A Reflection On Windrush And The British Class System

July 21, 2018|Roy Merchant

I was born on the island of Jamaica in 1949. It was an age of empire and as a coloured boy growing up in the British Empire, my distance from the centre of it was so vast that I did not know anything about class and race. I knew I was coloured, (it would take about 14 years or so before I decided that I was black) but that did not get in the way of my life, half-way up the blue mountains of my home island.

Race and its issues did not create pathways of failure for me. I was fairly bright and no one thought they were better than me because of their colour. Yes, the older people like grandfathers and great grandmothers who could remember the colourism of their youth as Jamaica slowly tried to forget slavery, were still to a certain extent governed by the notion of being better because you are of a lighter skin colour, but our generation refused to dwell on that. Or so I thought.

We believed that it was our ability, our intelligence and persistence that governed how well we did, and meritocracy would eventually take over as the prime driver of success. How wrong we were.

We looked down on others, the way humans have always done. But not from a class base, more from the absolute certainty that we were either more intelligent than they were, richer or more powerful. I cannot recall anyone suggesting that they were from another class.

As we, the children of the so-called Windrush generation came to the United Kingdom and assimilated ourselves into its cultural norms, the more ambitious of us started using education as a way of climbing out of the poverty we had landed ourselves in. It was at this juncture we began to see and feel the class structure in Great Britain.

This structure it seemed came from the age of Barons and Serfs. The creation of the middle classes was slow and only through the industrial revolution, where opportunities came for the serfs to find ways of holding onto some of the wealth they were creating for the Barons. Other Serfs were also lucky and created a middle class through stealth, foreign trips and good old slavery. A few of the Baronial class were unlucky and found themselves demoted to the middle class. These were not the frames of references for people from the Caribbean. Our history in Britain was of a much shorter time-frame.

We were not aspiring to be part of some class system. All we wanted was a decent job, a decent home and a decent education for our children. Some of us achieved this through hard work, collaborations, early deaths, mental breakdowns from racism and a lot of luck. It was only when we achieved these things that we realised that we had suddenly become part of the middle class in the British class system.

Full Copyright: Roy Merchant - July 20 2018

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