Making a new life in 1960s Britain

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OBV intern Natalie Simmons writes about her grandmother experience of 1960s Britain after arriving from the Caribbean island of Grenada.

Ministers such as Enoch Powell encouraged Caribbean people to leave their home countries and to take up the British Government’s offer to migrate to what many saw as their “Mother country”. An irresistible offer to my grandmother as Grenada at the time suffered from high unemployment and providing for her immediate family of six was tough, as she was a housewife and her husband was a farmer.

Grenada, at the time, was a British colony; so she believed that Grenadians would be welcomed with open arms. Similar to many others from the former British colonies, my grandmother in 1961, decided to pack her suitcase and made that heart breaking choice to leave her children behind, in search of a better life.

On arrival into Britain, ‘shock’ and ‘dismay’ were the words my grandmother used to describe her experience at seeing the racial discrimination; albeit the fact that my grandmother responded to a warm invitation to come to rebuild Britain, she claims it was ironic that the reception from some of the white British people was opposite. Signs on buildings read “No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs” she said that this blatant racism made her feel like returning to Grenada.

My grandmother was conscious of the previous violent tensions between some black and white people which led to events such as, the Notting Hill race riots of 1958; however, her perceptions were that racial relations had improved due to all the publicity it received; government intervention and the fact that she actually arrived a few years after these high tensions.

Like many other Caribbean people, my grandmother struggled to find housing due to the colour bar in addition to the housing shortages throughout impoverished London. Signs on houses for rent said ‘no blacks’ and ‘no children’. This may indeed be why many Caribbean people like my grandmother ended up taking whatever accommodation they could find, even if it meant accepting to live in rough, crime ridden and slum like conditions which was where she eventually found housing. My grandmother had a perception that Britain’s streets were paved with gold and homes were like Buckingham Palace. The problem of suitable housing and dubious landlords willing to exploit, was not in particular an issue faced by West Indian people, but white working class as well.

Possessing no qualifications and having never worked for a salary before, my grandmother was pleased at successfully finding employment as a tea lady at one of London’s hospitals. She talked about racial tensions of White workers not wanting to work alongside black people and at the time racism to her was very overt. Nanny, as I so fondly called my grandmother, told me about disappointed qualified black people taking up low paid and unskilled jobs, which many of the white British people were reluctant to do.

Furthermore, white British people believed that their jobs, women and houses, were being stolen by the Caribbean people. Sayings like “Why don’t you go back to your country” were the norm.

Trying to assimilate into British society was difficult and lonely at times; the Caribbean community knew they had to unite. They were made to feel particularly unwelcome in white pubs and clubs so, The Caribbean people held their own house parties and dances. In addition to creating Community organisations as a way of keeping the Caribbean peoples spirits up.

The good memories

However, it was not all doom and gloom for my grandmother; as she in fact had forged friendly relations with a few of her white neighbours, who on occasions would give her possessions such as clothing. She was eventually reunited with her four children, whom she missed dearly.

A considerable amount can be learnt from my grandmother’s experience in 1960’s Britain. Although she had witnessed racial discrimination, she chose how to endure and counteract it in a positive way, just remembering the reasons for the sacrifice in the first place.

I imagine that many of the white British people may have been insecure to some extent; I don’t assume it’s entirely down to ignorance, apart from behaviours from people such as the teddy boys, whom many deem racist. I believe the British Government had not really considered the issues such as housing shortages and had done very little to help the Caribbean people assimilate easily into British society. This can be reasons why the Caribbean people had to create their own self help organisations.

I think it’s so ironic that Enoch Powell a Tory Health Minister, who had previously welcomed the Caribbean people to Britain; would later give his racist anti-immigration ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. His dismissal could not have come sooner.

I believe that people’s mind-set is changing towards black migration into Britain, as laws have been put in place to tackle these issues of overt discrimination. Today, Britain is very much a multicultural country.

Natalie Simmons

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Interesting Story

My parents had told me similar stories about 1950's Britain. Caribbean people is still being discriminated upon in the workplace, housing etc and the racist thing still on, but as you say we will continue to keep the spirit up. I like your work.

Nothing Has Changed.

"She talked about racial tensions of White workers not wanting to work alongside Black people and at the time racism to her was very overt"

This behaviour is still very active in the workplace today; sadly, after thirteen years of a racist New Labour government.

"my grandmother, told me about disappointed qualified Black people taking up low paid and unskilled jobs, which many of the White British people were reluctant to do."

This still an on-going problem in the United Kingdom today. Sadly, this is the way it's always going to be in the United Kingdom; worse of all, after thirteen years of a racist New Labour government.

"Trying to assimilate into British society was difficult and lonely at times"

This situation is still the same to this day. Many other racial groups have found the solution to this problem by forming a multi-cultural society, which has been met with disdain by most of the white population of this country.

"apart from behaviours from people such as the Teddy Boys"

Makes me wonder if some of those 'Teddy Boys' went on to become members of New Labour.

"I think it’s so ironic that Enoch Powell a Tory Health Minister, who had previously welcomed the Caribbean people to Britain; would later give his racist anti-immigration ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech."

I keep remember hearing a certain New Labour minister giving a very caustic speech that sounded like this: "British jobs for British workers." What a metaphor?

"I believe that people’s mind-set is changing towards Black migration into Britain"

I'm not so sure about this because some politicians still want to keep Britain white.

Government cuts

It’s a complete travesty that racism still exists in the work place today, considering laws were implemented to tackle this sort of discrimination. BAME individuals have always had to work harder to achieve promotion to managerial roles. This present government cuts to funding BME organisations such as, Social Enterprises; will hinder further and undo all the progress we’ve been trying to successfully accomplish.
‘Wanting to keep Britain White’ sadly it’s a fact that racist British political parties do exist, wanting British jobs for British workers. So even after, Enoch Powell’s racist ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech; an urgent need exists to achieve genuine equality in this multi cultural society.

British New Labour Party.

Natalie,

"This present government cuts to funding BME organisations such as, Social Enterprises; will hinder further and undo all the progress we’ve been trying to successfully accomplish."

This sad decline had already been started by Tony Blair's New Labour Government. Remember it's his government that used the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to gag the Conservertaive Party during the preparation for the 2001 general elections. A year or two after that election - which they won - New Labour decided to scrap the CRE and introduce the very feeble Equality and Human Rights Commission (who are more interested in Gay issues). In 2004, they made changes to employment law and weakened race discrimination claims by introducing the 'Reversed Burden of Proof.' They went further by introducing the present President of the Employment Tribunals (an out and out racist) in to the set up. Race Discrimination Claims were failing in the Employment Tribunals at an embarrassing and alarming rate - which sadly is still the case to this day.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission are now subject to cuts which will definitely weaken an already toothless organisation. The Conservative Government will cite cuts in various government departments due to the present economic climate as their reason; yet they have enough money to fund the sorties and bombing of the oil rich Libya.

I have argued for the involvement of more minority ethnic citizens in key decision making positions in this country. The response to this cry - which I always get from those of a Right Wing disposition - is that I am making a case for 'token representation' which sadly, isn't the case at all.

Please, ask your self, when are minority ethnic citizens ever going to be entrusted into such positions in this country considering that we are British born and very proud of it too?

Wonderfully written!

Yeah I agree with what Natalie has written Britain has come a long way and is very multicultural society today and has made good laws and procedures to help to combat racialism. I think Black people are now British and they now call themselves Black british and are no longer made to feel outsiders. You get one or two racist people though and I think they are frowned upon by the whole community and the system kicks in to deal with this which is light years away from where people made policies to exclude blacks and irish from partaking in activites that might improve there situation and social events. I think organisation like these are valuable and essential in building black moral and it is nice that the black community as a whole is united regardless of ethnic formalities and culture.

Well written!

I believe yeah Britian is a very multicultural society today and we are miles away from where we were in the 1960s. Education I think is the new white. I think proven skill portfolio and education is the way to open doors in this age too the British society and not Racial or ehtical or diversity or background.

Rose Tinted Glasses or White Outlook?

Ebony,

"Yeah I agree with what Natalie has written Britain has come a long way and is very multicultural society today"

Is that the view of David Cameron the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?

"Britain has come a long way and is very multicultural society today and has made good laws and procedures to help to combat racialism."

How effective are these laws? Have you had a look at the picture of the present cabinet of David Cameron's government or Ed Milliband's Shadow Cabinet? Seen the complection of all participants? Is that effective Equal Opportunities in accordance with how Britain is today? I strongly recommend that you have a look.

" I think Black people are now British and they now call themselves Black british and are no longer made to feel outsiders."

They might call themselves British, but, do the law makers see them as British? If your answer is yes, why are they not allowed into key decision making positions in this country?

"You get one or two racist people though and I think they are frowned upon by the whole community and the system kicks in to deal with this which is light years away from where people made policies to exclude blacks and irish from partaking in activites that might improve there situation and social events"

The system, as you put it, only deals with racist situations when it becomes public knowledge. If the reverse is the case, the racist goes unpunished and no further action is taken.

"it is nice that the black community as a whole is united regardless of ethnic formalities and culture."

I am not with you on this subject because you sound to me like a white person pretending to be black. The subject in question is a serious one and I feel all posters should respect that.

"Education I think is the new white. I think proven skill portfolio and education is the way to open doors in this age too the British society and not Racial or ehtical or diversity or background."

Education without opportunity is a waste; sadly that's the plight of some black people in this country today.

Cement Boots!

"I believe yeah Britian is a very multicultural society today and we are miles away from where we were in the 1960s."

Attitudes to racism hasn't changed. The packaging and presentation; a bit friendly. The execution of it; subtle. The consequence; damaging. Britain of the 60's is still the same Britain of today. Look at the decision making organisations and tell me if you have spotted any different.

Government cuts - March for the alternative

We can all come up with valid criticisms of the TUC's alternative and their 'March for the alternative' on 26 March. I went on the march. But where were African-Caribbeans and Asians? They were few and far between. There was no black organisation that I could see. What's going on?

Has the trade union movement abandoned black people? With the days of black self-organisation gone, do the white leadership feel that there is no need to 'pander' to black concerns? Was there any attempt to mobilise black people?

Or, is it that we don't want to get involved in a fight that will improve our circumstances? Are we happy to see white people march for the public sector and hope that will benefit us without our involvement? Is it cowardice on our part?

Or, are we fed up with the trade union and labour movement and don't see why we need to get involved?

I'd be interested in what others have to say.

Making that difference

Yinka,
I believe in order for change, more BME individuals need to become politically active.
And for this reason, it’s necessary to persistently encourage our children to work hard at school, teaching them that education is the key to success and with education comes freedom, new ideas and an increased chance of social mobility.
We must emphasize and value the contributions that positive Black Role Models are accomplishing, in order to show our children that their dreams, too, are attainable.
A critical need continues for additional black teachers as role models, especially male, due to failure of Black boys in the British educational system.
‘Ways we can make that difference’ making that stand and making our voices heard, by becoming politically active, involved in our community affairs and by sitting on school governor boards.
Britain’s most popular soaps, fail to portray a true picture of Black families in Britain today. This depiction of unproductive stereo types is so dangerous, as the media is highly influential. How can we change this image?
I strongly believe that with continued hard work and determination, making our voices heard, will enable BME individuals to achieve equality and promotion in the work place and become influential leaders in British institutions.
Regards
Natalie

Order for Change.

Natalie,

"I believe in order for change, more BME individuals need to become politically active.
And for this reason, it’s necessary to persistently encourage our children to work hard at school, teaching them that education is the key to success and with education comes freedom, new ideas and an increased chance of social mobility."

Absolutely.

"We must emphasize and value the contributions that positive Black Role Models are accomplishing, in order to show our children that their dreams, too, are attainable."

The treatment's of Diane Abbott by New Labour and Adam Afriyie of the Conservative Party. These two in particular should be playing more significant roles in their party's. This sadly isn't the case thus my call for Equal Opportunities at all levels.

"A critical need continues for additional black teachers as role models, especially male, due to failure of Black boys in the British educational system."

Very true.

"‘Ways we can make that difference’ making that stand and making our voices heard, by becoming politically active, involved in our community affairs and by sitting on school governor boards."

A lot of black and minority ethnic citizens have over the years done their very best to make this very difference you are stating. I can confirm on my part that I have contacted Andrew Stunell (Minister for Race Equality) in a letter - with enclosures - dated 4/11/10, followed by an email dated 23/1/11. I also penned a letter dated 1/12/10 - with enclosures - to Chris Grayling (Minister of State) Employment about the very racist President of the Employment Tribunals Service. None of these two gentlemen have got back to me yet. We are making the effort, but and sadly, we are continuously being ignored.

"Britain’s most popular soaps, fail to portray a true picture of Black families in Britain today."

Absolutely. The problem here is when someone with these media organisations bravely steps forward to make a programme about a black people, he/she is heavily criticised the following day - by a black person - for not doing a good job. This gives the powers to be in the media another excuse not to make programmes concerning black people. Secondly, another key factor is that the majority of the British public would not watch such a programe if well made, and truely detailing BAME's situations in the United Kingdom today.

"This depiction of unproductive stereo types is so dangerous, as the media is highly influential. How can we change this image?"

Equal Opportunities. With proper Equal Opportunities in place, most BAME will have the same freedom and opportunties that the white citizens enjoy.

"I strongly believe that with continued hard work and determination, making our voices heard, will enable BME individuals to achieve equality and promotion in the work place and become influential leaders in British institutions."

I live in hope to see that day.

Making a new life in 1960's Britain

I am Black British and proud of it. I make that declaration not through some sort of rose tinted naive view of the world. Neither am I blind to the faults of this country both in terms of it's history (my parents had a very similar experience to Natalie's grandmother) and issues which are still there currently. I make that declaration because I geniunely think Britain has made a lot of progress over the last 30 years. I have lived in different parts of the world and know that discrimination (in Africa ususally based on tribalism) exists in everywhere. There is no such thing as there perfect state. We should continue to challenge injustice where we see it but at the same timne recognise positives and where progress has been made.

Once Racist Always Racist.

Danny,

"recognise positives and where progress has been made."

Can you name them?

The growing list of BME MPs

The growing list of BME MPs, is proof that room exists for growth and change. Lets be positive now

True reflection

I have read the above article written by Natalie Simmons and must advise that it was an interesting and rewarding read since I have grow up hearing similar stories from my grandparents. I take my hat off to them for being so adventurous and courageous.

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