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But I Am British

A thought for Black History Month

In the years following World War Two, Britain’s labour shortage led to Commonwealth citizens in the Caribbean being invited to come to this country and build new lives as British citizens. Led to believe they would be welcome, almost half a million women, men and children made the journey. In 1948 the liner Empire Windrush brought just over 1,000 passengers from Jamaica, and the ship gave its name to the Windrush Generation.

Expectation and reality clashed brutally as these new arrivals found that, although their labour was needed, they themselves were often far from welcome. News reports and interviews from that period paint a sad picture. A quote from one husband and father, who came here at our government’s invitation, lingers in the memory. When he and his family were racially abused and told, in graphic language, to go home and leave Britain to the British, he responded, hurt and baffled, “But I am British”.

It's difficult to imagine the pain, disappointment and betrayal that these people must have felt as it dawned on them how hollow the promises of equality and inclusion that brought them to Britain had been. That they stayed, worked hard and made our country stronger and more productive tells us everything we need to know about their character and resilience. That our government questioned the immigration status of many of these people decades later tells us something very unpleasant about Britain.

When we invite people into our home, we owe them our courtesy. When they arrive on our doorstep in need of shelter, invited or not, we owe them our compassion. When they offer to work hard and make a contribution to our communities and our economy, we owe it to this country and its future prosperity to accept that offer. That’s true for people of all ethnicities, and as we come to the end of another Black History Month it’s worth reflecting that next June will mark the 75th anniversary of the Empire Windrush docking on our shores for the first time. There are people working tirelessly every day to offer a warmer welcome to those who come to Britain now, but their jobs aren’t easy. If you can find time to help them, you’ll be doing this country a favour.


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