Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Why Windrush Day matters

By Sharon Rennie, registered pharmacy technician

Windrush day enables me to reflect on memories of my grandmother telling me stories of when she first arrived in the UK. She talked about how cold it was, and how she arrived with just a dress, cardigan, and one suitcase.

No place to stay

She left the West Indies expecting to better her life for the family she left behind, but was faced with hostility when trying to get accommodation. When trying to get a room she had difficulty as there were signs stipulating “no Blacks or Irish”. She couldn’t understand why.

She shared a room with other Caribbean people that she left her native land with and eventually they helped one another to get accommodation. This then allowed her to get a job which paid for her to get her family over from the West Indies.

Fighting to survive

She came over in the 1950s and was faced with regularly having to defend herself if she went out after dark. She told me a story about Teddy Boys lining up with bottles and knives in a group on the street and how she had to fight them off. She would remove her shoes ready to fight.

It seems insane to me to think you had to fight to survive in a country that invited you to live and work as equal to others.

Racism has changed but persists

I’m the second generation after Windrush, I was 1 of 3 black children in school and I can remember racism from children and teachers. This was very normal back then.

Looking back at this and thinking of these stories, I feel not a lot has changed.

I don’t believe that racism has truly gone from society as I believe it’s still paramount but quite cleverly hidden. The fighting is in a different way as it’s not physical but can be mental and cruel, a kind of blatant racism that you can’t quite put your finger on it as a Black person. This is difficult to explain unless you have yourself experienced it.

In the last few years there has been a slight shift and the most noticeable one for me is seeing people of colour on the TV adverts. I would never have expected to see this ever in my lifetime. I would love to see a Black Prime Minister, but I don’t feel this will ever happen in my lifetime.

Feeling proud

Windrush Day gives me pride in knowing that all those that decided to migrate to England and embark onto that Windrush boat were very brave. With high expectations, they left a life behind to go into the unknown, but then stayed on despite the difficulties they faced and built a life. This includes my grandmother, and I salute them all.  

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