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.