This month we commemorate two unconnected events that now seem destined to be forever intertwined by injustice: the 70th anniversary of the arrival in the UK of the first large group of postwar Caribbean migrants and the first anniversary of the fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington (covered in a separate article).
The passing of 70 years since the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury on 22 June 1948 ought to have been an occasion of unalloyed celebration. Certainly there is good cause to celebrate the huge contributions those pioneering generations made to Britain’s culture and society. It’s impossible to think of the UK today without people of Caribbean heritage in broadcasting and journalism, sport, literature and the arts, transport, the armed forces, health, politics, the law and so much more. And how can we forget the arts of Carnival – mas, steelpan, calypso, soca, chutney, reggae, ska and pretty much every decent beat that’s ever found its way on to vinyl, tape, CD or download?
Sadly, the Windrush70 festivities are being held under a dark cloud of (at best) gross political and administrative incompetence. Now, instead of the media concentrating on all the positives, the papers are revealing one shocking story of bureaucratic cruelty after another, as the Windrush Generation have to justify (incredible that one should have to use such a word), to justify being in this country and receiving the pensions and healthcare they have earned and so richly deserve.
Amidst the finger-pointing and blame-shifting, the watery apologies and the adulterated excuses, let’s not forget the actual date. Soca News is calling on everyone of Caribbean heritage to raise their flag on 22 June. Many readers will probably have more than one flag to wave, but that’s all to the good. Let no one in your workplace, your block, your street, your town be in any doubt that you’re proud of your Caribbean heritage. If you don’t have a flag (really??), there’s still time to buy or make one don’t forget to take it to the Radiate Windrush festival on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 June.
Some are calling for a permanent reminder of the Windrush arrival. In London’s Evening Standard recently, Patrick Vernon suggested that Prime Minister Theresa May should declare 22 June Windrush Day. The paper’s editor, former Tory chancellor George Osborne, seemed sympathetic: “The 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush is a great opportunity to celebrate the generation of our citizens who came from the Caribbean to enrich our society…”
The anniversary is being marked across the country in a variety of ways; here are just a few of them: