*For anyone marking, commemorating, discussing, commenting on or writing about Windrush @ 70 and other commemorations this year, such as Bristol Bus Boycott @ 55, West Indian Gazette @ 60 or the Carnival, needs to check out this book – for the sake of #NoMoreBadHistories even the odd history professor will find out one or two things to avoid repeating inaccurate received wisdom!
Open Letter: Windrush Day + 1 Day: Outing “Bad History” And Call For Meaningfully Celebrating Of Our Histories
It’s the day after the first Government-backed Windrush Day. The highlight of this government backing was a community-led Spirit Of Windrush thanks-giving service in Westminster Abbey. I guess the Abbey has not been so filled with Africans since the ceremony there marking the bicentenary of the Abolition of the trafficking of Africans (better known as the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act), which I’ll come to later.
In addition to the “big people” of society, majority of the attendees were ordinary folk, who enjoyed the Caribbeanisation of the Abbey in word and song. One point of the sermons that resonated, even though it seemed like an aside, was when it was pointed out that there’s a long history of the African presence in Britain that pre-dates the arrival of Empire Windrush. And I’d hope this point will be taken forward by those who plan future Windrush Day events.
Because whilst I supported the Windrush Day campaign, which was spearheaded by the likes of Arthur Torrington of the Windrush Foundation and Patrick Vernon of EveryGeneration, I’m mindful of a criticism against Windrush celebrations, which goes back twenty years to the 1998 50th anniversary. There were voices concerned about the iconisation of Empire Winrush which entrenched the notion that the African presence in Britain dates back to around the 1940s. Indeed, I’ve found young people who believe that.
So whilst the Windrush Day is now “official”, after a 20 or so year campaign, one hopes that as Vernon calls in a Media Diversified article for inclusiveness in the celebration of the migrant story (I’d have focused it on the African/African-Caribbean migrants, rather than migrants in general), that space will be made to include the migration from Africa and its diaspora to Britain going back centuries, if not a couple of millennia! This should be an opportunity for teachers, historians and event organisers to creatively include, if they chose to, the Cheddar Man, the Ivory Bangle Lady, or Africans for whom we have names, such as Emperor Septimius Severus, within their Windrush narratives.
So today, as many people are consuming the various Windrush @ 70 events, from domino games to lectures, some of us have decided to out “bad histories” (note: not necessarily individuals or organisations), initially focusing on Windrush. But also other African British histories are in the frame, as will be shown at the Look: The Other Windrush Stories! event. This event, which takes place a week today on Saturday June 30, 1-4.30pm in central London, will have coming out of the Commonwealth And Windrush grip suitcase our “bad history” outing #NoMoreBadHistories hashtag.
We’ll be dealing with Empire Windrush tropes, which are expressed in “they were invited to come to help rebuild Britain”, the ship arrived on June 22, the ship had 492 passengers, the ship came to Britain from Jamaica, the ship came from Australia, the ship was sent to collect RAF service men on holiday in the Caribbean, and the tenuous connection with two events that happened in 1948: the 1948 Nationality Act and the establishment of the National Health Service.
I’m very much happy to be corrected, so I wish to throw this call out to anyone who has evidence that counters my position to either contact me in order to invite them as my special guest or point me to that evidence. By the way, the event also includes a short Windrush-related dramatisation by the 492 Korna Klub, and Anthony S.Cookson will be bringing a 21st century perspective, as he talks about his newly published book ‘The Man Who Came to London‘.
As I informed someone today, my Windrush position is not to bash the Empire Windrush or the Windrush Generation histories, but simply to highlight, or out, the often repeated “bad history”. Indeed, I’m of the opinion that these “bad history” actually undermines the very history that Windrush proponents wish to cherish, because it can be argued that those that peddle myths and misinformation are interested in a good story or one that puts their case in a good light, rather than focusing on historically correct context.
Interestingly, almost all of the histories I’ll be outing in the forthcoming ‘Look How Far We’ve Come: Disrupting African British History Narratives?‘ book, actually stand on their own legs so to speak, without the need for incorrect or revisionist histories. A case in point is Claudia Jones. What she did in her life time is enough and deserving of being remembered, without the need for the revisionist histories projected upon her since her death.
I will end by referring to a point Vernon has made in TV and print, which is that the Commonwealth And Windrush Scandal in April has made more people aware of the Windrush story than in the last 70 years. I don’t disagree with that, except to ask, what kind of history have these people learnt? Most likely the much repeated tropes, which Empire Windrush and the Windrush Generation have come to symbolise in the public spaces. Not all in the public spaces is “bad history. But one “bad history” is one more than necessary.
Let’s end by rewinding to 2007. I delivered several 2007 Abolition events. And at each, where I would have made the point that the Abolition in question dealt with the trafficking or the so-called “slave trade”, when I recapped by asking what was abolished in 2007, invariably some would answer “slavery”.
It’s understandable that when one hears of abolition and slave(ry) within the same context, one would assume the Act in question was about the abolition of slavery, or enslavement. But on paper “emancipation” came to enslaved Africans in the British Caribbean much later – in 1834 for those under-6 years old, and for those older, it came in 1838 (it would have been 1840 for some, were it not for protests).
So in short, let’s celebrate whatever histories and contributions, but let us also be mindful of mitigating against “bad history”, even if it goes against prevalent or life-long held beliefs.