July 1596. In Peter Fryer’s book Staying Power, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I sends correspondence to the Lord Mayor of London and other aldermen with the explicit suggestion “… that those kinde of people should be sent forth of the lande…”
Those kinde of people is a reference to the sixteenth century Black population in the United Kingdom, apparently deemed to be a “problem” by royalty and certain sectors of the society.
Speed up to April 2018. Over four centuries later, startling revelations have revealed a UK government policy intent on creating a “hostile environment” for the so-called Windrush generation and specifically to detain and deport Black persons—the majority who had arrived in the UK before 1973 and been born British subjects—back to their countries of origin. The discovery has been labeled as the Windrush scandal.
The term, Windrush generation, is a reference to a sailing vessel, the SS Empire Windrush, which arrived in the UK in June 1948, bringing 500 settlers from Jamaica. Following the end of World War II, the UK needed manpower to rebuild the country, and subsequently reached out to its colonies at that time. Many answered the call.
Anti-Blackness and the immigration problem
As the scandal revealed, as part of its public mantra to appear to be tough on immigration, conservative government ministers, in the last few years, hatched a despicable plan to firstly destroy landing cards and other travel documentation formerly held of former Commonwealth citizens, many now aged 60 and older. Then by virtue of not having any legal documentation remaining on file, the dispossessed would then be told that they are officially an illegal presence in the UK, and therefore should be detained and deported back to their countries of origin.
All this, despite the fact many of those affected (who were law-abiding, worked diligently, paid taxes, and remained stellar residents all of their lives) had little or no family connections within these various countries after so many years. A terrible spin-off of this resulted in many of the children of the Windrush generation themselves were unable to acquire UK passports despite born in the country, as their parents would be unable to provide the requisite documents.
Subsequently, there has been significant expressions of anger and outrage, and not just from the Black diaspora. From the government’s side, there has been a ministerial resignation, and soundbites of regret from the current Prime Minister Theresa May, who ironically was Home Secretary during the period that this hateful policy was being formulated.
Worst still, more information uncovered from the Home Office, the ministerial department responsible for immigration, security and law and order, mistakenly detained more than 850 people between 2012 and 2017. Some of the detainees were living in the UK legally. As a result, and the government was forced to pay out more than £21 million in compensation.
What is curious about this issue, is how continuous the rancid rhetoric of the immigration problem from the white UK establishment and policymakers has been over the centuries.
Unveiling historical truths
The fact is that the Black presence on the shores of the UK should be nothing new or strange. During the Roman occupation of the UK over a 1000 years ago, public records document Black soldiers and staff as part of their armies. Popular UK writers and historians like David Starkey and Tracy Borman will typically highlight the lives and excesses of British kings and queens from across previous centuries; yet never mention the socio-cultural make-up of the populations who occupied these periods of which they delightedly pontificate.
There needs to be a proactive re-education programme of UK history that is taught within schools and for the general public. Perhaps then, there will be an appreciation and respect of the productive and positive contributions of the Black diaspora to wider society, and not in the context as mere slaves as typically spouted by the UK media at large.
History has indeed been revisited. It’s now time to change it.
Phillip Brown works in higher education and is a media professional born in Leamington Spa, England to Jamaican parents. Discovering that he had Tanzanianroots, he traveled to the East African country to explore his lineage with his mother and siblings then chronicled it in a photo journalism piece.