitch for their first game in the Euro 2020 tournament, supported by their team-mates and manager, they were facing one such challenge, asking that racial justice be further advanced.  They were booed, booed by their own supporters in the friendlies leading up to the start of the tournament but the boos grew less at this game.  So what did the team do?  They won the match 1-0, the only goal scored by a Windrush descendant.

So as the Windrush commemoration starts we ask the question, what is their legacy?  I say, they have bequeathed their descendants the right to be Black Britons and not perpetually be regarded as “immigrants” and perseverance (among other things), even when the tasks seem insurmountable and the goal distant.  We may get weary, and some days it may feel like we are on our own, but we keep going and the goal of racial justice is within reach. That is the legacy of the “Windrushers”.

King’s College London and the Challenge of Windrush

Professor Richard Drayton, a Caribbean-born professor of History at King’s commemorates the 72nd anniversary of Windrush Day, a day honoring the Windrush generation and their legacy.


Since 2018, Windrush Day has been the day in which we celebrate what Caribbean people have given to Britain. Such a celebration should be anchored in the memory of why we came. But it cannot just be retrospective. The anniversary of Windrush should challenge us each year to address the question of racial inequality, both within Britain, and in Britain’s relationship to the West Indies.

Our contributions to Britain began long before the arrival of the Empire Windrush to Tilbury docks in 1948. Here at King’s, for example, a significant part of the wealth on which King’s was founded in 1829 was based on enslaved and tortured people in the West Indies.  More generally, plantation slavery created a world in which modern Britain was rich, and its Caribbean colonies poor. It was in the context of this inequality of life chances that West Indians chose to leave their homes to come to London. It is against that background, too, that King’s relationship to the Caribbean was constituted.

There has never been any formal colour bar to study at King’s, nor indeed to recruitment to its staff. King’s indeed helped form Caribbean-born figures like Harold MoodySir Shridath Ramphal and Pearl Connor who have made fundamental contributions to British, Caribbean and international society. But from the nineteenth century to our own time, the consequence of slavery and colonialism were and are forms of economic inequality and unequal participation, which have meant that its personnel, culture and curricula have been overwhelmingly ‘white’. It is a significant step forward that in the moment of Black Lives Matters in 2020, that the college has begun to seriously confront the legacies of racism in its culture and practices.

One important possible new initiative might be for King’s to build and deepen its relationship to the Caribbean and its diasporas.  It is striking that King’s, which sits just a short walk from the climax of Caribbean-British life in Brixton, has had so little to do with it, so few Black London students and even fewer academics. And might more effort go into building partnerships with the University of the West Indies?  It was once the case that King’s and the then University College of the West Indies were sister members of the federal University of London. We should seek twenty-first century version of the kind of cooperation envisioned in that late colonial institution.

Windrush Day throws out a challenge to Britain in general and, specifically, to us at King’s. How do we remake ourselves, so that the descendants of the Windrush migrants can have an equal place in our life? And how do we address the forms of international inequality to which our domestic forms of racialised injustice were and are connected?

 

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