Thoughts in the Wake of Juneteenth and Windrush Day
Written by Mollie Knight
Yesterday was Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, and the 22nd is Windrush Day, both important days in global history. Although they have come to be days of celebration and remembrance, this year’s jubilations may be undercut by some of the tragic events and racist politics that have also happened this year.
Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Its conception takes place in Galveston, Texas, when Gordon Granger, a Union general, informed enslaved people they were free and that the civil war had ended. Since that day, the 19th June 1865, it has been celebrated in various parts of the US. Last year, President Biden made the day a federal holiday, likely as a result of the BLM movement. Juneteenth has come to be a celebration of African-American culture too, initially people made a pilgrimage to Galveston to celebrate and pray. Now, some cities, like Washington, hold large parades and festivals. This year’s celebrations might take a different form though, with the holiday falling just over a month after a white gunman killed 10 Black people in a supermarket in Buffalo.
In this same vein, the 22nd June will be the 5th national celebration of Windrush Day and 74 years since HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Essex. In 1948, 1,027 passengers (and two stowaways) were brought to the UK from Jamaica. Most of the passengers were from the Caribbean but other countries included India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa. These passengers, now known as the Windrush Generation, were vital in Britain’s recovery after the Second World War. They got jobs in many sectors, including steel and iron production, food, public transport and the NHS. Celebrating Windrush Day is celebrating legacy – the legacy of the contributions to black British culture and society by the Windrush Generation. It is also an opportunity to recognise these important contributions and say thank you. In 2018, which is when Windrush Day was officially recognised, the Windrush Scandal also broke. It came out that people of the Windrush Generation had been told by the government that they lacked official paperwork to prove the right to stay in the UK and were, therefore, there illegally. People were wrongfully deported, detained and denied legal rights. Since then the government has ‘apologised’, but Windrush Day has been tinted with this traumatic memory, especially as some people are still fighting for justice. With the first flight to Rwanda ‘relocating’ asylum seekers set to go off last Tuesday, Windrush Day celebrations this year might be tinged with a familiar sense of despair.
An emotional Ugandan refugee has told Sky News that asylum seekers who will be departing for Rwanda tomorrow 'are being sent to their death'.— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 13, 2022
Read more about this story: https://t.co/u5sU16clSa pic.twitter.com/TNlDSeqVrX
Earlier this year, the UK government also announced they were increasing prison capacity by 19,000 places, a deal that will cost £9 billion in taxpayer money. This money will be going to companies like Amazon (secured for a £50 million contract) and Microsoft (secured for £57 million). How will they be filling these extra spaces? With 20,000 police officers on the streets. In a country where black people are over 3 times as likely to be arrested as white people, this is a very scary prospect indeed and reiterates the relationship between the prison industrial complex and racism (you can read more about that in an interesting article by Centre for Crime and Justice Studies here). Once again, this all contributes to a hostile climate for Black people and POC in the UK.
We need to continue to stand up, stand against and stand together to eradicate policies that allow racism and those that actively encourage it. Standing together is a powerful catalyst for change, just look at what happened in Peckham last week when the police tried arrest a man on immigration offences. Days of remembrance and celebration, like Juneteenth and Windrush Day, are also a great time to call for change and recognise how much progress still needs to be made. What are your favourite ways to stand up and stand together? Let us know in the comments below.