Voices: The Windrush statue is offensive – no wonder people are boycotting it

The Windrush pioneers helped to build Britain, and it isn’t a bad thing that a permanent tribute to them – if that’s truly what it is – has been installed in one of the country’s busiest train stations.

However, while thousands of people affected by the Windrush scandal have yet to receive compensation from the Home Office for their plight, the response has understandably been mixed. Official figures show that less than half of the scheme’s applicants have received a final decision and it’s not as though the Windrush community can exactly rejoice. Justice delayed is justice denied.

The scheme has been fraught with unacceptable delays, needless complications and unreasonable requests for evidence. I remember previously reporting on the fact that applicants were being told to prove their case “beyond reasonable doubt” before receiving payments. These victims have, more often than not, been treated as criminals and not people who are utterly deserving of restitution.

Naturally, criticism of the Home Office’s apparent inability to priorise the dispensation of justice has abounded, with campaigners, commentators, public figures and politicians all highlighting the painfully obvious: the department is failing victims of the Windrush scandal, yet again.

There are ongoing calls for the compensation scheme to be taken out of Priti Patel’s Home Office and transferred to an independent organisation to increase trust while encouraging more applications.

All of this has been bubbling away in the background as the UK observes its fourth national Windrush Day; so, you can understand why not everyone’s in a celebratory mood. Particularly when one considers the impact on recent Home Office policy on Black and brown communities: from the Rwanda migrant plan to the Nationality and Borders Bill.

Moreover, some members of the Windrush community are scoffing at the government’s grand monument to the trailblazing Caribbean migrants. At the cost of £1m paid by the government, some have even gone as far as to say the statue has been funded with “blood money”.

Though it is being touted by ministers as a tribute to the “dreams, ambition, courage and resilience” of the Windrush generation, sadly, their hopes and vitality have too often been crushed by the weight of oppression dispensed by successive governments in this country. This has been conveniently glossed over.

I must say that it’s bizarre, at best, that the government has sponsored this monument while continuing to deny the existence of institutional racism and how it impacts people like the Windrush generation and its descendants.

From what I’m hearing, it seems that not many members of grassroots communities were actually invited to the grand unveiling. Some have expressed fears that it was an occasion restricted almost exclusively to the “great and the good”. The word on the street is that the majority of summoned guests were those with fine titles and an assortment of letters after their name. Why is that?

Only selected journalists were invited too, which raises worrying questions about access and the function of our free press. After all, I was invited to put my name forward for the unveiling by the government a few weeks ago and promptly told I couldn’t attend after all, a couple of days back after Prince William’s attendance was confirmed, due to “restricted numbers”.

I can’t help but consider how refreshing it would have been if more Black journalists who work in this industry – which is still not anywhere near as diverse as it should be – had been permitted to attend an event dedicated to pioneering Black migrants; particularly Windrush descendants like myself. And perhaps how different, balanced and truly evaluative the coverage around the monument could have been, too.

When members of the royal family attend events, the palace’s press office usually handles media accreditation and it is highly selective. The Voice newspaper got a look in, as a specialist British national African-Caribbean media platform (shout out to my former employer) – we can understand how terrible it would have otherwise looked.

The “rota” – the name of a group of a chosen few royal journalists – typically choose (between themselves and the palace) which journalist covers which events, taking it in turns. So they get first (and typically only) dibs at reporting first hand on functions attended by royals. That’s how it’s been for decades: if you’re not in the rota, then it’s curtains for you.

With all of this said, I want to make it clear that my side-eyeing of this unceremonious snub is not about ego at all. It’s about the principle of it all and fundamental worry about the state of Fleet Street when Black journalists (plural) aren’t able to cover events about Black people which happen to also be attended by nobility. After all, we have a principle obligation of holding power to account, as opposed to fawning over it to prop up the status quo. I know that other Black journalists who were not given access feel the same way.

There are parts of the Windrush community who are deeply unhappy with the statue’s location, given that the Caribbean men and women who arrived on the Empire Windrush at Tillbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948 did not travel from Waterloo station to Brixton, where many of them spend their first night.

The Windrush brought the first immigrants to the UK from the Caribbean (PA)

On that note, teacher Samuel Nelson asked during an interview withThe Independent published earlier today: “Where was the campaign to inform and involve people about it, the rigorous consultation?”

Arthur Torrington, co-founder of the Windrush Foundation charity, has strongly opposed the government’s plans to erect a monument at Waterloo since it was announced by former prime minister Theresa May three years ago. At the time, he accused the government of behaving “arrogantly” and “treating the Caribbean community like children” by not consulting with key groups. This dismissive and callous attitude, he argued, is what led to the Windrush scandal in the first place. Torrington also suggested the monument be placed in Brixton instead.

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No matter the endeavour, it’s not always possible to please everyone. However, the various concerns around the monument are valid and there’s little indication that fears around the government’s overall failure of – and disengagement with – Black communities will be addressed any time soon.

In the meantime, some of us have opted to politely nod at the Windrush monument, created by our very own Jamaican sculptor Basil Watson to whom respect is due, as a commendable gesture to our foreparents. Others told me they were planning to boycott the unveiling of it altogether, and had planned a day out, instead.

Personally? On Windrush Day, I will be busying myself with alternative ways of celebrating the efforts of our early pioneers. I pay homage to them each day, anyway, as walking testament – a witness to their heart and perseverance.

Both sets of my grandparents and my father moved here and made this country what it is. Many of us live in hope that the victims, and survivors, of the Windrush scandal will be indemnified.

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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