‘This is your history too!’ How the Caribbean helped to decolonise ‘Mother Country’ Britain
In a week when the deportation of Jamaicans from the UK has re-ignited the controversy of the Windrush scandal, a new book, Memory, Migration and (De)Colonisation in the Caribbean and Beyond, published by the University of London Press at the School of Advanced Study, offers some context.
With many of the deportees said to have been raised in Britain, questions around ‘nationhood’ and what constitutes ‘British’ have been broached yet again. And the new book, written by elders of the Windrush Generation and their children, examines the complex relationship between ‘mother-country’ Britain and the Commonwealth by chronicling post-war West Indian immigration to the UK.
It details how many migrants considered themselves equally British – in line with what they were taught in schools when under British rule. The relationship between Britain and its Commonwealth nations is complex, particularly for those who migrated here. For many, national schooling and media encouraged them to perceive Britain as the ‘motherland’. Those beliefs were challenged by the racism they suffered on migrating, and many struggled to reconcile ‘mother-country’ myths with their lived realities.
Peter Ramrayka, a former non-commissioned officer in the RAF medical branch and one of the first BAME people to become an NHS Health District Administrator, considers himself equally Guyanese and British, despite being raised in the Caribbean. He writes, ‘I had been told that ‘Mother England’ was inhabited by decent, fair minded and friendly people who would welcome me and my colonial brothers with open arms. The British Empire would not have been the greatest in the world without us – would it?’
While the book documents many of the everyday niceties of life in Britain, it also demonstrates that it is migrant communities that have done the bulk of helping to actively decolonise Britain, and it lays bare the work Caribbean people have done to challenge deep-seated colonial mind-sets.
We meet Joyce Trotman, a Guyanese-born teacher employed in a boys’ comprehensive school in the East End of London who worked tirelessly to challenge white people’s perceptions of black workers. At the beginning of her tenure, she faced unprecedented racism from children as young as five, but she went on to be the most beloved teacher in the school and compared to Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love.
An abridged version of the book, published as a zine in November 2019 entitled Maybe One Day I Will Go Home, was one of 19 publications chosen from 2 million others by the Newspaper Club as a favourite from that year.
It includes chapters by:
- Bruce Nobrega, son of artist, Cecile Nobrega (1919-2013), who campaigned to erect the first public statue of a black woman in the UK
- Anne Braithwaite, who was involved in a number of covert black-power projects in the UK and the Caribbean
- Peter Ramrayka (see above)
- Professor William ‘Lez’ Henry (University of West London), formerly known as Lezlee Lyrix
Memory, Migration and (De)Colonisation in the Caribbean and Beyond (University of London Press) is also available open access. Edited by Jack Webb, Rod Westmaas, Maria del Pilar Kaladeen and William Tantam.