SACRAFICES: Perhpas a stronger connection to the Windrush Generation could have made Chuka Umunna “our Obama”
WHAT HAS the expulsion of a contestant from Love Island under dishonourable circumstances got to do with the heroic exodus and endeavours of the so-called Windrush Generation?, I hear you ask.
Less puzzling is where Windrush sits in the Tory leadership race to see who succeeds Theresa May as prime minister. Or how Chuka Umunna flipped and flopped his way out of any hope of becoming Britain’s first black incumbent at Number 10. But let us take these issues one by one.
It seems that the grandchildren of Windrush are forgetting the sacrifices of their ancestors in coming to this country to take advantage of some of the opportunities it afforded them post-war.
We know from our parents and our grandparents that they didn’t come here to settle. We know from their very own words that they were coming here to make something of themselves and earn a little change so that they could return to their native countries and try a ting back home.
We know that. Those from West Africa came here to get an education (at least, that’s what they told their parents, who mainly funded their European expedition) and those from the Caribbean were mainly looking for work in the Motherland and clocked on at the old Coldharbour Lane dole office in Brixton the day after they arrived on the Windrush. We know that.
It is documented fact, as you can read in Peter Fryer’s amazing book Staying Power (which is still the definitive bible of the Windrush Generation). But we also know that their enterprising spirit and their longing for home made them strong in the face of the adversity they were to meet on an almost daily basis in England.
With that and God on their side, they had nothing to fear but fear itself, as Nelson Mandela would have put it. Or so they must have thought. On reflection, their biggest fear should have been for their children and their children’s children who, over the course of time, would lose that connection with Windrush.
That connection had been enabling and enriching and enduring throughout the ‘50s and the ‘60s and the ‘70s. It is a truism that the further and further we have come from Windrush the weaker we have become as a people here in Britain.
Just like that resilient generation of Englishmen and women of the wartime that Her Majesty the Queen spoke of on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings the other week, the Windrush Generation are our resilient generation.
When they got licked down they picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and got on with it – triumphantly. When they couldn’t rent homes (“no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”), they built their own houses.
When they were discriminated against in the workplace, they built their own businesses. And when they were rejected from Catholic and Anglican worship, they built their own churches, even if it was in the living room.
Have we forgotten that? Just like the children of that wartime generation, we – the children of Windrush – are comparative snowflakes. We think we are hard but we’re not. We think we’re cleverer than those 491 men and one woman who left their paradise islands in the sun for the grim snow and grey-tinted misery of Britain.
But we’re not. We think we’ve got it made, like we’re in heaven when we are living in hell. And some of us even sing “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”.
And where’s the Windrush spirit with Chuka Umunna? I remember when Sir Simon Woolley introduced him onto the stage as “our Obama”. It was on the night of Barack Obama’s first presidential victory in the United States.
We genuinely believed that Britain was ready for a mixed-race boy from south London (via Nigeria) to be its leader.
What we didn’t really consider was that Chuck was as far away from Windrush as is Boris Johnson, and that the historical, cultural and spiritual connection to the Windrush experience was simply absent – and that Chuka was fundamentally weaker than Obama as a result of it.
Crucially Obama found ‘his Windrush’ after being lost in the wilderness of youth where he flapped around without roots calling himself “Barry” and perhaps hoping O’Bama sounded more Irish than Kenyan.
Thankfully for him, Michelle came into his life and became the prism through which he connected with the history of African-American struggle – civil rights, etc – their Windrush equivalent.
Umunna, on the other hand, has become a laughing stock in the media, having represented three different parties in as many months and taking the good people of Streatham (who sent him to parliament as a Labour MP) for joke.
I’ve been down to Streatham recently, and I tell you this: they cannot wait for a general election.
As for that fool from Love Island, what can I say? Apparently he was kicked off the programme for breaking the rules. One of the papers hinted that he had been kicked off the programme for spend- ing long periods in the shower on his own… I wonder if he can even spell W-I-N-D-R-U-S-H?
As he returns to the obscurity from whence he came, please ensure that your chil- dren know that it’s got a ‘D’ in it. D for determination. And for those who don’t know:
The ‘W’ is for Winners – the Wonderful Winners who paved the Way.
The ‘I’ is for Inspirational – how they Inspired and continue to Inspire us.
The ‘N’ is for the No that they refused to accept in “no coloureds/no blacks” signs. The ‘D’, like I say, is for Determination to succeed.
The ‘R’ is for their Resilience in the face of adversity and the Responsibility that they felt towards their family, the community and mankind in a better world that they had the vision for, at a time when Britain was not interested in their vision.
The ‘U’ is for Unity – which brought with them from the Caribbean and elsewhere and which held them together like a bond for the rest of their lives.
The ‘S’ is for their Solidarity, their Success, their Selflessness and their Sacrifices.
And the ‘H’ is for the Hope in their eyes when they saw land after weeks at sea. The Hope that this land represented a better opportunity and the Hope that one day their children and their children’s children will benefit from their sacrifices.
That is what Windrush means to me.
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