As a young person growing up in Jamaica, whenever a relative returned to the island from England, we could always distinguish between those who came from the so-called ‘Mother Country’ from those who came from America.
The former were always dressed to the nines with their stylish hats, carrying thick jackets or coats, and just looked ‘different’, yet their UK attire seemed dowdy in comparison to the hip and happening style of the US.
Just by taking a stroll through the plazas or a busy Half Way Tree, one could still tell the difference, as they motored about their business, walking faster than any of us at home. On top of that, we in Jamaica felt their way of thinking was fundamentally different in so many ways to ours; they would say that the weather was ‘too hot’ – of course it would be, they were in Jamaica!
There were other nuances that distinguished them. Even though they called themselves Jamaican, we never saw them as such since, as far as we were concerned, they were ‘farriners’. For the Windrush Generation however, who had gone earlier, stayed longer, raised families and made the mother country their home, they had endured what many of us in Jamaica never knew.
It was only being in the UK that I began to learn about those first Caribbean people who had ventured to assist the mother country when the powers that be made the call. The one-time colonial masters were on their knees after a devastating war, and were begging for help and, as with all good children, the colonies responded to her mother’s need. Now I have learnt that the reception the Windrush Generation experienced was not what they had ever envisaged.
It wasn’t only the grey clouds or smog-filled streets that deceived quite a few (as many were also returning after serving); they also faced the most racist and discriminatory of environments one could only imagine. NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS was the mantra for those who sought to find a foothold in the endearing mother country they had been so ingrained to believe in. And, if that were not enough, just a walk down any high street could result in being accosted, beaten up by skinheads – or even by the police. Of course, many of those misguided people were indoctrinated and educated into believing that Black people were no better than animals, due to centuries of misinformation, greed and having a so-called superiority complex.
It must be said that the physical, emotional and mental brutality and anguish the Windrush Generation faced was a testament to their own resilience, resourcefulness and belief as a Caribbean people, prepared to confront, fight and succeed against all the odds. In my own brief experience, I have tasted a little of what they went through, and those experiences nearly sent me off the rails.
Remember too, these barriers were not only encountered on the streets or when one sought to rent a home. These racist hurdles were and still are institutionalised: from housing to education to health to employment, ingrained into the psyche of the residents and establishments, many of which were and are historical and wealthy recipients – and previous supporters – of the African Holocaust.
But, unbeknownst to them, an underlying problem existed.
Children who had travelled on their parents’ passports, and those people who had come at the behest of the then British government, never to return to the mother country, would face a major issue. Prior to 1974 and as subjects of the Crown, they were entitled to permanent residency, but a legislation change in 2014 made them illegal.
So now, the Windrush Generation were finding themselves stateless, and the publicity around this occurrence has gained momentum and is now in the public domain.
Even though being stateless may presently be the case, the situation is not entirely hopeless and, aside from acquiring expensive legal advice, it is now imperative that grandparents, parents and children understand what their resident status is by trawling through any information they may have, including medical and school records, National Insurance Service paperwork, salary slips, passport and any other relevant paperwork. In addition, they should obtain advice from the nearest Citizens Advice Bureau, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and even the Home Office, who have established a helpline to address this problem: 0300 123 2241.
The struggle is real, and even though the Windrush Generation have been treated unfairly, discriminated against and neglected, there is light at the end of the tunnel.