The recent scandal in the UK, over the “Windrush Generation”, illustrates the ongoing racist discrimination against people of colour in this country.
The case is particularly egregious because these people actually came to Britain in response to government invitation.
After World War Two, labour shortages hindered British economic recovery, so a call went out to the colonies, for help in reconstructing the motherland.
In 1948, therefore, the passenger liner, “Empire Windrush”, pulled in at the West Indies, where several hundred people embarked for new lives in the ‘home country’. They little expected the racial abuse that would greet them on arrival. But this year’s ‘scandal’ was the result of journalistic investigation by The Guardian newspaper.
Some people had arrived here as children, during that wave of migration. As they became adults, they assumed they therefore had a right to live here, as children of British citizens.
But they did not get the required documentation or naturalisation papers. So, as the present Conservative government tightened up on foreign nationals, they addressed these ‘overstayers’.
This led to threats of removal, and indeed some were deported. Others, going on holiday to the Caribbean, were unable to come back.
Overall, more than 5000 people were affected by these measures. People stopped going for medical treatment, some became homeless, others went underground.
How different from the official attitude to the thousands of white British people who, in the 1950s, emigrated, to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or South Africa.
But immigration and emigration do not provoke the same reaction. It’s easy to see one’s own compatriots, leaving for a new life, as heroes.
Those who come here, however, are regarded with suspicion: foreigners taking our jobs, our housing, our women.
That reaction is exposed in a new dance production, called “Windrush”, put on at the Peacock theatre, by the Phoenix Dance Theatre Company, ironically at the same time the scandal broke.
The difference in perspective was thrown into relief by a remark made by poet-rapper-activist Akala on BBC’s Question Time.
He observed that, in contrast to the Windrush immigrants, who had to pay their own fare, many British emigrants were actually subsidised by the government.
No thought is given in the metropolis about how the indigenous peoples might have responded to such settlement – could we perhaps even call it ‘conquest’?
South African comedian, Trevor Noah, now hosting The Daily News in the US, has a hilarious sketch on the uncomprehending culture clash (‘murder’?), when the British arrived in Africa and India.
Of course, similar conflict may occur wherever new people arrive in a country, and poor people feel displaced.
Not long ago, South Africa itself sadly experienced xenophobic riots against immigrants: Africans, from Congo and Mozambique. And today the neo-colonialist mantle is proudly worn by China, as it too now extends its influence in Africa, through trade and so-called ‘development’.
What’s needed is that, wherever we are, we must commit ourselves to welcome and hospitality toward the newcomer, while simultaneously resisting the coils of contemporary imperialism.