We welcomed author and historian, Colin Grant, to the Academy for an ‘In Conversation’ session with Employment Associate, Suresh Patel.
Colin joined us to discuss his new book Homecoming: Voices of a Windrush Generation which documents over a 100 first-hand interviews, archival recordings and memoirs by the women and men who came to Britain from the West Indies between the late 1940s and the early 1960s. Homecoming frames post-Windrush mass migration as a family reunion which features Colin’s Jamaican parents as well as their West Indian friends.
Colin is also a BBC producer, Guardian journalist and Associate Fellow in the Centre for Caribbean Studies.
Colin Grant, Author and Historian
I’ve been talking about the origins of my oral history book, Homecoming, which is a curation of Caribbean voices and people who arrived in Britain from the forties through to about the 1960’s.
Things were rough in Jamaica in the 1950’s, there’ll be these young people with lots of Diplomas, with briefcases full of diploma’s but there were no jobs. Jamaica was a place that you left but they left to go to England, to a place that they considered to be home because the prism of their life was through looking at Britain.
It was a sign that they had made something of their lives to be able to come to the centre of empire. They embarked on this big adventure which is going to transform their lives forever. I think that they assumed that people would understand who they were, what their history was. They were surprised that people didn’t understand anything about them whatsoever. They were also quite surprised to see working class people because in the Caribbean, white people were middle class or upper class.
There are many examples of people being treated very kindly but sadly there were moments when they would have doors flung in their faces, where they would arrive for jobs. Enoch Powell‘s 1968 speech which became known as the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech has a very wounding impact on me and my family. We always felt we weren’t fully welcome and this cemented that notion that we weren’t welcome at all, that we should pack our bags and leave.
In 2018 we learnt through Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian, this unfolding scandal of people who were British, who had been here for sometimes 50 years, being sent back home or so called home, suddenly found themselves ensnared by this hostile environment policy introduced by Theresa May and one of the notions that I arrived at in the researching my book, Homecoming, was that you left the Caribbean poor, you were expected to return wealthy, you were expected to return having made it so to return poor and broken is the most wounding, shameful thing that could happen to anybody.
I think the Windrush scandal has actually brought people together in the UK. I think it has made us pay more attention to our elders, it’s made us pay more attention to the fact that they might not be with us for much longer so we must harvest their stories, we must appreciate their company whilst we can. What has happened to Caribbean people now is going to happen to European people tomorrow. With writing Homecoming I wanted to populate the book with these wonderful characters who I knew were there because I’d been brought up with them. So I wanted to introduce these people to the reading public, introduce these wonderful characters who in my youth had been the equivalent to television; we had no television but we had these wonderful Caribbean characters.