In the documentation of #clapforourcarers, the British media does what Britain often does best, neglect its diversity whilst simultaneously boasting about diversity. You cannot tell the history of the NHS without talking about the diversity of ethnic backgrounds that make up the workforce. This history is also a story about race and society, incorporating the lives of people from around the world.
After the War, the UK government put out a call to its empire for workers, not thinking that all these Black and brown people from the Caribbean, and Asian and African continents would come, not the White people from English speaking countries such as New Zealand. The NHS would have been stillborn had it not been for Black nurses in the beginning that saved it from collapse. Yet, today, with Coronavirus, the whitewashing of the NHS continues in the media’s representation of the workforce. You cannot go to a hospital without running into the people of colour that keep it afloat.
The late Jamaican philosopher Stuart Hall said “We are here because you were there” and it is in part because of Britain’s colonial project that we have migrants from places all over the world. For international viewers looking in, watching British press on Coronavirus, they are being lead down this path of dominant whiteness. From the people being interviewed to how the NHS is being represented in the media. As Britons, we know the NHS workforce is culturally diverse. Yet, any viewers without knowledge of the NHS will believe that it is as White as it is being portrayed to be.
Africans, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese and many people of colour make up a good percentage of carers in Britain today. The same can be said for students on health-related courses at our universities including nursing, social work and social care. Like Gina Yashere says, it looks like Britain is erasing this diversity from its history. When we look back on this in 20 years time, history will show it to be whitewashed, as many significant events in British history were before it; from the world wars to Renaissance Britain to the days of Roman rule. But wasn’t it a legion of African Romans (or Moors) that stood watch on Hadrian’s Wall for nearly 350 years?
As I sit at home now in lockdown, we must talk about the nuances of Coronavirus under inequality. Will people of colour be stopped at a disproportionate rate to White people under new police powers? Will they be detained at such a rate? This is a global disease but those receiving tests seem to come from a certain class. We have a government that advocated for the genocide (herd immunity) of its ageing population. We also have a government that put the whims of billionaires over all. Its contempt for the working class has not gone unnoticed. When this is all over, the public and parliament needs to hold the prime minister’s government to account.
Gina Yashere mocks the people saying it shouldn’t be about race, and she’s absolutely right to do that. Race is a social construct but it’s a social construct of which the global majority have been othered. However, you cannot talk about British healthcare without talking about race. From institutional racism within healthcare to the diversity of the workforce. It comes from the comfort of privilege to live your life not having talk about race in any meaningful way. And life isn’t binary. One size doesn’t fit all.
We are better than this, we need to #stopthewhitewash; and if race doesn’t matter (as they say), why is the British media representing the National Health Service in its own image?
My favourite TV show - my favourite television series at the moment (since 2016) is The Hollow Crown, the BBC's adaptation of Shakespeare's history plays. It's an unparalleled television experience that makes Game of Thrones look like a garden party. My favourite place to go - I spend most Saturdays at the cinema, enjoying the art of storytelling. Film to me is what life is about. The person that doesn't engage in stories only lives one life. The person that reads, watches, writes, lives many. My favourite city - I don't feel that I'm at all that well-travelled and compared to my academic friends, I feel like I've lived in a bubble. From the few places I have been, I don't think I can choose just one. Mississauga, Canada (2018) was marvellous. I also grew up visiting my paternal family in Birmingham. I love Birmingham, it's like London without all the faffing about. My favourite thing to do in my free time - I live for films. I love watching old films, specifically films released pre-1970 where many were filmed in monochrome. I spend a lot of time at the cinema, even going to special event screenings of old films. My favourite athlete/sports personality - again, I'm an old soul. I don't think I can choose just one, so I would have to go for the iconic West Indies cricket team of 1980/81 that left Botham's England in the dirt. WI 5 - ENG 0. My favourite actor - Despite him doing some absolute oddballs these last few years, Robert DeNiro is still my favourite actor, being in some of the best films ever made, incl. The Godfather Part II, Once Upon a Time in America, Heat, Goodfellas and more. My favourite author - until recently my favourite author was Kathryn Stockett (The Help). However, I've come to reflect on the problematicness of this book. I think I would have to choose the late Andrea Levy who was voice to a whole generation of Black British Caribbeans through books like Small Island and Every Light in the House Burnin'. Truly a marvel who gave a voice to the Black British working-class and an inspiration to me as well. My favourite drink - It's been called an old man's drink but I'm an absolute sucker for a pint of IPA. If we were to go to the supermarket, I would go for Goose or Greene King. I guess it shows I have been spending too much time with my grandfather! My favourite food - curry goat, rice and peas with mac n cheese. Nothing else comes remotely close. It's the dish I grew up with. My favourite place to eat - Grandma's House. See above^^^ I like people who - who don't accept things at face value. Challenge themselves and their establishment. Ask the difficult questions and don't roll over. Many of my friends are activists and it shows, either through their writing as artists or taking it to the streets at anti-Brexit protests (for example). I don’t like it when people - claim to be authorities on things they know nothing about. Stop stroking your ego and step back. It's okay to say "I don't know enough about this to comment." I would actually think more of people if they did this. My favourite book - one of my favourite reads in the last few years is Carrie Pilby by Canadian novelist Caren Lissner. A charming young adult fiction story about a young woman trying to find her way in a world that doesn't relate to her. My favourite book character - I don't read enough fiction to answer this question genuinely. Recently, I'm inclined to go with Jaime Lannister from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire the series of books that went on to "loosely inspire" the American HBO television series Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019). My favourite film - Midnight in Paris, about an American writer stuck in what's called "Golden Age Thinking", the idea that a different time period is better than one you are living - and I don't think there's a person living that hasn't had this thought. However, when I do look to history, I think this is the best time to be people of colour; a woman; lesbian, gay, bi or trans; less able-bodied; the further back in history you look, the worse it looks for people who are not able-bodied White, straight men. My favourite poem - In recent years, I found Button Poetry where I was introduced to Canadian poet Sabrina Benaim. Her poem 'Explaining Depression to My Mother: A Conversation' struck a chord and continues to strike a chord to this day. My favourite artist/band - Bob Marley. If he had lived he would have been Prime Minister of Jamaica. Writer, artist, poet political activist, revolutionary. Legend. If he lived today, he would be standing alongside Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in solidarity. And as we fight COVID-19, I'm sure he'd have something to say! Every song is mega, and Natty Dread (1974) is one of the best albums ever made. My favourite song - London Bridge (1980) by The Mighty Sparrow is certainly one of my favourite. Written in time of of unrest in England, this is a commentary on English history and society. What's more, this is calypso music from my maternal grandparents' country, Grenada. Caribbean music is battlefield music and The Mighty Sparrow is one of our countrymen sticking it to our former-colonial masters in a way that's jovial and lively. My favourite art - I'm partial to Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers. Its stillness reminds me the world isn't all fast-paced and sometimes we have to take a moment to reflect. My favourite person from history - one of my favourite historical figures is Black mixed-race footballer-turned-soldier Walter Tull. It is safe to say I would not be where I am had it not been for Walter Tull. He is a testament to what can be achieved, irrespective of hostile environments. Moreover, not only is he a testament to all men but is a role model to Black men in 2020. Not only was he one of the first Black footballers in England, he was the first Black officer in the British Army at a time when it was illegal for "men of non-European descent" to lead White men. Walter is part of Black history, Northampton history, but above of all, my history and I am extremely proud of that.
My favourite TV show - I am not really one for television, but I recently stumbled upon a 1960's series, called The Human Jungle, lots of criminological and psychological insight, which I adore. I also absolutely loved Gentleman Jack (broadcast on BBC1 last summer) My favourite place to go - Wherever I go the first thing I look for are art galleries, so I would have to say Tate Modern. Always something new and thought provoking, alongside the familiar and oft visited treasures My favourite city - I love cities and my favourite, above all others, is the place I was born, London. The vibrancy, the people, the places, the atmosphere....need I say more? My favourite thing to do in my free time - Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read...... My favourite athlete/sports personality - This is tricky, sport isn't really my thing. However, I do have a secret penchant for boxing, which isn't brilliant for someone who identifies as pacifist, so I'll focus on feminism and pick Nicola Adams My favourite actor - (Getting easier) Dirk Bogarde My favourite author - (Too easy) Agatha Christie My favourite drink - Day or night? If the former, tea.... My favourite food - Chocolate, always My favourite place to eat - So many to choose from, but provided I am surrounded by people I love, with good food and drink, I'm happy I like people who - read! I don’t like it when people - claim to be gender/colour blind....sorry mate, check your privilege My favourite book - (oooh very, very tricky) Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own primarily because of the profound effect it had and continues to have on my understanding My favourite book character - (Easy, peasy) Hercule Poirot My favourite film - (Despite my inner feminist screaming nooooooooo) The original Alfie with its wonderful swinging sixties' vibe My favourite poem - (Decisions, decisions, so many wonderful poems to choose from) I'll plump for Hollie McNish's Mathematics My favourite artist/band - The Beatles My favourite song - (Given the previous answer) it has to be Dear Prudence My favourite art - I love art, but hands down Picasso's Guernica is my favourite piece. To stand in front of that huge painting and consider the horror of war is profound My favourite person from history - The pacifist, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, a beautiful example of the necessity to be confident in your own ethics and principles
So why the love of clocks, well I’m sure some of it has to do with my propensity to logic. Old clocks are mechanical, none of this new fangled electronic circuitry and consequently it is possible to see how they operate. When a clock doesn’t work, there is always some logical reason why this is so, and a logical approach needed to fix it.
This then gives me the opportunity to investigate, explore the mechanics of the clock, work out how it ought to operate and set about repairing it. In doing so I am often handling a mechanism that is over a hundred years old, in the case of my current project, nearly three hundred years old.
There is a sense of wonderment in handling all the parts. Some appear quite rudimentary and yet other parts such as the cogs are precision pieces. Many of the parts are made by hand but clearly some are made by machines albeit fairly crude ones. How the makers managed the precision required to ensure that cogs mesh freely baffles me. What is clear though is that the makers of the clocks were skilled artisans and possessed skills that I dare say have all but been lost over the years.
Messing around with clocks (I can’t say I do more than that) also allows me to delve into history. The clock I’m currently tinkering with only has an hour hand, no minute or second hand. Whilst the hours and half hours are clearly marked on the dial, where you would normally expect to see minutes, the hours are simply divided up into quarters. A bit of social history, people didn’t have a need to know minutes, they were predominantly only concerned with the hour.
My pride and joy, a grandfather clock, dates to the 1830s. When I took it apart I found several dates and a name scratched into the back of the face plate. The dates related to when it had been serviced and by whom. I was servicing a clock that had been handled by someone over a hundred and fifty years previously. I bet they weren’t standing in a nice warm house drinking a hot cup of coffee contemplating how to service the clock. We take so much for granted and I guess the clocks allow me to reflect on what it was like when they were made and how lucky we are now. Although I do also wonder whether simple notions such as not having the need to concern ourselves with every minute might not be better for the soul.
When my grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country between 1958 and 1961, they came here under the Nationality Act (1948) as British citizens. It’s by some miracle that my grandparents were not sucked into the Windrush Scandal, members of a generation that saved Britain by filling in its labour shortages after the War. However, we cannot measure immigration simply in gross domestic product [GDP]. There is a human case to be made for immigration, including the Windrush Generation, who have contributed more to this country than just labour, including to the social history too. That the Windrush Scandal is as much a slight on the Windrush (1948 – 1973) as it is to their descendants, including Black British people that see themselves as much British as they are West Indian.
These descendants of slaves were now being sent back to the places their ancestors toiled, whom the British kidnapped from the African continent against their will. That my ancestors came to be in the Caribbean at the end of a sword.
In 2018, MP David Lammy addressed the House on what became known as the Windrush Scandal; on why and how Black British citizens, members of this Windrush Generation were being detained and deported, denied their pensions, healthcare and losing their jobs – many of whom had been in this country since they were young children. Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned depicts issues that go way beyond the Scandal.
In the Home Office, Lessons Learned shows a department not fit for purpose after institutional failures within government as well as a lack of understanding of Britain’s colonial history. Like in higher education, it showed an ignorance towards race issues that run parallel to the definition of institutional racism in The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1999).
After reading the report (somewhat), it feels that this is another tickbox exercise. Whilst the report does talk about the victims of institutional violence at the hands of government, it leads me to believe that the recommendations will remain as such, recommendations. That whilst students are challenging higher education to decolonise, the same must be done for government. The sincerity of Priti Patel’s apology is flimsy at best and most of the Windrush victims have still yet to be compensated properly.
People have died at the hands of the Conservative government’s hostile environment and this document comes at a time where Britain is in the thick of the worst health pandemic in a generation. To release this now when everyone is preoccupied is a testament to how the government feels about the victims. The fact that this document cannot be debated in parliament properly and scrutinised because of COVID-19. The Home Office have ticked their boxes and the victims will be no better off in the end.
Whilst the government implementing future policies to prevent things like this happening in the future would be a good thing, policies can be just policies in the same vain that recommendations can simply sit as recommendations.
If nobody is there to enforce policies; if we have politicians advocating for social cleansing; if we have eugenicist MPs making decisions; if we use terms like “herd immunity” but in reality that is a genocidal ideology… what hope is there for the Windrush Generation, whom also make up part of the population the government is willing to throw under the bus to fight coronavirus? Have lessons really being learned when Boris and company are willing to play colonialism again with its current population?
This Conservative government, particularly its promotion of eugenicist views, and Priti Patel’s tenure as Home Secretary have shown that they can no longer be a leader on human rights. The review shows a government that does not care about you unless you are a White British, with English as your first language, in other words depicting an image of quintessential “Englishness.” Splitting children from the families is not just the work of Uncle Sam, nor does deportation simply hurt the deportees.
This crisis should make us challenge what Britishness looks like and that we need to be careful who we call immigrants because the Black Man (and Woman) have been on these shores longer than the White Man (and Woman) – the Angle, the Saxon, the Jute, the Norman… longer than what denotes Englishness in the national conscience. Yet, indigenousness has been stamped on whiteness, but foreigner – interloper – immigrant – follows blackness / brownness, which in my opinion is much ado with the lapses of historical knowledge of British history in wider society.
However, wasn’t it Africans, or as they were, “The Moors”, who stood watch on Hadrian’s Wall for nearly 350 years?
Wendy Williams wants to press reset on the Home Office, changing a toxic working culture into a positive less defensive department with a new mission statement, a department that doesn’t treat criticism as a crime. She pushes for a department that gives whistleblowers protection. Diversity should be celebrated, not revered and a workforce to undergo training on Britain’s colonial history, migration and how Black Britons came to be here. In short, Williams wants to Decolonise the Home Office. Good.
The report stops short of calling the Home Office institutionally racist. Yet, the treatment of the Windrush Generation cannot be argued to be anything but. An inquiry needs to be led into why the Home Office have repeatedly discriminated against British communities from Black, Asian and other marginalised ethnic backgrounds. The report tells us that the Windrush Scandal was no accident. It’s just another example of how institutions get away with murder (literally), in the tint of Grenfell and Hillsborough, victims still long for justice and these structures continue to give lip service.
Priti Patel’s apology is offensive. I take it with a grain of salt. For someone who is actively a racism denier, I cannot take anything she says seriously. The apology is to make people feel at ease, not a declaration of empathy from a feeling of guilt. Skin folk ain’t kin folk; she is a collaborator, one of the many people of colour recruited to hold up White Power. She is a bigot and no better than Mogg, Cummings, and the prime minister himself.
Deeds not words; if they wants to show they care, dismantle those hostile environment policies and initiate a root-and-branch independent investigation into racism in the Home Office – until that day arrives , words are just words.
Sitting on the curb of a busy road along the railroad track.
Wearing a mini skirt with your legs spread, bent over
Scratching your wig with one of your long fire-engine red fingernails, while
Reaching in your purse for the matching lipstick.
It’s half past midnight, the night is young.
4 women on the Ho Stro’ between the railroad track, a busy road, and a giant city park.
Hoes stroll day and night.
I’ve been on my way to work, or
Watching the sunrise on my way home from clubbing,
Rain or shine,
These hoes are inline
Scattered along the railroad track facing the park,
Sometimes 1 by 1, sometimes in twos;
And an elderly woman within eyeshot.
I’ve seen a crack head or two, too,
Trying to push herself up to any mens passing by.
Crack or smack,
I’m not sure what these hoes do,
But I know it’s whack.
Frail, emaciated, veins popping and tattered.
They rarely cross the road and venture along the train track.
Over here it’s wide open,
The hoes along the track roam in packs…
Whereas the park side of the stroll provides the crack heads some cover.
For a while, I resisted knowing that these women were hoes.
But one evening,
A couple of hoes showed up at my favorite Beef Noodle joint as I sat for dinner.
All cheery and bubbly,
Dressed for a night out.
Greeting everyone that comes in as you do in your neighborhood joint*
One of the ladies came over towards me, all bubbly and cheery,
Stretched out and unfolded her hands as if she were about to offer me something,
Then jabbed her index finger in-and-out of… you get it.
Yes, THAT universal gesture,
Though it didn’t seem lude coming from her, over a bowl of Pho.
I politely declined, they placed their orders and sat down.
Hoes gotta eat, too.
In my after-dinner walks around the lake,
I have to watch out when I reach the long, straight, tree-lined stretch along the track.
There, there’s nothing but cars parked,
And tea stalls at both ends.
Hoes tend to congregate right in the middle.
No man gets by unsolicited.
It’s as if the bright fire-red were their signal.
Fire-engine red lipstick and false nails to match.
Sometimes a matching skirt, purse and shoes, too.
It’s loitering, but
Soliciting men, too.
The men know where to find them, these hoes are always there.
Street crawlers know where to find them.
Rush hour or late-night,
Early morning, and absolutely at high noon…
Women can’t loiter.
Just look at how we treat women who are not even in the trade.
Meanwhile, men and boys in most parts of the world can hang out anywhere, anytime.
Men are much freer at this level of corporeal control and bodily integrity –
In public and private space.
Although I’d argue that we teach boys to disintegrate into the night.
This is exactly the breach that’s reached here.
These hoes stroll.
There is a Ho Stro’ in every city I know!
Pimps, hookers, hoes, tricks, johns and everybody in between can see.
Hey mister, have you got a dime?
Mister: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
*I’ve only lived here a half a year, so I’m sure this is their hood; I’m new to the party.
NB: Ho Stro’ or whore stroll is an American southern vernacular term – the first term I learned as a kid – for a red-light district. PLEASE, do not look up Ho Stroll on YouTube but if you must this one from LA is HILARIOUS And please, seriously, don’t bother looking up words for the clients of female sex workers.