It is not for nothing that the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury port in East London on 22 June 1948 is seen by many commentators as marking the start of the growth of the black population in Britain. That ship brought 492 passengers from Jamaica, the largest group of West Indian immigrants to arrive in Britain immediately following the end of the Second World War. Most of them settled in Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, a place that would later become the site of some of the fiercest confrontations between the African population and the state as represented by the police.
The African heritage population of Britain now stands at 1.87 million, having been a mere 28,000 at the end of the Second World War. One million of us currently live in London alone and in some boroughs we make up more than 25% of the population. Among the Global African Diaspora (GAD) in Britain, therefore, there are 4 generations of British born Africans in relation to whom the old narrative about ‘coloured immigrants’, ‘newcomers’ and ‘integration once the newcomers have settled and produced British black children’ is increasingly meaningless, as the GAD population remains marginalised and subject to widespread discrimination and social exclusion.
West Indian immigrants came mainly from agrarian economies and from villages where poverty and deprivation defined people’s lives and life chances and limited their capacity to access quality health care, among other things. But theirs was a poverty of means; it was neither a poverty of spirit nor a poverty of aspiration. They came to Britain with high ambitions for their children, especially with respect to schooling outcomes, progression to higher education and to the sorts of careers they had dreamt of back home for their children: typically, doctors, dentists, lawyers, civil servants, architects, engineers. Read the rest of this entry →