Windrush: a reckoning
by Chris Norris
On 18 October 2017, Wilson was detained at the Wolverhampton Home Office reporting centre where she had been reporting on a fortnightly basis since August 2015. She was put in a vehicle that reminded her of a ‘meat van’, because it had no windows, and taken to Yarl’s Wood for six days; she says this was the worst experience of her life.
She called her daughter from the detention centre and cried uncontrollably down the line. ‘I said: “Get me out of here, Natalie, please get me out of here”.’ After six days she was put in another van, and when she got out she realised she was being taken to a building next to Heathrow airport; she was told that she would be put on a plane the next day.
It was only at the last minute that she was released, given a travel warrant for train tickets and let out to make her way back to Wolverhampton. ‘The planes were taking off over my head; I had to put my hands to my ears because of the noise’, she said. - The Guardian, May 5th, 2018
The good ship Windrush brought us here,
Seven decades back and more.
They greeted us with many a cheer,
With ‘Welcome’ flags galore.
The Windrush docked at Tilbury pier,
The news had gone before.
Our lives ahead shone bright and clear
With jobs and hopes in store.
Yes, we had lots of things to fear,
We travellers knew the score,
The smile that hid the racist sneer,
The threat you can't ignore.
We'd left behind our homeland dear
To cross a foreign shore,
A flag-adorned yet strange frontier
Like a half-opened door.
We'd known them long enough to know
Their double-dealing ways,
Those crafty Brits who'd run the show
Since old colonial days.
We knew they'd got us over so
We'd help with some new phase
Of labour-shortage, plus the glow
Of public pride we'd raise.
Besides, we knew how touch-and-go
It can be when some craze
Like that wears off, or jobs don't grow
And we're put out to graze.
Then it would be a case of slow
Boat home, or seeking stays
Of judgment while the call to throw
Us out hit law's delays.
Yet now what strikes me, looking back
Across those seven decades,
Is just how long they took to crack
Down on us renegades.
For that's their chief line of attack,
The endless press tirades
By every soul-corrupted hack
Who'll dish the dirt in spades.
Still they held off, that Tory pack,
For so long that the shades
Of prison lifted till our lack
Of papers struck their aides.
Then it became their task to track,
Through spying and dawn raids,
The hundreds who'd soon get the sack
From their long-serving trades.
Those seven decades: a time of grace
They've come to seem when viewed
By those, like us, who've had to face
The witch-hunt that ensued.
For now it's hostile looks in place
Of feigned solicitude,
And Tory placemen keen to chase
Out migrants they once wooed.
This whole land seems a holding-space
Where we've long sat or queued
While some weird Kafkaesque court-case
Takes lifetimes to conclude.
Maybe they planned it from first base,
Those bureaucrats who screwed
Things up by wiping out all trace
Of our old Windrush brood.
Or maybe there were decent guys
In the Home Office then
Who'd not destroy our family ties
With one stroke of their pen.
But now they're planning our goodbyes,
Those brutal-hearted men,
As if it was their greatest prize
To send us back again.
They think the moral law applies
To human beings when
They're British-born but can't arise
For folk classed ‘alien’.
So their big project’s to devise
A native regimen
Where those born under foreign skies
Are deemed an allergen.
No thought those politicians spare
For all the time we've been
Your porters, nurses, respite care
Providers, folk who clean
For you, bus-drivers, car repair
Men, ambulance-men, canteen
Staff, railway workers, below-stair
Domestics, skilled machine-
Tool operators, firemen, fare-
Collectors, cooks, routine
Home-visitors, and our fair share
Of writers, teachers, screen-
Familiars, voices known on-air
From far back, and their teen-
Age grandkids rapping songs that bear
The mark of years between.
It's you, the politicians, whose
Destructive hand we see
At work each time the morning news
Repeats our Windrush plea.
Why bring us here, it says, why schmooze
Us with your oratory
And tempt us on that cut-price cruise
To shame and poverty?
Why, decades on, decide to use
Your utmost powers so we,
Your guests, should feel the tightening screws
Crush out our life-debris?
And if, back then, we'd read the clues
On that Tilbury quay
Who knows which future life we'd choose,
Which hostile fate we’d flee?
Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.
Latest from Chris Norris
- Bertolt Brecht Offers Advice to Waverers about Attending the Great Anti-Trump Demonstration (London, July 13th, 2018)
- Tragedy: a caution from Brecht
- To My Wife, from an Israeli Gaol
- Poets, jump the class divide! Dark Times Revisited
- 'Structures don't take to the streets!' May '68: a structuralist riposte